Below are frequently asked questions related to travel. International students and scholars should carefully research entry requirements and/or restrictions for the countries they plan to travel to or through before finalizing travel plans. OIE recommends checking this FAQ page when planning any travel and reviewing any new or updated OIE News & Updates.
What documents should I carry for international travel?
F-1 and J-1 students must carry specific documentation to re-enter the U.S. to study after a temporary absence or vacation.
International students in F-1/J-1 status must present the following documents to re-enter the U.S.:
- Unexpired I-20 or DS-2019 with a current travel signature (document must have been signed less than 12 months ago)
- Unexpired passport valid 6 months into the future
- Unexpired U.S. F-1 or J-1 visa sticker affixed in your passport
- I-901 SEVIS Fee Payment Confirmation
OIE recommends that you also include the following documents in your carry-on and present them only if asked:
- Copies of all previous I-20s or DS-2019s
- Enrollment Verification Letter from the University Registrar's Office
- Request this letter through Student Information Online at least 3 business days prior to your departure.
- Financial documentation/proof of necessary funds plus expenses
Students in F-1 status with pending or approved OPT must present the following documents to re-enter the U.S.:
- Unexpired passport valid 6 months into the future
- Unexpired U.S. F-1 visa sticker affixed in your passport
- Unexpired I-20 with a current travel signature (document must have been signed less than 6 months ago)
- If OPT has been approved, travel with your EAD card
- If your OPT is pending, travel with your USCIS OPT Receipt Notice
- Job offer letter or proof of a future job interview, etc.
Schedule an appointment with your OIE advisor if you have any questions about upcoming travel plans.
How can I obtain a travel signature?
Travel signatures are not required to exit the U.S.; valid travel signatures are only needed for re-entry into the U.S. Travel signatures must be signed by an OIE advisor within 12 months of the date of re-entry for current students or within 6 months of the date of re-entry for students on OPT. Please note that travel within the U.S. does not require an updated travel signature on the I-20 or DS-2019.
Instructions for obtaining a travel signature from OIE:
Current F-1 students should submit the I-20 Signature Request E-Form in the MyOIE Portal. You will receive a new I-20 (with a new travel signature) by email (to your Andrew email account). The current government guidance allows the use of electronic I-20s for travel.
Students on OPT may obtain an I-20 with a travel signature by submitting the Request for Travel Signature or Reprint I-20 E-Form in the Limited Services section of the MyOIE Portal. The signed I-20 will be sent to the email account listed in the SEVP portal.
J-1 Students and J-1 Scholars who need a new travel signature should complete and bring the OIE Request for Services Form (pdf) and their DS-2019 to the OIE office in Cyert Hall to obtain a signature. Students who are not in Pittsburgh will need to arrange for the shipping (with eShip Global) of their DS-2019 Form, since electronic distribution of DS-2019s is prohibited by law.
I want to renew my visa and I am traveling internationally. What do I do?
You must have a valid visa to enter the U.S. (except Canadians). Your F-1/J-1 visa sticker is valid until its expiration date. If you need to travel after the expiration date, then you will need to apply for a new F-1/J-1 visa.
Obtaining a new F-1/J-1 visa is not a guaranteed approval and can result in significant visa delays (weeks to months). This is the risk you will have to take into account when deciding if you want to travel after your current F-1/J-1 visa expiration, or if you have a valid visa and would like to obtain a new one before it expires. Note: If you apply for a new visa before your current one expires, your current visa may be canceled.
Plan ahead and contact the U.S. Consulate or Embassy where you will apply for your new visa before you leave the U.S. More information, including instructions and visa wait times, can be found on the State Department's website.
If have additional questions regarding your specific case, schedule an appointment with your OIE advisor.
If I travel out of the U.S. and am unable to obtain a visa appointment or receive a visa before the new semester begins, what should I do?
OIE recommends that students (from all countries) consider international travel plans carefully as travel bans/restrictions may be in place at the time they want to return to the United States. Visa processing may be delayed or unavailable due to health and safety concerns at many U.S. Consulates.
Students who have concerns about traveling can schedule an appointment with their OIE advisor.
Please note that the U.S. government requires OPT applications to be sent from within the U.S. Additionally, remote instruction may be restricted in some countries.
I am returning to Carnegie Mellon from a Leave of Absence. Do I need a new F-1 visa?
If your F-1 visa sticker will expire by the time you need to re-enter the U.S. with your new I-20, then you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa.
If your current F-1 visa sticker will be unexpired by the time you need to re-enter the U.S. then you can consider using this same F-1 visa for entry with your new I-20.
The SEVIS number on your F-1 visa sticker will not match your new I-20. Your ability to re-enter is determined by the individual U.S. border officer you encounter upon your re-entry. We have heard conflicting views from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers as to whether or not the SEVIS ID on the visa must match the SEVIS ID on the I-20. Some CBP officers are looking for the SEVIS ID numbers to match. However, most of CBP shares that there is no such requirement, and as long as the visa is not expired, it is valid.
We have not heard of CMU students being denied entry when the SEVIS ID between their unexpired F-1 visa and new CMU I-20 do not match.
In the end, it will be your decision as to whether you use your current unexpired F-1 visa sticker for entry to the U.S.
Please note, if you do decide to apply for a new visa sticker, you might face administrative processing and visa delays. In addition, visa approval is never a guarantee – even if you had an approved visa in the past.
I am traveling to and/or through another country. Do I need to do anything?
Foreign country visitor and transit visas may be required depending on your country of citizenship and legal permanent residence. Check with the Embassy or Consulate of each country to find out if you need a visa.
Applying for visas is costly and time consuming, so plan ahead. If your plane is landing in another country, you may need a visa for that country, as well, even if you do not plan to exit the plane.
How can I get in touch with OIE during official university breaks?
The best way to contact OIE is to email email@example.com.
In case of emergency while the university is closed, call University Police at 412-268-2323. Emergency situations include being denied entry/re-entry to the U.S., or being detained by a government official.
For all other issues, including the need for an updated travel signature, OIE will be happy to assist during normal business hours once the university has re-opened.