Travel Documents for students in F-1 Status

Your valid passport 

  • Passports must be valid at all times 
  • If your Passport will expire within 6 months of your return, it is recommended that you take steps to renew it. If you have any questions, please contact your advisor. 

Your current initial or active I-20

  • I-20 should reflect your current program of study with a future end date
  • Should include DSO (international advisor) endorsement for travel on page 2

How to request a travel signature:
Bring your I-20 to the IE office. Monday – Thursday from 8:30 – 12:00pm or 1:00pm – 4:00pm. You will be able to pick up your updated I-20 at the IE front desk the following business day.

A valid F-1 visa to re-enter the U.S.

  •  Visa must be valid to enter the U.S. in most cases. If your visa has expired you will need to plan to renew your visa before returning to the U.S. 
  • There are some exceptions for Canada and Mexico – see “Automatic revalidation” below 
  • If you need to apply for a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S., IE recommends that you bring your class schedule, BC official transcript, financial documents, and an enrollment verification letter from your IE advisor to your visa interview
  • Please note: It has generally been expected an F-1 student who is outside the U.S. for more than five months would require a new visa to re-enter. During the 2020-2023 DHS/ICE COVID policies, there has been some flexibility with the five month rule. You are advised to contact the U.S. Consulate in your home country to confirm whether you need a new visa for re-entry.

A visa or entry permit for the country you will travel to (If Needed) 

Travel Tips

  • Before Travelling Review appropriate Country’s Travel Advisories
  • Review Study in the States Frequently Asked Questions before exiting & re-entering the United States on an F Visa
  • Make sure you have all required documentation and even back-up copies if necessary

Special Travel Issues

  • Cruise Ship Vacations – If you are considering taking a cruise ship you may need to confirm whether the cruise crosses international borders and re-enters the U.S. You may need to procure additional visas or other travel documents, or risk being detained between borders.
  • Terminated SEVIS I-20 – If you have violated F-1 status and/or have a Terminated SEVIS I-20, you may not be allowed re-entry into the United States. Consult your International Advisor about options to attempt to regain F-1 status, prior to travelling.
  • Re-enter to Regain F-1 Status – If you were out-of-status and decide to attempt re-entry into the U.S. on a new initial Bellevue College I-20, you may also be required to apply for a new F-1 visa, which may be denied by the Consulate
  • Other Visa Categories and statuses – If you are in another status other than F-1, please consult your sponsoring agency or company or an immigration attorney prior to travel. Some visa types may require some time spent in your home country prior to re-entering the United States
  • Pending applications with USCIS – If you have a pending application for any other visa status, benefit or Permanent Residency then travel outside the U.S. may effectively ‘abandon the application’
  • Other complicated situations – We recommend you consult an immigration attorney for any status issues or complexities prior to departing or attempting to re-enter the U.S.

Reentry to the U.S. from Canada and Mexico with an expired visa

F-1 students with an expired U.S. visa (or F-1 I-94 from a change of status) may continue to re-enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico as long as they meet the following criteria:

  • Passport and current SEVIS I-20 are still valid
  • You remain in Canada or Mexico for no more than 30 days, and you do not leave Canada or Mexico during those 30 days
  • You have not applied for a new U.S. visa while in Canada or Mexico and had that application denied
  • You are not from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, or Cuba

Last Updated August 16, 2023