Please check our COVID-19 FAQ for travel restriction information.
Before Traveling Outside the U.S.
When traveling outside the U.S., please make sure you locate all of your immigration documents prior to your departure and make sure your most recent visa document (I-20, DS-2019, I-797, etc) has a valid travel signature. Be sure to check that your entry visa and passport are still valid as well. If either of these documents have expired, you will need to make plans to have them renewed in advance of your travel. Failure to have all required documents may jeopardize your ability to re-enter the U.S.
Before departing the U.S., read the How to Renew Your U.S. Visa and Required Documents to Re-enter the U.S. webpages.
If you run into any trouble at the U.S. Port of Entry, call the ISSO front desk (781-736-3480) during our office hours or Public Safety (781-736-3333) on holidays, weekends or after business hours.
A travel signature on a Certificate of Eligibility I-20 or DS-2019 verifies that the student or scholar has maintained a valid status and is eligible to re-enter the U.S. Those on F-1, J-1 or F/J dependent visas must make sure that their I-20 or DS-2019 documents have been signed for travel within the last 12 months before traveling outside the U.S. If a student is on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or the STEM OPT Extension, you will need to have a travel signature on your I-20 from within the last 6 months upon re-entry. The ISSO recommends that Brandeis students and scholars who travel to Canada and back request an updated travel signature if it is more than 6 months old.
To receive a new travel signature, please log in to the ISSO Portal and request a reprint of your document in the "Requests & Documents Center". We will create a new I-20 or DS-2019 for you with a new travel signature within 1-2 business days.
Note: Sponsored students should contact their sponsoring agency to obtain 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 on your current Form I-20 or have a SEVIS status issue, a CBP officer may issue you a Form I-515A, “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor.” The Form I-515A admits you to the U.S. for 30 days while you obtain and submit the proper documentation to SEVP. Please see our website for more information on what to do if you are issued an I-515A.
The ISSO has received reports of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) searching the contents of travelers' electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. Customs officers may ask travelers to provide their device passwords or unlock their devices when they are entering or leaving the U.S. Officers are not allowed to select travelers for questioning or a personal search based on religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs. However, while U.S. citizens cannot be denied entry to the U.S. for refusing to provide passwords, visa holders may run the risk of being denied entry if they refuse to provide a password or to unlock devices. Student and scholar visa holders should consider the risks before deciding how to proceed.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides Know Your Rights when encountering law enforcement at the airport for your reference. Please contact ISSO if you have any questions or would like to obtain our list of attorneys.
We recommend that you carry your valid, unexpired passport with a visa stamp, your I-20 or DS-2019, and your EAD card (if you are on OPT) while you are traveling within the U.S. to prove that you have legal status. If you are traveling within 100 miles of a U.S. border, this is a requirement as you may be stopped by a member of Customs and Border Protection or law enforcement. You do not need a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 while traveling within the U.S. For travel by air, it is required that you have official photo identification which could include a passport, driver’s license or state ID.
Canadian citizens do not require an entry visa to enter the U.S. from Canada, but do require an I-20 (F visa) or DS-2019 (J visa). All Canadian citizens are required to show a passport to enter the U.S.
Those entering the U.S. to study should request F-1 status at the border and must show the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 and supporting financial documentation to the immigration officer at the port of entry.
Be sure to check your electronic I-94 to make sure that the I-94 was properly noted with F-1, D/S or J-1 D/S.
If you have a paper I-94, often it will not be removed from your passport when you leave the U.S., and you will not receive a new one when you re-enter. This is not a problem. Just be aware that if the I-94 card is removed, you must get a new one (or receive an electronic I-94) with the F-1 D/S notation when you re-enter.
The U.S. Department of State and Customs and Border Protection often offer conflicting guidance regarding the need to apply for a new visa after being outside the U.S. for an extended period of time or when SEVIS numbers and school names don't match on all documents (visa and I-20). It is typical for the U.S. Department of State to recommend that students apply for new visas if SEVIS numbers or school names do not match, or if a student has been outside the U.S. for more than 5 months. However, it has been our experience that Customs and Border Protection recognizes valid, unexpired visas, without exception, as long as the student presents a current I-20 or DS 2019. Ultimately, it is the student's decision on which guidance to follow.