Students may often want to leave the United States. To do this, you should take a few things into consideration. Making sure that you have considered the items listed below before you leave the US will help you to re-enter the US:
Your passport should generally be valid for at least six months after the date that you enter the US. If your passport has expired or will expire, be sure to take care of this either before you leave or on your trip. Students from certain countries are also permitted to enter the US anytime that their passport is valid. For a list of these countries, please see the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) press release (.pdf Format).
Check to make sure that your visa will permit you to re-enter the country. Though a valid I-20 or DS-2019 is all that is necessary to remain in the country, any time you want to enter the US, you must have a valid visa. There are two things that you should check about your visa:
- Make sure that it is not expired.
- Also check to see how many entries you are allowed with your visa. Quite often, the "Entries" field indicates "M," which means that you can enter multiple times. If, however, you have a number, e.g., "1," "2," etc., that is the total number of entries you are allowed. So, for example, if you are allowed only two entries and you have already entered the US with that visa on two separate occasions, it will not be valid for a third. Be sure to check for this.
If you will need to get a new visa, please contact our office for up-to-date information on visa renewal.
Valid F-1 or J-1 visas are required for citizens of all countries, except Canada. Canadian citizens can enter the US using only their valid I-20 or DS-2019 plus a travel signature (see below for more on validity).
Valid I-20 or DS-2019
Your I-20 or DS-2019 must be valid at all times. If your I-20 or DS-2019 has or will soon expire, you should request an extension. Please see the Extension of Stay Request Form for either F-1 (Word Format .pdf Format) or J-1 (Word Format .pdf Format). Be sure to request an extension of your I-20 or DS-2019 at least one month before its expiration date. Also make sure that your I-20 or DS-2019 has accurate and up-to-date information about your program of study, level, financing, etc. Contact the ISSS office if any of this information needs to be updated.
Regardless of other circumstances, you will need a travel signature. To get one, fill out the Travel Signature Request Form (Word Format .pdf Format)and drop if off at the front desk in our office along with either your I-20 or you DS-2019. Be sure to request this travel signature at least three weeks before you plan to leave St. Louis.
Each country has different visa requirements and vary not only from country to country but also depending on your country of citizenship. For this reason, the Office of International Student and Scholar Services cannot help you determine which (if any) visas you will need for your trip. Please do some research on your own to learn this. Good places to look for information are the websites of the embassy of the country to which you'd like to travel. As list of foreign embassies in the US can be found here. You may also want to find more specific information about your case via the website for the embassy of your destination country that is located in your home country, e.g., a Korean national traveling to Bulgaria may want to search out the Bulgarian embassy in Seoul.
Automatic Visa Revalidation
If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or a neighboring Caribbean island (except Cuba), you may be able to use Automatic Visa Revalidation. Students can exit the US on this program and re-enter with an expired US visa. To qualify for Automatic VIsa Revalidation, the interested student must:
- Be traveling to Canada, Mexico, or a Caribbean island near to the US (except Cuba)
- Have an original and valid I-94 card,
- Be in good F-1 or J-1 status,
- Have a valid I-20 or DS-2019, and
- Have an expired F-1 or J-1 visa.
You cannot apply for automatic visa revalidation if any of the following apply to you:
- You have applied for but not been issued a new visa,
- You have previously been denied a US visa,
- You have a terminated SEVIS record,
- You have been out-of-status for thirty or more days, or
- You are a citizen from: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lybia, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria.
When leaving the US, be sure to tell the port-of-entry official of your intention to use automatic visa revalidation. The Port-of-Entry official should not take your I-94 card. You should retain it and can use it as proof of your re-entry (at the same port-of-entry). Note that your stay in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean can be no longer than thirty days. For a specific list of approved Caribbean islands, as well as more detailed instructions, please see the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) press release (pdf Format).
The National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems (NSEERS), also known as "Special Registration," is a set of requirements that certain individuals must follow during their stay in the US. If you are unsure if NSEERS applies to you, check your entry stamp, I-94 card, or US visa, if you were selected for NSEERS, the stamp "NSEERS REGISTRANT," "FINS # ... " or something similar should appear there. Furthermore, if you were selected for the program, a set of walkaway materials should have been given to you at your port-of-entry. You can view these materials here (.pdf Format). (Note that the NSEERS program does not apply to most students.) When leaving the US, those selected for the NSEERS program should contact the immigration office at your port-of-departure. For more questions concerning the NSEERS program, please contact the Office of International Student and Scholar Services.
The US-VISIT program is a program designed to help track when students (among others) come into and leave the country. Currently, upon entering the US, most students have their fingerprints and passports scanned as part of the US-VISIT entry procedures. Currently, a number of airports and seaports use the same procedures for students EXITING the US. For a list of ports-of-departure currently using US-VISIT exit procedures, check the following link on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website: US-VIST Information. If your port-of-departure is on this list, be prepared to follow US-VIST exit guidelines. DHS offers this instructional sheet for US-VIST exit procedures (pdf. Format).
Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) can affect your travel plans in unique ways. Depending on the stage of your OPT application, travel may be easy, in other cases, it is strongly discouraged:
- If your OPT application is pending, it is recommended that you DO NOT leave the Unites States. While conflicting information has been given for this situations, leaving the US with a pending OPT application can be viewed an abandonment of that application.
- If your OPT application has been approved, but you do not have a job, you should not leave the country. Advice from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has offered conflicting information about this situation. However, a DHS press release and fact sheet distributed on January 21, 2005 explicitly states that students in this situations should not travel. DHS views students who leave in such a situations as abandoning their OPT authorization and thus terminating their F1 status.
- If your OPT application has been approved, and you have a job, you should be able to travel. Your preparations should include the items above as well as your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and a letter from your employer confirming your employment and the availability of your position upon your return.
For all students on OPT, please note that dates on the first page of your I-20 will likely show an expiration date in the past. The third page of your I-20 indicates your OPT authorization, which you should ensure will still be valid upon your return.
For those J-1 students on Academic Training, you will need to bring the following two items along with everything else recommended:
- An employment authorization letter issued by the ISSS for J-1 students on academic training
- If you have a job, obtain a letter from your employer that describes your employment and that acknowledges your travel and return
It is also a good idea to bring the following documents along when re-entering the US:
- A copy of your UMSL transcript and a letter of enrollment from the registration office.
- Proof of financial ability, such as bank statements, affidavits of support, or copies of your fellowship or scholarship letter.
If you are returning to the U.S. after a leave of absence and/or an absence of more than 5 months, you must obtain a new I-20 prior to re-entry. Contact the ISSS if this applies to you.
Finally, immigration regulations are complex. Many factors must be taken into account and it is possible that either you, the student, or the Office of International Student and Scholar Services may overlook something. The best solution is both to be familiar with the information as presented on this page and to speak with someone from the Office of International Student and Scholar Services. Moreover, it is very rare for students to be detained at ports-of-entry, especially in cases where the student has made a good faithed effort to validly study in the US and maintain F-1 or J-1 status.
For more information and for additional questions, please see this fact sheet (.pdf Format) published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Note that these rules specifically apply to students in F-1 status, but are generally the same for students in J-1 status. Students may also want to review information for students found on the DHS website.