Student Travel

International students in F-1 or J-1 status may travel within the U.S. or abroad during their tenure at Northwestern.

Travel Information

The IO reminds students of the following:

  • Get your I-20/DS-2019 signed! See below for travel signature information.
  • Check your passport expiration. To re-enter the U.S., a passport must be valid 6-months into the future from the next date of entry.
  • Don't forget your I-20/DS-2019 and Passport, and when preparing to come back after winter break, be sure these documents are with your person on the plane -- you will need them before you have access to checked baggage to pass through passport control.

Frequently Asked Questions ("FAQs")

  1. What if I forget my I-20/DS-2019? If you have a scanned copy, print and carry it with you on your return travels to Evanston/Chicago. If you do not have a scanned copy and do not have an I-20/DS-2019 issued by Northwestern University, you may be denied entry into the U.S., or you may be issued a Form I-515A. Form I-515A allows you to enter the U.S. conditionally. If you are issued a Form I-515A at passport control, you must respond by submitting required documents within 30-days of the date of your arrival. If you are issued a Form I-515A, please plan to visit the IO during walk-in advising hours.
  2. What if I am detained by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) at the airport and they need to speak to someone at Northwestern? Occasionally students are stopped by CBP and held until CBP can speak to someone at the university. If this occurs during IO business hours (8:30am-5pm), please instruct CBP to contact the IO at 847-491-5613. If this occurs after business hours or on the weekend, please instruct CBP to contact the IO Emergency Phone at 847-532-2037.  ***IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you forgot your I-20 or need a new travel signature, this is NOT an emergency.  Please do not call the emergency phone in these situations.  Please follow the directions in #1.***
  3. What if there is a family emergency and I need to travel home unexpectedly? If you find yourself in the position of needing to travel unexpectedly and depart the U.S., be sure to take the latest dated I-20/DS-2019 with you. If necessary, the IO can ship an updated I-20/DS-2019 (see below for shipping instructions).

Travel within the U.S.

Traveling within the country is un-complicated and simple:

  • Carry two forms of photo identification (including your passport) and your form I-20/DS-2019.
  • You do not need an additional visa stamp or travel signature to travel within the US. Looking to visit somewhere warm? That includes Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Traveling abroad

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.

Make sure your documents are valid.

  • 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.
  • If your current SEVIS status is terminated, or you think it might be, please contact the IO before traveling outside of the U.S.
  • If you are planning to take a cruise, please check with your cruise provider to find out whether you will pass through Customs in any country you may enter, and whether you will be subject to U.S. Customs & Border Patrol inspection upon your return to the U.S.

How to obtain a travel signature

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 event calendar.
  • If you do not live in the Evanston/Chicago area: Please follow these steps:

Step 1: Contact your advisor to request a new document
Step 2: Create a shipment within eShipGlobal. Specify document type (Ex: I-20, EAD card, receipt notice, etc.)
Step 3: The IO will send the document!

Required documents for Optional Practical Training (OPT) students

Students on OPT 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 (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 I-20 and passport with valid visa.)
  • If you are, or will be employed, we recommend that you carry your offer letter.

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.