Carnegie Mellon University

Travel Tips & Advice

General Overview

During the ongoing pandemic, travellers should carefully consider entry requirements or restrictions applicable to any country you may be traveling to or through before finalizing travel plans.  Entry requirements may continue to change and may change while you are traveling.

F-1 and J-1 students must carry specific documentation to reenter the US to study after a temporary absence or vacation. Contact an OIE advisor if you have any questions about your proposed travel plans. Scheduling an appointment with an OIE advisor is strongly advised if you will be out of the US for more than 5 months, as your immigration status could be impacted.

To reenter the US using your Carnegie Mellon I-20/DS-2019, you must be currently enrolled or planning to enroll for the next academic semester at CMU. It is prohibited to reenter the US with your I-20/DS-2019 after you have completed your studies unless you have received authorization to engage in Optional Practical Training (OPT) (for F-1 students) or Academic Training (AT) (for J-1 students). OPT and AT require additional documentation (outlined below).

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.

Please note: To obtain a Canadian visitor’s visa, your I-20/DS-2019 may need a new signature.

Valid Passport

Your passport must be valid at all times and at least 6 months into the future to enter the US.

Valid I-20 or DS-2019

The I-20/DS-2019 needs to be from the school you are attending or will attend upon reentry. The document must have a valid travel signature signed within the past 12 months and must have a future end date. You may not reenter the US in F-1 or J-1 status during your grace period.

Valid Travel Signature on Your I-20 or DS-2019

For F-1 students, travel signatures must be signed by an OIE advisor within 12 months of the date of reentry, for current students; within 6 months for students on OPT.   F-1 students may submit a request for a signature using the appropriate eForm in the MyOIE Portal.  Submit your request for a document with a travel signature using the Request for Services document to oie@andrew.cmu.edu.  F-1 students will receive their updated I-20 by email to their Andrew email account.  The processing time for travel signatures is 5 business days.

J-1 students will need to otain a signature on their hard copy DS-2019.  Submit your current DS-2019 with a completed Request for Services form to the OIE office in Cyert Hall.  We encourage J-1 students to plan ahead or you may have to travel without your document and arrange for mailing it to you, pay an expedited mailing fee, or postpone your travel plans.  F-1 students will receive their updated I-20 by email to their Andrew email account. The processing time for travel signatures is 5 business days.

Valid US Entry Visa Sticker

The US Entry Visa Sticker must have an expiration date in the future and a valid entry/multiple entries. Exceptions to the visa requirement include:

  1. Automatic Extension of Visa Validity for travel to “Contiguous territory.” If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or one of the adjacent islands off the US (i.e., Saint Pierre, Miquelon, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, other British, French, and Netherlands territory or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea [INA, Section 101(b)(5)] other than Cuba) for pleasure or vacation for fewer than 30 days, you can return to the US using an expired US entry visa of any type, as long as you have a valid passport, I-94, and signed I-20/DS-2019 as specified above. This does not apply to residents of Mexico or the islands who are returning to their home countries. Automatic revalidation also does not apply to citizens of Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan.
  2. Canadian citizens are exempt from entry visa requirements but must enter the US with a passport.
  3. You do not need a valid visa to visit Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, or the Northern Mariana Islands, unless your travel plans include entry to any other country en route to these US territories. You will need a valid I-20.

1-901 SEVIS Fee Payment Confirmation 

  1. You may also be asked to present confirmation that you paid the I-901 SEVIS fee. You can print out a copy of this confirmation on the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website. 

OIE recommends that you also include the following documents in your carry-on and present them only if asked: 

Financial Documentation/Proof of Necessary Funds Plus Expenses

Finances may be demonstrated by:

  1. A letter from your department stating the amount of funding you are receiving, or
  2. A letter from another financial sponsor stating the amount they are giving you, plus supporting financial documents, such as bank statements or salary statements. Personal funds can be demonstrated with relevant supporting documents.

Enrollment Verification Letter from the HUB 

The HUB can provide a verification of your enrollment. Currently enrolled students may order verifications on Student Information Online (SIO) by selecting "Request Verification" under the Academic Info tab. Verifications can be mailed, faxed or ordered as PDF. Typical processing time is 2-3 business days.

Copies of all previously issued I-20s and DS-2019s 

Passport Renewal

To renew your passport within the US, contact your country of citizenship’s Embassy.

New US Entry Visa Sticker Application

If you are not traveling to “contiguous territory” (see above) and your visa in your passport has expired, or is not a visa for your current immigration status (i.e., it is not F-1 or J-1), we recommened that you plan enough time in the country you are visiting to visit the US Consulate and complete the visa application process. You cannot obtain an F-1 or J-1 visa from within the US.

The Consulate may request information in addition to the signed I-20 or DS-2019, such as:

  1. Proof of financial support
    • Bank statements for those with personal funds or department letters for those with CMU support. (The I-20/DS-2019 is not proof of financial support.)
  2. Proof of student status
    • The HUB can provide a verification of your enrollment. Currently enrolled students may order verifications on Student Information Online (SIO) by selecting "Request Verification" under the Academic Info tab. Verifications can be mailed, faxed, or ordered as PDF. Typical processing time is 2-3 business days.
  3. Proof that you have no intention of immigrating to the US
    • This can include future job offers at home, property, bank accounts, strong family ties, etc.

These documents may not be asked for at the visa appointment; however, you should be prepared with all of the potentially-required documentation. If you have relatives who are US citizens or permanent residents, you may have difficulty obtaining an F or J non-immigrant visa.

If you are traveling to a country that is not your country of citizenship or permanent residence (i.e., a “third” country), you could have difficulty in applying for your visa. Speak to an OIE advisor before planning to apply for a visa in a third country, so that you know your options.

If you are not maintaining legal status, immigration rules make it impossible to obtain a US entry visa in a third country. If you try to Apply for a Visa from a Third-Party Country (pdf), you may need to show evidence that you have been maintaining legal status. In most cases, a recent travel signature will verify maintenance of status to consular officials, but in some cases the Consulate may want to see additional evidence. It can help to be prepared with the following:

  • Letters confirming your student status and funding
  • Transcripts (from all current and previous US schools)
  • Copies of ALL previously issued I-20s/DS-2019s and visas

To obtain more information on visa requirements, visit the State Department website.

Graduating Students

An OIE advisor cannot sign your I-20 or DS-2019 once you have graduated unless you have applied for post-completion practical or academic training. Do not make plans to travel out of the country and return on your same student documents after you have completed your studies without contacting OIE to discuss your situation.

F-1 Students Authorized for Optional Practical Training

Students who travel while on OPT are required to travel with additional documentation. Students who travel while on OPT (and particularly those who must obtain a new visa stamp to re-enter the US) run a greater risk of not being readmitted to the US. Students on OPT should carry the following to reenter the US after a trip abroad:

  • Valid passport
  • I-20 with signature no more than 6 months old with signature no more than 12 months old
  • Valid F-1 visa sticker
  • OPT EAD card 
  • Job offer letter

J-1 Students on Academic Training (AT)

Re-entry provisions of the regulations require students who have graduated and are on authorized AT to present the following documents to re-enter the US: 

  • Valid passport
  • Valid form DS-2019, with AT authorization, endorsed for travel by the foreign student advisor within the last year 
  • Valid J-1 visa sticker (see Automatic Extension of Visa Validity for information about limtied re-entry options with an expired visa)
  • Job offer letter (recommended) 

Those who do not carry all of these documents may not be allowed to re-enter the US. If you have additional questions regarding travel and re-entry, be sure to consult with your OIE advisor when contemplating travel outside the US and re-entry to continue AT. 

Dependents

The information above applies to F-2 and J-2 dependents, as well. In case of travel to other countries (other than “contiguous territory”), the dependent must have an F-2 or J-2 entry visa. In addition, the dependent should carry photocopies of all pertinent immigration documentation of the F-1 or J-1 principal.

If your field of study or research might be considered a "sensitive" field that has direct or indirect military applications,  or you are concerned your visa application may be subject to administrative processing for a separate reason, review our Security Clearance during Visa Application Process page.