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Port of Entry, Arrival and Check-in

Plan your Arrival

F-1 and J-1 students may not arrive to the U.S. more than 30 days before the start date listed on the F-1 I-20 or the J-1 DS-2019.  If you decide to come earlier than this, you will enter as a tourist and must leave the United States so that you may re-enter in the correct F-1 or J-1 status no more than 30 days before the start date listed on your immigration document.

Before you plan your arrival date and make travel plans, be sure that you are aware of your required international student orientation dates, program orientation date for graduate students, or Wildcat Welcome dates for undergraduate students.

Inspection at a U.S. Port of Entry

Upon inspection at a U.S. Port of Entry, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will ask for these documents:

  • Northwestern-issued I-20 or DS-2019;
  • A valid passport valid six-months into the future (students with passport countries listed here do not need a passport valid six-months into the future);
  • A valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp (Canadians do not obtain an F-1 or J-1 visa);
  • Your SEVIS I-901 fee payment receipt;
  • You may be asked for your Northwestern letter of admission

Keep these documents with you during your travel. Be prepared to present these documents to CBP upon arrival. If you are traveling by airplane, you will present these documents for inspection before you have access to your larger checked luggage so please keep these documents in your carry-on items during your flight.

I-94 Arrival Record

The I-94 is your official arrival record to record your entry to the U.S., your immigration (visa) category, and your approved length of stay. The OISS recommends that you retrieve and check your I-94 arrival record every time you re-enter the U.S. In most cases, I-94 entry records are only issued electronically. Many U.S. Ports of Entry no longer issue entry stamps as well.

Visit the CBP I-94 website to retrieve your I-94.

Check your I-94 for accuracy including these details:

  • Admission date (the date your arrived to the U.S.)
  • Visa status
  • Personal information

If you notice an error in your I-94 record, you can visit the CBP I-94 website and click on “Contact CBP” to submit a correction request. You can also contact your OISS Advisor for assistance with this correction.

Mandatory Online International Student Check-In

International Student check-in is required to activate your SEVIS record. All international students in F or J status must check-in through the OISS Portal within 5 days of arrival to the U.S.

Steps to check-in:

  1. Complete the online check-in through the OISS Portal
    • You will upload a copy of your F-1 or J-1 visa and I-94 arrival record. Canadians do not receive an F-1 or J-1 visa.
    • You will learn how to update your U.S. address, phone number and emergency contact in the CAESAR system, which is required to check-in.
    • You will learn important immigration information.
  2. Update your current address, US phone number & emergency contact in CAESAR
  3. Attend international student orientation: