If you are living outside the U.S. you must obtain a passport from your government and then take the I-20 or DS-2019 and supporting documentation to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa. Apply for the visa as early as possible. Students applying for initial entry F-1 and F-2 visas may be issued the visas up to 120 days before the academic program start date as noted on the I-20. J-1 and J-2 Exchange Visitors may be issued visas at any time before the beginning of their programs. (Canadian citizens do not need a visa, but simply present the I-20 or DS-2019 to the immigration officer at the U.S. port of entry. A passport may be required depending on your method of travel.
You may not enter the U.S. earlier than 30 days before the start date noted in item 5 on the I-20 form or item 3 on the DS-2019 form. You should make your travel arrangements with this date in mind. Your I-20 or DS-2019 does not require a travel signature for your initial entry into the U.S. However, you need a travel signature for subsequent trips. The IPE advisor cannot sign your document until you have registered full-time for your first quarter. Do not plan to travel outside the U.S. after your first entry unless you will be able to register first and obtain a travel signature.
SEVIS Transfer Students
If you are changing schools within the U.S. and transferring your SEVIS record to WWU, there are visa and travel policies unique to your situation.
- You can travel with your current F-1 visa and WWU I-20, even if the visa has your previous school's name on it, as long as the visa is not expired and you are not outside the U.S. more than five months between academic programs.
- You can use your WWU "transfer pending" I-20 to enter the U.S. any time before the start date, even earlier than 30 days before the I-20 start date. The 30-day rule is only for travel with "initial" I-20s, not "transfer pending" I-20s.
Reentry into the U.S.
At the port of entry into the U.S., be prepared to present the following items:
- I-20 (F-1 Students)
Your I-20 must be signed by an advisor in international Programs & Exchanges (IPE). All students are required to obtain a travel signature that allows you to return to the U.S. This signature will be valid for 6 months and can be used for multiple entries. To obtain a travel signature, contact the IPE advisor. Carry all I-20s you have ever been issued, not just the most recent one.
- DS-2019 (J-1 exchange visitors)
The DS-2019 must be signed by an advisor in International Programs & Exchanges (IPE). All students are required to obtain a travel signature that allows you to return to the U.S. This signature will be valid for one year (12 months) and can be used for multiple entries. To obtain a travel signature, contact the IPE advisor. Carry all DS-2019s you have ever been issued, not just the most recent one.
- Valid Passport
You must have a valid passport when seeking admission or readmission to the United States, and your passport must remain valid throughout your stay.
- Valid U.S. Visa
You must present a valid, unexpired visa in the category for which admission is being sought each time you enter the U.S. (Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa requirement; however, landed immigrants of Canada are generally required to obtain a visa.) If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must obtain a new visa in the proper category in order to be readmitted to the United States. Apply for the visa in your home country, unless circumstances or travel plans make this impossible. If you apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate in another country, your application may be reviewed more critically than if you applied at home. In-person interviews are required for most visa applicants. You are encouraged to contact the U.S. consulate as early as possible to schedule the visa interview appointment. Anticipate delays in visa issuance due to enhanced security reviews.
An exception to the rule requiring a valid, unexpired visa exists for students in F-1 and J-1 status who travel for less than 30 days solely to Canada or Mexico or islands in the Caribbean except Cuba. Your visa will be considered to be "extended" (and "converted" to the proper visa category if you had changed status while in the U.S.) to the date of re-entry, eliminating the need to obtain a new visa at a U.S. consulate before that particular re-entry. This procedure is known as "automatic visa revalidation." Note that if you apply for a new visa while in Canada, Mexico and islands in the Caribbean, you will not be able to return to the U.S. unless the visa is granted. Also, citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Cuba, Sudan, and North Korea are not eligible for automatic visa revalidation.
- Financial Evidence
You must carry evidence detailing the source and amount of your funding. Consular and immigration officers exercise considerable discretion in determining whether your financial support is sufficient to cover all academic and living expenses.
- Current Class Schedule
You can print your class schedule from your "myWestern" page.
- SEVIS I-901 fee receipt
If you cannot find your SEVIS fee receipt, visit the Student and Exchange Visitor Program SEVIS I-901 fee processing website, https://www.fmjfee.com/i901fee/, to request a copy of your receipt. Students with I-20s or DS-2019s issued prior to September 1, 2004, did not pay the SEVIS fee.
Travel within the United States
You and your dependents may be surprised to learn that federal law requires that you carry "registration" documentation at all times. This includes a basic identity document such as a passport, plus your current I-20 and I-94 card. For day-to-day purposes, we suggest you keep these documents in a secure location. However, if you are traveling within the U.S. you should carry these documents with you. If you are traveling by air, train, bus, or ship, you may be required to produce these documents before boarding. Keep photocopies of all your documents in a separate location, in the event your documents are lost or stolen.
Entry into another country
Before you leave the United States, contact the consulate of the country to be visited to inquire about visa and travel procedures. If you plan to visit canada, contact the Canadian Consulate in Seattle to determine if you need a visa to enter Canada.
Travel after completion of studies
If you travel outside the U.S. after completion of studies you may return to the U.S. in F-1 status provided you are in possession of:
- A new 1-20 indicating a new program of study, passport, visa and evidence of financial support.
- An Employment Authorization Document (EAD), I-20 endorsed for OPT and signed for travel within the last six months, proof of employment, passport and visa.
If you travel outside the U.S. after completion of studies you may return to the U.S. in J-1 status provided you are in possession of:
- A new DS-2019 indicating a new program of study, passport, visa and evidence of financial support.
- A DS-2019 endorsed for Academic Training and signed for travel wtihin the last twelve months, proof of employment, passport and visa.
Note: Students who complete studies have a "grace period" during which they may prepare to depart the United States. The grace period for F-1 students is 60 days. (F-1 students on practical training must depart the U.S. within 60 days of the EAD card's expiration date.) The grace period for J-1 students is 30 days. Students who leave the U.S. during the grace period will not be permitted to return to the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status, except as noted above.
Travel and OPT
If your pre-completion OPT application is pending or approved, you may travel and re-enter the U.S.
If your post-completion OPT application is pending, you may travel and re-enter the U.S.
After graduation, if your post-completion OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you may not re-enter the U.S. unless you have evidence of employment. You should carry the following documents with you:
- I-20 signed for travel by an international student adviser within the last 6 months
- EAD card
- Valid passport
- Unexpired F-1 Visa (unless returning from a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean)
- Evidence of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer)
- I-20 (F-1 Students)