Travel Information for International Students
How do I get a travel signature on my I-20/DS-2019?
Travel while in J-1 Status
Travel while in H-1B Status
Travel while on OPT
I lost my passport, I-94 card
Automatic Visa Revalidation

Applying for a visa in Canada or Mexico
Renewing your visa and visa stamp delay

Travel information for International students

International students in F-1 or J-1 status may travel within the U.S. or abroad during their tenure at Northwestern. Travel within the U.S. is un-complicated and simple—anyone traveling within the U.S. should carry two forms of photo identification (i.e. passport). Further, it is recommended you carry your form I-20/DS-2019 when traveling in the U.S.

Before traveling, the IO recommends you make photocopies of ALL documents (i.e. passport, I-20/DS-2019, visa stamp, front/back of I-94). Leave a set of copies at home or with a friend and carry a copy with you separate from your originals. Lost or stolen documents are much easier to replace with photocopies!

International students in F-1 or J-1 status, and their dependents, need the following to leave and re-enter the U.S.

  • SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 with a valid travel signature endorsed within the last twelve-months by the IO;
  • Valid visa stamp (pasted inside your passport); and
  • Current passport, valid at least six-months after the date of your re-entry.

A few points to remember when traveling...

  • In order to re-enter without needing a new visa stamp, you should have not have been absent from the U.S. for more than five months.
  • It is advisable to carry with you financial documentation showing proof of necessary funds to cover tuition and living costs. (i.e. bank statements, funding letters, etc.)
  • Your I-20 or DS-2019 must have a recent travel signature. Travel signatures are valid for one-year.
  • Remember to submit your I-94 card as you leave the U.S. and retain a new I-94 upon re-entry (for safety, request that the border official staple your new I-94 card into your passport!)

Keep in mind when planning a tropical getaway that a visa stamp is not required to travel to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. You simply need an I-20/DS-2019 and an unexpired I-94.

If your current SEVIS status is terminated, or you think it might be, please contact the IO before traveling outside of the U.S.

How do I get a travel signature on my I-20/DS-2019?

Getting a travel signature is easy! You can either:

  • Drop your I-20/DS-2019 off at the front desk of the IO and pick it up with a new travel signature the following business day after 12noon
  • See an advisor during walk-in hours
  • Drop by one of our scheduled 'Travel Signatures To Go' sessions and get a travel signature on the spot.  Once scheduled, these times and locations will be posted via the IntNews listserv and on the front page of the IO website here and on the Events and Program calendar here.
  • If you do not live in the Evanston/Chicago area, please scan/email a completed Document Mailing Request form to your assigned International Student Advisor and we will mail a new document directly to you. 

Travel While On Optional Practical Training (OPT)

For students on OPT, you must carry the following when traveling abroad:

  • SEVIS Form I-20 with valid travel signature within the last six-months;
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp inside passport;
  • Current passport, valid at least six-months after the date of last entry;
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card; and
  • Employment Letter (from current or future employer). Note: there is no specific format for this letter; make sure name, title, job responsibilities and dates of employment are present.

NOTE:All EAD cards say 'not valid for reentry' This means that the card alone does not guarantee reentry but that you must also carry the I20, passport with valid visa - see above. 

F-2 dependents of F-1 students on OPT should carry photocopies of their spouses EAD card and employment offer letter, in addition to a SEVIS Form I-20, valid F-1 visa stamp, and current passport.

I lost my Passport, I-94 card

If you have lost your passport and/or your I-94 card, please visit the Department of State's website for instructions on what to do next and how to file for replacement documents. 


A student may reside in the U.S., even if he/she has an expired visa stamp in their passport. If you are currently in the U.S., but have an expired visa stamp, you can revalidate an expired visa automatically when returning from a visit of less than thirty days to Canada, Mexico, or one of the adjacent islands to the U.S. (other than Cuba) provided you have a valid SEVIS Form I-20 and a valid unexpired I-94. This process is known as automatic visa revalidation.

In order to automatically revalidate your visa, you must present the following upon re-entry to the U.S.:

  • Valid SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 with a travel signature from the IO within the past six-months.
  • Current passport, valid for at least six-months from the date of re-entry.
  • I-94 Card – NOTE: To be eligible for Automatic Revalidation, you MUST keep your I-94 card upon departure from the U.S. and present it upon re-entry.
  • Expired visa stamp.

However, if you meet any one of following criteria, you will not be able to automatically revalidate your visa.

  • You applied for a new visa and it has not been issued.
  • You applied for a new visa and were denied.
  • You have a terminated SEVIS record indicating that you are out of status.
  • You have been out the United States for more than thirty days.
  • You are a citizen of one of the following countries:
    • Cuba
    • Iran
    • North Korea
    • Sudan
    • Syria

Adjacent islands, other than Cuba, include: Saint Pierre, Miquelon, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, The Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, Other British, French, and Netherlands territory or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea. Reference: INA, Section 101(b)(5)


The U.S. Department of State has installed an internet-based appointment system to enable third-country nationals (TCNs) to schedule appointments at U.S. consulates in Canada and Mexico for visa renewal. There is an application fee and it must be charged to a major credit card. Interested individuals can set up an appointment from the system's website at:

Once an appointment has been scheduled, the TCN will be mailed an application form (Form OF-156) and an information sheet for the post at which the visa applicant will be applying.

This system serves as an enhancement of, not a replacement for, the 900-number telephone system, which is still operational. To use the 900-number system, TCNs calling from the U.S. should call (900) 443-3131. Those calling from Canada should call (900) 451-2778. A third number is available for those wishing to charge the call to a credit card: (888) 840-0032.

Please note that as of April 1, 2002, all non-immigrant visa holders, including students and scholars, who travel to Canada or Mexico to renew their visas at a U.S. Consulate in those countries will not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. if their renewal applications are denied. In such case, any individual with a non-immigrant visa will have to return to his/her country to renew the visa. Students from certain countries will also need visas to enter Canada, Mexico, and neighboring islands.

Non-immigrants from the following countries can apply for renewal of their visas only in their home country: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba.

Contact the IO for additional information and to discuss your third-country visa application.

Renewing your visa and visa stamp delay

Check with your local embassy/consulate for details on how to renew your current visa status since procedures may vary.  General rules apply; please visit our visa stamp page for further information.