If you will be traveling outside the U.S. while you are in F-1 status, you will need to follow certain procedures in order to return to the U.S. to continue your study.
If you need to travel outside the United States due to a personal, family, and/or medical emergency during the university closures, please e-mail email@example.com. Your e-mail should include your name, SF State student ID number, your departure and return date from and to the United States, and the best way to contact you. You can still leave the United States without an updated signature on the 2nd page of the I-20.
You are not required to have a valid F-1 visa if you traveling within the United States including Hawaii and Alaska. You are also not required to have an updated travel signature on the 2nd page of the I-20; However, we still recommend that you carry a valid passport, a photo ID (SF State ID or Drivers License) and your I-20 while traveling within the United States.
Check the expiration date of your passport, F-1 visa, and I-20 before you leave the United States.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months into the future at the time you return to the United States. However, Some countrieshave an agreement with the United States that allows you to enter on a current passport up to the actual date of expiration.
If your F-1 visa will expire on or before the date you return to the United States, you must prepare to apply for an F-1 visa in your home country.
If you are travelling outside the United States, you must obtain a travel signature (see image below) under the "Travel Endorsement" section of the Form I-20. See image below:
OIP recommends you to request a travel signature at least 2 weeks before leaving the United States. To request a signature:
- Complete a F-1 Document Request Form (also available at the OIP Front Desk) and submit it with your most recent I-20 to the OIP front desk.
- The standard processing time for the travel signature request is 5 business days (not including weekends and holidays). The advisors will sign the 2nd page of your I-20 once we verified that you are in valid F-1 status.
- Pick up the signed I-20 in person at the OIP front desk.
Information you should check before leaving the U.S.:
Take a look at “Form Issue Reason” under your “Date of Birth” – the issue reason should show “Continued Attendance”, not “Initial Attendance” nor “Transfer Pending”.
Request a travel signature if you do not have a “Continued Attendance” I-20, even if the "Initial Attendance" I-20 or "Transfer Pending" I-20 already has a travel signature on the 2nd page. OIP will print a "Continued Attendance" I-20 for you and sign for travel.
Check the date of your previous travel signature:
If you have a “Continued Attendance” I-20, and have previously requested a travel signature, please check the “Date Issued” in the “Travel Endorsement” section. Each signature is valid for one year. If your I-20 was signed on November 15, 2017, you will be able to enter the U.S. with valid F-1 visa and passport before November 15, 2018. Do not travel with a terminated I-20 even if the signature looks valid to you - you will not be able to enter the U.S. with a terminated I-20.
The F-1 International Student Advisors at OIP are the Desginated School Official (DSO) who are authorized by U.S. Department of Homeland Security to sign the I-20. You may not be allowed to return to the U.S. without an updated signature.
You should have your valid passport, F-1 visa, and signed I-20 with you when you enter the United States. We also recommend that you carry previous I-20 from SF State (if any), official or unofficial transcripts with you. If you are on an approved Post-completion Practical Training (OPT) you must bring your EAD and a job offer letter/employment verification letter.
For your reference, see how to prepare your trip to the United States information provided by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) under U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
You should find out if you need to apply for a visa to visit Mexico or Canada before you make your travel plans.
- See entry requirements for Mexico at Visit Mexico.
- See entry requirements for Canada at Visiting Canada.
Documents required for reentry:
Before completing your program and
Before getting your EAD
After completing your program and
Before getting your EAD
after completing your program and
after getting your EAD
DO NOT leave the U.S. until you have an I-20 showing your OPT request is in “Pending” or “Approved” status
Your I-20 with OPT recommendation will show that your OPT is in “Requested” status. Once you received the Form I-797C Notice of Action, the system will update the status from “Requested” to “Pending”. If you wish to travel outside the U.S. while your OPT application is pending, you must submit a travel signature request to OIP and the F-1 International Student Advisor will print an updated I-20 with your OPT showing “Pending” status.
If your OPT is approved/EAD received and you wish to travel outside the U.S., you must you must submit a travel signature request to OIP and the F-1 International Student Advisor will print an updated I-20 with your OPT showing “Approved” status. Make sure to report your employment information at SEVP Portal before requesting a travel signature from OIP so the new I-20 will have your employment information on it.
Things you must know before planning an oversea trip
- There is a higher risk associated with travel and return while your OPT is pending after the program completion date. If there are any problems with your application, you may not be able to respond to USCIS in a timely manner, which could delay processing of your EAD or denial.
- If your OPT application is not received or denied while outside the U.S., you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status and will not be able to reapply for OPT.
- Don’t leave the U.S. for long periods of time during the OPT year. A few weeks of vacation is reasonable, but if you are gone for several months, you may encounter difficulty in re-entering. Remember, unemployment is limited to 90 days.
- Be careful about trying to re-enter the U.S. close to the expiration date of your OPT. You may not be allowed to re-enter as an F-1 student.
- Students who need to apply for a new visa should consult OIP prior to travel to discuss the visa application process and possible risks.
- Don’t attempt to re-enter the U.S. in a status other than F-1 unless you are willing to give up your OPT permanently.
- Be prepared to tell the U.S. immigration officers at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection about your plans while on OPT. They may want to know what have you done to find a job? What kind of job do you plan to look for? What will you do after the OPT is expired? How will you support yourself while you are job-seeking?
A citizen of a foreign country who wishes to study in the United States must first obtain a F-1 Student visa. F-1 visas are issued by U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside the United State, and it is not possible to obtain an F-1 visa within the United States.
Canadian citizens do not need visas to study in the U.S. However, Canadian students do need to obtain an I-20 from SF State and pay $200 SEVIS fee at https://www.fmjfee.com. Canadian students should enter the U.S. with their passports, I-20 issued by SF State, and other supporting documentation.
Here is a list of useful resources:
- 10 Points to Remember When Applying for a Student Visa
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): Student Process Steps: How to Navigate the U.S. Immigration System.
- Listof U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions
- Education U.S.A - Prepare for the Student Visa
- Visa Wait Times - for Interview Appointments and Processing
- Check visa application status