Travel

Overview

International students, scholars, and employees should take time to prepare for international travel, as certain documents are required for either re-entry into the United States or visa acquisition at a U.S. Consulate abroad. It is also important to be mindful of any travel advisories that can be in place.  

General Travel Information and Recommendations

  • Check all immigration documents before travel to ensure validity.  This includes travel signatures for F and J visa-holders.
  • You may need a visa to enter the country to which you are travelling if it is not your home country.  Please be sure to check with that country’s Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. several months prior to your anticipated travel.
  • You may only use your visa documents to re-enter the U.S. for the purpose outlined on the visa documents.  For instance, if you have completed your academic degree, you cannot enter the U.S. using an I-20 that specifies that you are still studying.  If you are no longer working for the University of Pittsburgh, you cannot enter the U.S. using an I-797 approval notice that specifies that you are working for the University of Pittsburgh.
  • For individuals in F or J visa status, your Form I-20 and F-1 visa or Form DS-2019 and J-1 visa will no longer be valid if you depart the U.S. for a period of five months or more if you are not continuing with your research and/or will not be enrolled while abroad.  Please notify OIS of such a prolonged absence so we may provide the best advice for future re-entry to the United States.

COVID-19 Pandemic-Specific Information 

Due to continued concerns about the spread of the Coronavirus and its variants, the United States has enacted numerous restrictions related to entry into the country. For all the latest information, travelers should check the CDC International Travel page.  For more specific information, travelers are urged to check the following sites before you leave the U.S. and again prior to returning to the U.S.:

In addition to these pages, the CDC offers a travel assessment which will take you through a number of questions and give you a determination, based on your answers, about whether you will be able to board a flight to enter the U.S.

 

Documents to Carry

Be sure to have the following documents with you when you are planning to re-enter the United States.  If flying, do not pack these documents in your checked luggage; have them with you in your carry-on luggage.

F-1

OPT,
STEM OPT

J-1

H-1B,
O-1

TN

E-3

Additional Documents to Carry During Travel or When Applying for a Visa Stamp

Valid passport 
Most foreign nationals must have a passport valid six months beyond their intended period of stay in the United States

Valid U.S. visa stamp which matches your current immigration status 
(Some exceptions for Canadians and Automatic Revalidation cases outlined below).  A valid visa stamp in an expired passport is acceptable.

 

 

 

 

Most recent Form I-20, with valid travel signature Travel signatures for enrolled students are valid for one year from the date signed; travel signatures for post-completion OPT participants are valid for 6 months, only.  Also carry all previously-issued I-20’s.

 

 

 

 

 

Most recent DS-2019, with valid travel signature 
Travel signatures are valid for one year from the date signed.  Also carry all previously-issued DS-2019’s.

 

 

 

Form I-797 Approval Notice 
Always required for H and O status. Sometimes required for TN and E status (speak with OIS for clarification).

 

 

 

Financial Documents 
You must provide proof of adequate financial support, which should cover the amount listed on your I-20 or DS-2019.

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) 

 

Job Offer Letter / Employment Verification Letter

 

 

 

Copy of Forms I-129 
Always needed for H and O status. Sometimes required for TN and E status. 

 

 

 

 

Copy of Labor Condition Application (LCA) 
Provided by OIS at time of approval.

 


(Students)

 

 

 

Optional – Academic Transcripts 
Enrollment Verification and Transcripts can be obtained from the Office of the Registrar

C.V. or resume 
Optional when travelling; Required for visa application process

 

 

 

 

Proof of Degree(s) and/or Academic Credential Evaluation 

 

 

Documents to support your ‘non-immigrant’ intent Documents which can help to prove your familial, financial or other ties to your home country, and verify that you have no intentions of immigrating to the U.S. 

 

 

 

Three most recent paystubs

 

 

 

SEVIS Fee receipt 
Proof of payment of the SEVIS fee

How to Apply for a New Travel Signature – F and J status, only

Individuals with F or J status must be sure they have a valid travel signature on their I-20 or DS-2019 in order to re-enter the U.S.  Travel signatures are generally valid for one year from the issue date, except for F-1 post-completion OPT participants.  Travel signatures for post-completion OPT participants are only valid for 6 months from the date issued.   Travel signatures can be requested two ways, and should be requested at least 2 weeks ahead of planned travel:

  • Visit the Office of International Services during normal business hours.  You may drop off your document and pick it up the next day, after 1:00 pm.
  • Log into My OIS and submit a Shipment Request e-form, located in the Biographical Information section. These steps will lead you to the Travel Signature Request.  If you are in F-1 status, you will receive an electronic I-20.

Individuals in H, O, E, and TN statuses do not require travel signatures.

Upon Return to the U.S.

  • Check and print your I-94 Admission information at www.cbp.gov/i94.  Report any errors to OIS.
  • Upload copies of new immigration documents (passport, visa stamp, I-94 record) into your My OIS record.

Travel to Canada, Mexico for Less Than 30 Days 

In some cases, you may be eligible to return to the U.S. from abroad with an expired visa stamp using the  “Automatic Visa Revalidation” process.  Always check with OIS to determine if you qualify for Automatic Visa Revalidation. You may qualify if you:

  • Are travelling only to Canada or Mexico;
  • Will return to the U.S. no more than 30 days after departing;
  • Have a valid (unexpired) Form I-94;
  • Are not travelling to your home country;
  • Have not applied for a new U.S. visa while abroad; and
  • Are not a citizen of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, or Syria.

If you are in F-1/F-2 or J-1/J-2 status you may also use Automatic Visa Revalidation for travel to some of the Caribbean islands other than Cuba. You can find a list of the adjacent islands and more information at the Department of State website: 

Travel via Cruise Ship

If you will take a cruise, please be sure to print out your I-94 and travel history before departure.  If, upon return, you find that you have trouble retrieving your new I-94 information, you will need that previous I-94 information to correct your record.  

Travel to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and certain other U.S. territories 

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the United States.  As such, you will not need a visa to return to the U.S. from these locations.   However, students and scholars should always carry a passport, I-20/DS-2019, and I-94 during such travel.  Please verify that your travel does not involve transit through or short stays in other countries, since full documentation (including a visa) for return to the U.S. may be necessary.

Travel Advisories

Be sure to check if there are any travel advisories posted for the countries to which you are travelling.  Both the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention have information on their websites about areas in the world that may present high-risk situations for travelers (i.e. severe weather, medical, political, etc.).  You may also want to check with resources in your home country about travel advisories.

Applying for a U.S. Visa Stamp

Visa application requirements and wait times vary from one country to the next.  Check the website of the U.S. Embassy in the country to which you will travel for specific information and requirements, and to schedule an interview for the earliest date possible.  Allow enough time abroad for visa processing. See the resources below for information. 

Administrative Processing

Administrative processing means that the U.S. Department of State is conducting additional security checks on your application. While administrative processing is not always avoidable, additional documentation may help. OIS recommends having a copy of your PI, supervisor, or PhD advisor’s C.V., as well as a letter from them explaining the nature of your research. Administrative processing is inconvenient, and can cause delays in your re-entry to the U.S. Unfortunately, OIS is not able to intervene in administrative processing, or the visa application process.

Visa Renewal Document Checklist

OIS has created a Visa Renewal Document Checklist to assist you.