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Immigration and Travel

Many international students, scholars, and/or their dependent family members will wish to travel abroad (outside the U.S.) temporarily during a program of study or research – particularly if it is a long program. Those in F or J status do not need permission from OIS to leave the U.S. and OIS does not generally need to know when a student or scholar returns. However, those wanting to return to the U.S. and resume their program (or their dependent family members wishing to re-join the principle F-1 or J-1) DO need to have a current travel endorsement by OIS (or other J-1 program sponsor if OIS did not issue the Form DS-2019). International students, scholars and/or their dependent family members should keep a copy of all travel documents and new documents received after traveling.

If you are an F-1 student will be out of the U.S. for an extended amount of time (5 months or more), you will need to contact OIS and schedule an appointment with an OIS advisor.  If you have any dependents in the US, it is required that they leave the country with you if you will be gone for an extended period. It may be necessary to close out your current SEVIS record and create a new record before your return and issue a new Form I-20.

Helpful Websites

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Entry and Exit FAQ

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Information for International Visitors

It is important that you carry all travel-related documents on your person or in your carry-on luggage and not in your checked baggage. If you will have been out of the country for less than 5 months you should have the following documents readily available while traveling:

  1. Most recent SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 endorsed for travel within the last 12 months by an advisor at OIS. The processing time for a travel signature is five business days.
    1. Note: OPT students must have a travel signature valid within the last 6 months.
  2. A passport valid for at least six months into the future (some exceptions apply).
  3. A valid visa. If you need to apply for a visa while overseas, plan ahead and follow all instructions from the embassy/consulate where you will be apply for a renewal.
    1. If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, or for other similar reasons, your visa may in fact be revoked (even if it appears valid on the face of it and has not yet expired). If your visa has been revoked, typically you will have received an email notification of such to the email address associated with your DS-160 when you applied for the visa. Even if you did not receive any such notification, if you have such an arrest, your visa is likely revoked. If you try to re-enter the U.S., your entry may be denied. If your visa has expired and you are renewing your visa, you may have difficulty doing so if you have such an arrest. If you have any concerns about this or think your visa may have been revoked, please consult an OIS advisor BEFORE leaving the U.S.
  4. Receipt confirming payment of the SEVIS fee, if applicable. Please check to find out if you need to pay the SEVIS fee.

Though the following documents are not required, they are suggested by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

  • Financial information showing proof of necessary funds.
  • Evidence of student or exchange visitor status (transcripts, proof of enrollment (such as your enrollment history and current enrollment print out from MyPack, a letter of enrollment from Records & Registration or a letter from your department).

The Port of Entry (POE) is the first place you arrive in the United States and where you will go through the customs inspection. Even though the Raleigh-Durham International Airport may be your final destination, it may not be your port of entry if it is not the first place you arrive in the U.S.  In fact, some U.S. Ports of Entry are even located outside the U.S. and the customs inspection takes place before boarding the flight (e.g. in UAE, Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean). When you arrive at the POE and go through customs, the officer will ask you some simple questions regarding the purpose of your visit to the U.S. (which is to be a student) and may ask for your documentation, and may fingerprint and/or photograph you. Border officials may also ask to inspect your electronic devices (including social media accounts). You should comply with these requests, so do not carry anything that you do not want inspected. If an officer determines you require additional screening, you may be asked to go to an interview area called Secondary Inspection. This is not uncommon and not cause for alarm.  However, Secondary Inspection can result in travel delays. Find more information here about your rights during inspection at the POE.

If you encounter difficulties at the border and need to contact OIS, call 1.919.515.2961 during regular office hours (Monday-Friday 8am to 12pm and 1pm to 5pm EDT). If an emergency occurs outside of these hours, contact NC State’s University Police at 1.919.515.3000 in order to get in touch with an OIS staff member. Find more information here about your rights during inspection at the POE.

International Students are expected to be physically present in the US by the first day of classes for each semester. If travel or visa application delays will result in a late return to NC State (after the first day of classes), you must notify your NC State academic department and professors that you are returning late and follow your department’s instructions for arriving late. Not all departments may be willing to approve or grant permission for a student to arrive late. If your department is willing to approve a late arrival and put their approval in writing, OIS recommends that the student carry it with them during your travels as it may be helpful when entering the U.S. after classes have started.

Students arriving late should keep in mind that different courses have different requirements for absences, assignments, or group work. A student may be dropped from a class if the student has too many absences or it is deemed that the student will not be able to keep up with the course work. Please also remember, that the likelihood of being able to enroll in a class decreases after the semester begins. Students who are required to drop a class due to absences may find it difficult to get into another class and maintain full-time enrollment. Furthermore, late-arriving students are required to maintain full-time enrollment throughout the semester (no reduced course loads will be approved for students who are not able to find the right classes or are unable to catch up, or are likely to make a poor grade).

First semester students who plan to arrive late must review the Late Arrival policy on our Pre-arrival webpage. Not all students will be permitted to arrive after classes start per academic department policy.

If the information on your current I-20/DS-2019 is up-to-date (funding, curriculum, etc), you only need a recent OIS signature on the third page of your current I-20/DS-2019.  However, if your funding has changed or there are any other updates, we recommend that you request a new I-20/DS2019 with the updated information.

Many foreign nationals will be eligible for a provision called “Automatic Revalidation”  It allows those in an nonimmigrant visa status (such as F-1 and J-1) to reenter the US from a “contiguous territory” (Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands) without a currently valid visa stamp in the passport. More information including limitations and exceptions can be found here.

For information on travel while OPT is pending or approved, visit our OPT page here. Information about Travel and OPT is at the bottom of the page.