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F-1 and J-1 Travel

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

OISS reminds students & scholars:

  • Get your I-20/DS-2019 signed if you are traveling outside the U.S. 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. 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.
  • Check the latest CDC updates on COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements for boarding a flight from a foreign country to the United States.

Travel Abroad

International students & scholars 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 (see below) endorsed within the last twelve months by the OISS; Customs and Border Protection officials will need to see your printed paper I-20 for re-entry to the U.S.
  • Valid visa stamp (pasted inside your passport); and
  • Current passport, valid at least six months after the date of your re-entry (unless your passport was issued by a country belonging to the "Six Month Club" and is exempt from the 6-month rule). Please see March 2022 DHS list of Countries that Extend Passport Validity for an Additional Six Months After Expiration

Make sure your documents are valid (unexpired)

  • If your F-1 or J-1 visa is unexpired, you can use that visa to re-enter 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 on your Form I-20

Getting a travel signature on your I-20 is easy!

Option 1: 

Submit an “I-20 Reprint Request” at the OISS Portal and indicate you need a travel signature.  Processing time is 5 business days, so please submit your request in a timely manner. You will receive an email notifying you when your updated I-20 with a travel signature has been processed and is ready for you to access via the OISS Portal. Options to receive your document:

To receive your Form I-20 with a travel signature:

  • Print your updated I-20 with the travel signature from the “Documents” section of your OISS Portal. You will need to sign in ink in the student attestation section of the document. This is the easiest and fastest way to receive your I-20 with travel signature. 
  • Request  and pay for shipping for your document at https://study.eshipglobal.com/
  • Send an email to intoff@northwestern.edu to request to pick up your Form I-20 with travel signature in person during open office hours at 630 Dartmouth Pl.
  •  
Option 2:
  • Visit the OISS Office at 630 Dartmouth Pl., Evanston during open office hours with your current  I-20  document in hand to receive a travel signature.

How to Obtain a Travel Signature on your Form DS-2019

J-1 Students:

  • Option 1:  Submit a "DS-2019 Reprint Request” at the OISS Portal and indicate you need a travel signature.  Processing time is 5 business days; please submit your request in a timely manner. You will receive an email notifying you when your updated I-20 with a travel signature has been processed and is ready for you to pick up in the OISS Office during normal office hours. Alternately, you can also request  and pay for shipping for your document at https://study.eshipglobal.com/
  • Option 2:  Visit the OISS Office at 630 Dartmouth Pl., Evanston during open office hours with your current  I-20  document in hand to receive a travel signature.

J-1 Scholars:

Bring your DS-2019 to the OISS Office at 630 Dartmouth Pl., Evanston during open office hours and tell the front desk team you need a travel signature. Pick up your DS-2019 with new travel signature the following business day after 12:00 pm.

COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Requirements for Entry into the U.S.

All non-U.S. citizens, non-U.S. immigrant travelers arriving in the U.S. from a foreign country must have proof of an acceptable COVID-19 vaccination. In addition to evidence of vaccination, proof of a negative COVID-19 test (regardless of vaccination status or citizenship) taken within 1 day of departure is required for entry into the U.S. from a foreign country. Full details of vaccine and testing requirements as well as exemption categories can be found on the CDC website.

Where can I receive a COVID-19 test locally prior to international travel?

Northwestern University (NU) Health Services is available to support you in obtaining the COVID-19 tests required for your international travel home. Be sure to check with your airline and arrival country for specific requirements.

If you need a Rapid Antigen Test before traveling internationally:
You can visit the Jacobs Center (Evanston) or 345 E. Superior St. (Chicago) and complete your test within the necessary time frame. Upon arrival, please inform a staff member on what type of test you need to complete so they can direct you to the designated testing area. You do not need to make an appointment. Currently, rapid testing is available 9 am – 4 pm at the following sites:

  • Jacobs Center (2001 Sheridan Road) in Evanston, using the south (Deering Meadow) entrance
  • 345 E. Superior Street in Chicago

Visit the Rapid Antigen Testing webpage for full details of steps to complete before coming to take a rapid test. 
 
If you need a PCR test before traveling internationally:

You can visit the Jacobs Center (Evanston) or 345 E. Superior St. (Chicago) and complete your test within the necessary time frame. You do not need to make an appointment. Upon arrival, please inform a staff member that you will need a PCR test, and they will show you to the designated testing area. 
 
Questions about COVID-19 testing should be directed to:
NU-COVID-Testing-Support@northwestern.edu.

Additional off campus testing sites include:

Walgreens Covid-19 Testing for Ages 3+

CVS Pharmacy Covid-19 Testing

Physicians immediate Care

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, w.e 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.

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.

 Travel Tips

  • Before traveling, make photocopies of ALL documents: passport, I-20/DS-2019, visa stamp, I-94 record. 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!
  • Carry your COVID-19 vaccine card with you when you travel and take and save a photo of your vaccine card document as well.
  • If traveling abroad, bring your financial documentation showing proof of necessary funds to cover tuition and living costs. (i.e. bank statements, funding letters, etc.)
  • 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.
  • Remember to print and save your I-94 record each time you return to the U.S.  Visit www.cbp.gov/I94 to print your I-94 record.