Travel & Reentry


Keep in mind the following if you plan to travel domestically or internationally.

  • Be aware of any restrictions and requirements for the country you plan to visit.
  • Be sure to carry all of your immigration-related documentation on you at all times.
  • Your intended return to the U.S. may be delayed based on worldwide events or other situations. We strongly encourage all students traveling to have a backup plan should they be required to remain abroad.

Documents Needed for Travel

Student Type Required Documents
F-1: Current Student
  • Most recent valid I-20 form with a travel signature on page 2 that is less than 1 year old
    • Request travel signature in iGlobal
  • Valid passport (that won't expire for at least 6 months)
  • Valid F-1 visa (except Canadian citizens).
  • Optional documents: evidence of financial resources, official UC Santa Cruz transcript, name, and contact information of your ISSS advisor.

Note: Always use your most recently issued I-20 form.

F-1: Student on OPT
  • Most recent valid I-20 form (showing OPT recommendation on p. 2) with a travel signature that is less than 6 months old
    • Request travel signature in iGlobal
  • Valid passport (that won't expire for at least 6 months)
  • Valid F-1 visa (except Canadian citizens)
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which is the card authorizing your OPT
  • Optional documents: proof of finances, UC Santa Cruz transcript (official or unofficial), a letter from employer verifying employment start date, resumption date, or job search materials (e.g. emails scheduling interviews, etc.)

Note: Students re-entering the U.S. after the program end date but before OPT start date are strongly encouraged to have their original EAD with them.

F-1: Student on STEM OPT Extension or pending STEM OPT Extension

  • Most recent valid I-20 form (showing OPT recommendation on p. 3) with a travel signature that is less than 6 months old
    • Request travel signature in iGlobal
  • Valid passport (that won't expire for at least 6 months)
  • Valid F-1 visa (except Canadian citizens)
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which is the card authorizing your STEM OPT. Note: If you have a pending STEM OPT application, you should carry your post-completion OPT EAD card with you, for reference, along with the I-797 receipt notice from your pending application.
  • Letter from employer verifying employment start date or resumption date
  • Optional documents: evidence of financial resources, official UC Santa Cruz transcript, name, and contact information of your ISSS advisor.
F-2: Dependent of Current  Student
  • Most recent valid I-20 form with a travel signature on page 6 that is less than 1 year old
    • Request travel signature in iGlobal
  • Valid passport (that won't expire for at least 6 months)
  • Valid F-2 visa (Note: Canadian citizens do not require an F-2 visa)
F-2: Dependent of Student on OPT
  • Most recent valid I-20 form with a travel signature that is less than 6 months old
    • Request travel signature in iGlobal
  • Valid passport (that won't expire for at least 6 months)
  • Valid F-2 visa (Note: Canadian citizens do not require an F-2 visa).

Travel Signatures

Travel signatures are ISSS advisor signatures that can be found on your I-20 (page 2). When ISSS provides a travel endorsement on your document, this confirms to the U.S. government that you are eligible to return to the university. When you travel internationally in F-1 status (including F-2dependents), you must have a valid travel signature on your I-20 at the time of re-entry to the U.S.

Travel Signature Validity

Travel signatures are valid for 12 months from the signature date listed on the I-20 (shown above). If you are on post-completion OPT, then your travel signature will be valid for 6 months only.

For the example listed above:

  • Travel Signature Issued: 11/07/2020
  • Travel Signature expired: 11/06/2021 (1 year validity)
  • Expiration for student on OPT: 04/06/2021 (6 months validity)

Getting a New Travel Signature

If the travel signature on your I-20 is no longer valid, you will need to request a new one. Log into iGlobal and on the left select ISSS F-1 Requests and select Travel Signature and Reprint Request. After being issued the new I-20 you will need to print the I-20 and sign it in order for it to be valid for travel.

For F-1 students:

    • Submit the travel signature request in iGlobal.
    • After ISSS issues the new I-20, we will email you so you know when it’s ready to download, print, and sign the I-20 yourself with a pen. This is considered an original document, and must be fully signed to be valid for travel.
    • Note: The ISSS Advisor signature will be electronic, but the student signature must be an original signature printed and signed in ink. 

Applying for or Renewing an F-1 Visa

Applying for or renewing your visa takes time, please plan accordingly. Current visa wait times can be viewed on the State Dept website. Look specifically at the wait times for "student/exchange visitor visas." Most visa applicants will be required to appear for a personal interview at the consulate/embassy. In addition, security checks can delay visa issuance by several weeks or months.

To renew your visa, you will need the following documents:

F-1 Students and their Dependents 
  • Online DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application
  • Valid passport
  • I-20 with proper signatures
  • Proof of funding as reflected on your I-20
  • Proof of continued enrollment or research
  • Documents that demonstrate ties to home country
  • Students on post-completion OPT: Valid EAD and job offer, or receipt notice if OPT is still pending.
  • Note: The information above is for general guidance. Please locate your local U.S. Embassy/consulate to find out the specific procedures and documents required for your visa application.

Recommended Additional Documents

  • Letter from PI or faculty advisor for those in advanced areas of science or technology in case of background check

Third-Party Countries & Visa Applications

ISSS recommends applying for a new visa in your home country whenever possible. Attempting to renew your visa in a "third-party country" (i.e. not the U.S. and not your home country), can cause application delays or even rejections. Accepting and approving third-party applicants is at the discretion of the specific embassy or consulate you wish to visit.

If you are hoping to renew your visa in a third-party country, you must check with the individual embassy or consulate at which you want to apply. Verify:

  1. If they accept third-party applicants
  2. If it is likely your application will be delayed or rejected, and
  3. If they have an estimated time frame for third-party applications

Often third-party countries must clear your application with your home country, which can cause significant application delays or even rejections.

Visa Validity and Arrest Records

It's possible that your visa has been revoked without your knowledge if you've been arrested or convicted of a crime in the U.S., such as driving under the influence of alcohol or while intoxicated. If you find yourself in this situation, check the validity of your visa with the embassy or consulate where you received it. If it has been revoked or canceled, contact ISSS. We can help you identify an immigration attorney if the need arises.

Practice your Visa Interview

You will only have 2 or 3 minutes to make your case for the visa. You should be prepared to explain what you are studying, what you plan to do after your studies are completed, why you want to study in the U.S. rather than your home country, and why you will return to your home country after completion of your studies.

It is important to note that F-1 statuses are strictly non-immigrant statuses; if you show immigrant intent, the visa will be denied. For more tips on applying for a non-immigrant visa, please see 10 Points to Remember When Applying for a Student Visa from NAFSA.

Administrative Processing (Background Check)

Consulates may submit visa applicants to "administrative processing" (background check) for a variety of reasons. These can include (but are not limited to) the applicant's field of study or research, visa application location, country of citizenship, or connections that are either actual (by citizenship or birth) or assumed, such as with a primarily Arab or Muslim populated country. Students from China, as well as students applying for a visa in a third-party country, are frequently subjected to background checks.

Administrative processing typically takes six to eight weeks to complete and may be repeated. Neither UC Santa Cruz, the embassy, nor the Department of State in Washington can influence the length of the background check.

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State's Administrative Processing Information webpage.

Automatic Revalidation

Automatic visa revalidation allows most F-1 students to take a trip of fewer than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, or one of the islands adjacent to the U.S. (with the exception of Cuba) and reenter the U.S. on an expired visa, as long as you have proper documentation and have not applied for a new visa during your visit abroad. This process revalidates your visa for the single trip back to the U.S. but does not renew the visa.

Students who are citizens of Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Cuba, or who requested an F visa during their visit and were denied, are not eligible for automatic revalidation. It also does not apply to those traveling from another country to the U. S. via Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean islands.

To find out whether you are eligible to use Automatic Revalidation, please visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website. You can also consult with an International Student Advisor at ISSS.

I-515A Form

An I-515A form is given to an F-1 student if they do not present all the required documents when entering the US and are granted only temporary admission at the discretion of the CBP Officer. An I-515A requires F-1 students to submit the documents listed on the I-515A within 30 days to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

SEVP will terminate the SEVIS record of any F-1 student who does not comply with the I-515A form within the 30-day response period. If SEVP does not receive the required documentation at the address provided on the I-515A by the expiration date, the student’s SEVIS record will be terminated the next day and they will be required to leave the U.S. immediately.

If the student mails all the required original documents to SEVP by the deadline and SEVP approves his/her continued admission, SEVP will return the I-20 to ISSS. ISSS will then contact the student to pick up their document.

If you receive an I-515A, please be sure to work with an ISSS Advisor to resolve it as soon as possible.

Grace Period

The term 'Grace Period' refers to the time before and after your F-1 program that you are allowed to stay in the U.S. to prepare for your program or departure. The Grace Period length is different for F-1 students. During your grace period, you are only permitted to engage in particular activities. Your I-20 or any other paperwork does not display the grace period.

F-1 Student Grace Period Length

  • Pre-program: Enter U.S. up 30 days before your I-20 start date
    • This grace period at the beginning of your program allows you time to settle in and begin looking for an on-campus job, if you so choose.
  • Post-program: Following completion of I-20 program end date or Optional Practical Training EAD end date, you have a 60 day grace period
    • During the grace period following your end date, you may NOT attend classes or work.

Activities Allowed in Grace Period

You may not attend classes or work during the grace period following your end date unless you've been approved for post-completion OPT or Academic Training. You can, however, complete unfinished work, such as your thesis or dissertation (filing fee status, etc).

The Grace Period is simply a time for you to prepare for departure. You can travel inside the U.S. or apply for another immigration status. If your program of study has ended or you have not been approved for post-completion OPT, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. in F status. You have the option of re-entering the U.S. under a different status, such as tourist.

Complying with the Grace Period

Once your I-20 end date passes, you must do one of the following by the end of the grace period:

  • Leave the U.S., thus ending your F-1/J-1 status
  • F-1: Have an application for OPT pending or approved (if eligible)
  • Transfer your SEVIS record to another school (if eligible)
  • Have a Change of Status application pending (consult with your new sponsor for guidance)

Customs Declarations and Items Brought Into the U.S.

You may need to alert Customs officials about certain products you are bringing into the U. S. in your luggage, in addition to giving immigration documents to US officials. Before landing, you will be requested to complete a customs declaration form while aboard the plane. This form must be read carefully and thoroughly filled out.

Certain items, including some foods, are prohibited from entering the United States. For more information, click on the links below.

General Travel Tips

  • Admission to the United States is not guaranteed even if you have valid documents, such as a valid visa. The port of entry officer has authority over admission.
  • Always use the most recently issued I-20 form. Copies of previous documents should be saved for record-keeping, but are not necessary for travel.
  • Work authorization in the U.S. does not exempt you from visa requirements.
  • Each time you enter the U.S., your I-94 Record changes. You will be given an Electronic I-94 Record when you re-enter (except during Automatic Revalidation or arriving from a land border, which may be a paper I-94). In most cases, Canadian citizens are given only one I-94 record, which is valid for multiple entries and departures.
  • To leave the U.S, you do not need a travel signature on your I-20 form.
  • If you plan to travel to a country other than your home country, make sure you have the necessary entry documents for that country.
  • You should not re-enter the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 visa or via the visa waiver program while you are enrolled at UC Santa Cruz. Under those statuses, enrollment in a course of study and work is prohibited, forcing you to leave and re-enter the U.S. to resume your studies.