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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 time 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 return to the U.S., 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  CDC website on International Travel to and from the United States for the latest update on the COVID-19 vaccination requirement 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 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.

What is a travel signature?

A travel signature is relevant only to F-1 students or J-1 students and scholars (and their dependents) who are planning to travel abroad and return to the U.S. in F or J status. This includes alumni who remain in F or J status for post-graduation F-1 OPT or J-1 AT. You must have an unexpired travel signature on the date you re-enter the U.S.

Travel signature endorsement and validity

  • Continuing F-1/J-1 Students/Scholars : The signature on page 2 of the I-20 or on the bottom right corner of page 1 of the DS-2019 is valid for 12 months. If your re-entry date to the U.S. is within 12-months from the last signature, you will be eligible to re-enter on that I-20/DS-2019.  However, if the signature on your I-20 or DS—2019 will be more than one year old by the time you re-enter U.S., then a new travel signature is required.
  • Information for F-1 students on OPT/STEM OPT: The signature on page 2 of the OPT I-20 is valid for 6 months from when it was signed. If your re-entry date is within 6 months from the last signature, you are eligible to re-enter on that I-20.  However, if you re-enter after the 6-month time frame, a new travel signature is required.
  • Information for J-1 Short-term Scholars and J-1 Students on Academic Training: Travel signatures are valid for 6 months or until the end of program, whichever is sooner.

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/
  • When you submit the request, you will also have the option to indicate you wish to pick up a paper copy of your Form-20 from the OISS Evanston office during regular office hours.
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 DS-2019 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 rrequest  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  DS-2019 document in hand to receive a travel signature.

J-1 Scholars:

  • Visit the OISS Office at 1902 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL during open office hours  with your current DS-2019 document in hand to receive a new travel signature.

Requirement for Proof of COVID-19 vaccination for air passengers

All non-U.S. citizens, non-U.S. immigrant travelers seeking to enter the United States by air travel are required to show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States. For more information please consult 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:
Rapid testing is available at:

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

No appointments are needed for rapid testing. Before visiting a testing location, please confirm the current hours of operation.
 
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, 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.

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 , 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.