Travel Outside the U.S.

The guidance below is designed to support F and J visa holders preparing for travel. Please note, the COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation and the guidance is subject to change. OIE cannot predict what travel restrictions may be in place over the next several months and therefore cannot provide any guarantees to those planning to travel. We encourage you to carefully consider avoiding non-essential international travel during this worldwide health crisis. If you are interested or considering international travel, please be aware of the following:

  • We encourage all individuals traveling to the U.S. to review the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information and consult with your airline with any questions in advance of your flight date. 

  • For contact information for your Embassy or Consulate about guidance related to returning to your home country, please visit the U.S. Department of State site here

  • Travel disruptions and U.S. entry requirements are expected to continue and could affect your ability to maintain your student or exchange visitor visa status if you are unable to return to the U.S. and enroll in a full course of study or pursue program objectives. We encourage you to carefully consider avoiding non-essential international travel during this worldwide health crisis. 

  • Graduate Research Assistants in China who are unable to return to the U.S. are encouraged to contact GT Shenzhen to learn more about options available at gtshenzhen@ece.gatech.edu.

  • If you have a flight booked, we also recommend you contact the airline you are flying on for more travel information.

  • If you are seeking legal advice concerning travel, please refer to this resource regarding immigration attorneys: https://isss.oie.gatech.edu/media/5

 

Travel FAQs

What documents should I carry if traveling inside the U.S.?

No travel signature is required for domestic travel. However, we always recommend you carry the following documents to avoid any unnecessary confusion about your identity and/or reason for being in the U.S.:

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)
  • Your DS-2019 or I-20 form
  • And your most recent I-94 Record verifying your status as either F-1 or J-1
What documentation do I need to re-enter the U.S.?

In order to re-enter the U.S. successfully, you must demonstrate that you have maintained your visa status and are returning for the purposes for which your visa is issued. The documentation you need to have with you in your carry-on luggage when traveling internationally is summarized in the chart below. Please note, under the circumstances of the pandemic, additional documents may be required. Along with reviewing these resources from OIE, you are encouraged to review the CDC guidance specific to the COVID-19 circumstance as well as consult with your airline to learn of any additional documents required when traveling internationally.

Status

Documents Required

Enrolled F-1 Student Visa Holder

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid F-1 student visa

  • Valid I-20 form with a travel signature no older than one year

  • Copy of your unofficial transcript

    • If between terms, we recommend you obtain proof of enrollment for the upcoming term. You can obtain an enrollment verification letter by submitting a form via Registrar’s Office.

F-1 Student Visa Holder on Optional Practical Training (OPT)

 

If you travel internationally without an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or current OPT employment, your travel is considered high- risk and you may encounter travel disruptions or delays with returning to the U.S. If your OPT application is pending, we recommend you postpone international travel until you are able to present your EAD and job offer letter. Additional guidance can be found on our OPT & Travel page.

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid F-1 student visa

  • I-20 form with:

    • OPT request approved

    • Current employer information listed, and

    • DSO travel authorization no more than 6 months old

  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

  • Job offer letter to match current employer listed on the I-20 Form

F-2 Dependents

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid F-2 dependent visa

  • Valid F-2 I-20 form with a travel signature no older than one year

F-2 Dependent of student on OPT

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid F-2 dependent visa

  • Valid F-2 I-20 form with a travel signature no older than 6 months

  • A copy of the F-1 I-20 form with:

    • OPT request approved

    • Current employer information listed, and

  • A copy of the F-1’s valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

J-1 Student Visa Holder (Degree & Non-degree seeking)

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid J-1 student visa

  • Valid DS-2019 form with a travel signature no older than one year

  • Copy of your unofficial transcript

    • If between terms, we recommend you obtain proof of enrollment for the upcoming term. You can obtain an enrollment verification letter by submitting a form via Registrar’s Office.

J-1 Student Visa Holders on Academic Training

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid J-1 student visa

  • Valid DS-2019 form with:

    • a travel signature no older than 6 months

    • Academic Training authorization

  • Job offer letter

J-1 Research Scholar/Professor, Short-Term Scholar, Specialist,

and Student Intern Categories

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid J-1 exchange visitor visa

  • Valid DS-2019 form with a travel signature no older than one year

  • Georgia Tech Invitation Letter

J-2 Dependents

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid J-2 dependent visa

  • Valid DS-2019 form with:

    • a travel  signature no older than 6 months

J-2 Dependents of student participating in Academic Training

  • Valid passport (unless you hold citizenship with one of these countries, it is required that the passport have at least 6 months of validity remaining in order to re-enter)

  • Valid J-2 dependent visa

  • Valid DS-2019 form with:

    • a travel signature no older than 6 months

  • A copy of the J-1’s valid DS-2019 form with Academic Training authorization

What is a travel signature and why do I need one?

A travel signature is a signature from OIE on your I-20 or DS-2019 form certifying you are maintaining your non-immigrant visa status for the purpose of re-entering the U.S. If you are unsure where to find the travel signature on your documents, review our document guide website.

When you arrive at the U.S. Port of Entry, or apply for a new F or J visa while abroad, U.S. government officials will review your documents for the DSO or ARO travel signature to verify that a school official has confirmed you are maintaining your non-immigrant status.

Who can provide a travel signature?

An International Services Advisor serving as a Designated School Official (DSO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) from OIE is the appropriate person to sign your I-20/DS-2019 form for F and J visa holders. 

How long is a travel signature valid?

Status

Duration of Travel Signature Validity

F-1 Enrolled Student

1 year

F-1 Engaged in OPT/STEM OPT

6 months

F-2 Dependents

1 year

J-1 Students or Scholars

1 year (or until the end of the program)

J-2 Dependents

1 year (or until the end of the program)


If you are unsure where to find the travel signature on your documents, review our document guide website.
 
How do I request a travel signature?
  1. Complete the "Travel Signature Request" e-form within your iStart Student Portal.
  2. An OIE advisor will review your request and process the request within the processing times outlined on our website
  3. You will receive an email from OIE with instructions on how to obtain your updated I-20/DS-2019 form
    • As of June 28, 2021, the Office of International Education (OIE) will discontinue the issuance of paper I-20 forms to students and will instead issue digitally-signed electronic I-20 forms. More information about this process can be found on our website: https://isss.oie.gatech.edu/isss/digitally-signed-i-20-form-guidance
    • Department of State has not permitted the same flexibility for OIE to use electronically signed DS-2019 forms. You will be able to notate in the "Travel Signature Request" e-form the shipping method you wish to receive the updated DS-2019 form.  
I forgot to request a travel signature before I departed the U.S., what do I do?

First check to see whether or not your most recent travel signature is still valid. If you are unsure where to find the travel signature on your documents, review our document guide website. If you are not sure if the travel signature is still valid, review the chart under the question "How long is a travel signature valid?" If you are still unsure or if your travel signature has expired, then you will need to request a travel signature from OIE.

You are not required to have a valid travel signature on your I-20 form in order to depart the U.S. But, you must ensure that before attempting to re-enter the U.S., you complete the necessary steps to request and receive a travel signature. More information on how to request a travel signature can be found in the "How Do I Request a Travel Signature?" question. For more information about how long it takes for OIE to issue a travel signature, please review the processing times outlined on our website.

Can I attempt to enter the U.S. without a valid travel signature?

If you arrive at a U.S. port of entry and do not have all your signed required documents, have not paid the I-901 SEVIS Fee, or have a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) status issue, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will likely issue you a Form I-515A. This document allows you to have temporary admission into the U.S. for 30 days. If you do not follow the instructions within the form to correct the issue within the 30 days of temporary admission into the U.S., you will be considered out-of-status and you are required to depart the U.S. If you are to receive an I-515A, you are encouraged to contact OIE to ensure you are able to follow instructions to verify your status.

Additional information and guidance about the I-515A can be found on Study in the State's website.

Please note, it is up to the discretion of CBP to permit individuals entry into the U.S.

I received a digitally signed I-20 form from OIE. Can I attempt to enter the U.S. by showing the electronic I-20 Form on my phone or tablet instead of printing it out?

No, you will need to present a paper print-out of your digitally signed electronic I-20 form. Presenting your digitally-signed I-20 form on your phone, tablet or laptop will not be acceptable for any official government purposes. Additional guidance about electronic I-20 forms can be found on our website

If you arrive at a U.S. port of entry and do not have all your signed required documents, have not paid the I-901 SEVIS Fee, or have a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) status issue, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will likely issue you a Form I-515A. This document allows you to have temporary admission into the U.S. for 30 days. If you do not follow the instructions within the form to correct the issue within the 30 days of temporary admission into the U.S., you will be considered out-of-status and you are required to depart the U.S. If you are to receive an I-515A, you are encouraged to contact OIE to ensure you are able to follow instructions to verify your status.

Additional information and guidance about the I-515A can be found on Study in the State's website.

Please note, it is up to the discretion of CBP to permit individuals entry into the U.S.

What is a visa?

The F-1 or J-1 student visa is an entry document issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate for the purpose of study inside the U.S. This means that in order to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status, your F-1 or J-1 visa must be valid at the time you attempt to enter the U.S., but once inside the U.S. it can expire. So long as you are maintaining your program, you are not required to have a valid visa at all times while inside the U.S. But if you travel internationally after your visa has expired, then you will be required to obtain a new visa prior to attempting to re-enter the U.S.

You can think of your visa like a key. Just as you need a key to unlock the door of your home to enter, you need a valid visa to enter the U.S. Once inside your home, you can move freely within the home without your key. After exiting your home, in order to return again, you need your key again.

Do I need to renew my visa?

It is important before traveling internationally that you review all of your documents to ensure their validity. There are two important areas to check on your F-1 or J-1 visa.

  • Expiration Date: your visa is valid up until the expiration date listed on the document
  • Entries: If your visa shows "M" then this means the visa permits multiple entries and is not limited. If you have a number listed, this means that during the validity of the visa, it can only be used that number of times to enter the U.S. (For example: If 1 is listed, then the visa is only valid for one entry into the U.S. If you depart the U.S., even if the visa is unexpired, you will need to apply for a new visa as you had already used the 1 entry permitted.)

If your U.S. visa has expired or will expire while you are traveling, you will need to apply and receive a new U.S. visa prior to attempting to return to the U.S. If you do not plan to travel internationally and your visa expires, you are eligible to remain in the U.S. because the visa is an entry document only. You can think of your visa like a key. Just as you need a key to unlock the door of your home to enter, you need a valid visa to enter the U.S. Once inside your home, you can move freely within the home without your key. After exiting your home, in order to return again, you need your key again.

How long will it take to renew my F-1 or J-1 visa?

Processing times for visas can vary. We recommend you visit the Department of State’s website to determine the estimate wait time to apply and receive your visa and carefully consider these times prior to booking your travel.

How do I renew my F-1 or J-1 visa?

New visas cannot be obtained while inside the United States. In order to receive a new F-1 or J-1 visa, you need to exit the U.S., visit your nearest U.S. consulate, and apply for the new F-1 or J-1 visa. For more information about the visa application process, please visit the U.S. Department of State links below:

Do I have to return to my home country to renew my F-1 or J-1 visa?

It is not required that you return to your home country to apply for your visa, but it is recommended.

If you are not returning to your home country to apply for the new visa, you are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy prior to making travel arrangements to ensure they can process visas for third- country citizens from your country of origin. You will also need to consider what entry requirements there are for you to visit to apply for a visa and have a plan should you be required to remain for an extended period due to Administrative Processing Delays.

What documentation should I prepare for F-1 or J-1 visa renewal purposes?

You are encouraged to review the U.S. embassy or consulate's website to learn of all the required documents in order to apply for a visa renewal. But here are a few suggestions from OIE:

  1. The embassy/consulate may ask for you to provide proof that you can continue to fund your studies in the U.S. Review the financial information on your I-20 or DS-2019 form. If the information on your documents are no longer up-to-date, complete the "Financial Statement Update" e-form in iStart in order for OIE to update the financials.
  2. Check your I-20 or DS-2019 form end date. Note that the embassy/consulate has the discretion to determine the end date on your visa. It is possible that they may not issue your visa beyond the program end date. If you need additional time in your program, you will need to apply for a program extension in iStart in order for OIE to extend your I-20 or DS-2019 form. OIE is only able to grant program extensions for academic reasons and not for visa application purposes. 
  3. Print a copy of your academic transcript (it can be an unofficial transcript)
    • You can obtain your unofficial transcript from Buzzport > Oscar > Student Records > Unofficial Transcript
  4. Request an enrollment verification letter from the Registrar’s office
Am I eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation (AVR)?

Automatic visa revalidation allows F and J non-immigrant visa holders to visit Canada, Mexico and/or adjacent islands (excluding Cuba) for less than a total of 30 days and re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa stamp. Upon returning to the U.S, students utilizing automatic visa revalidation must present a valid passport, I-20 or DS-2019 form with a valid travel signature, and I-94 record. If you have an electronic I-94 record, it is recommended that you bring a hard copy during travel and present it upon exit and entry. Citizens of Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation. 

To view the Code of Federal Regulations regarding Automatic Revalidation of Visa, click here. Additional information is also available on the U.S. Department of State website.

Note: Non-immigrants who apply for a visa during their stay in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean are not eligible to use automatic visa revalidation if the visa is denied or delayed.

What is an I-94 Record?

The electronic I-94 Record is issued to you by CBP at the time of entry into the U.S. at a sea or air port of entry. For more information on the I-94, please see our Electronic I-94 Record website. To obtain your I-94 record, please visit CBP's website. If you're not able to access your I-94 record, please use our Electronic I-94 Retrieval handout for helpful hints and tips. If you're still unable to find your electronic I-94 record or there is an error, you will need to contact CBP's Deferred Inspections Office where a Customs Official may be able to help you over email.

After entering the U.S., it is important that you check your I-94 to ensure the information is correct but especially the following:

  • Admit Until Date: If entering in F1 or J1 status, this should reflect "D/S" which stands for "Duration of Status"
  • Date of Entry: Should reflect the most recent date of your entry to the U.S.
  • Class of Admission: F1 or J1 depending on your visa type

If any of the information within your I-94 is incorrect, you will need to contact CBP to make the correction. It is important that your I-94 record be correct as it verifies your status after entering the U.S.

Can I continue working in my on-campus employment while abroad?

Your ability to continue your on-campus employment while outside the U.S. is subject to approval from both the hiring academic department and Georgia Tech's Human Resource (HR) office. We encourage you and your supervisor to consult with the HR coordinator within your department to understand whether or not you can continue your employment while abroad. Your department may need to complete a process with HR to notify them that you will be abroad temporarily. 

What challenges might occur with re-entering the U.S.?

If you have issues with obtaining your new visa and are unable to return to the U.S., please report the issue as soon as possible by completing the "Administrative Processing" e-Form found in iStart. This will allow International Student and Scholar Services to work closely with you, your academic department and university officials to determine the appropriate plan of action to support you.

If you have any issues upon re-entering at the U.S. port of entry outside of normal office hours and need immediate assistance, please contact Georgia Tech Campus Police 404-894-2500. An on-call OIE contact (DSO/ARO) will be available to speak with Customs and Border Patrol agents.

What should I do if my visa or passport is lost or stolen?
  • If lost while inside the U.S.: You should first go to the local police station to report the documents as lost or stolen. If you have original copies of these documents, make sure you take them to the police station. You will then need to contact your home country's local embassy or consulate in the United States to report missing travel documents and they will advise you on next steps.
  • If lost while outside the U.S.: You should first contact your home country's local embassy or consulate for additional guidance and next steps. After acquiring a new passport, you will need to then apply for a new U.S. visa to return to the U.S. to continue your studies or research.
I am on OPT or I am in the process of applying for OPT, is there anything I should consider?

Please review our OPT & Traveling Abroad page: https://isss.oie.gatech.edu/content/opt-and-traveling-abroad