Travel – U.S. Departure and Re-entry

International students must have a valid travel signature on their immigration Form I-20 or DS-2019 to re-enter the United States. Immigration forms may only be signed by an approved DSO (Designated School Official) or RO (Responsible Officer) in ISSS (International Student and Scholar Services). Academic advisors and faculty members may not sign immigration documents.

My Travel Signature

Where is it?

  • On form I-20, travel signatures appear at the bottom of page 3.
  • On form DS-2019, travel signatures appear at the bottom of page 1.

When does it expire?

  • The immigration document states “Each certification signature is valid for one year.” However, we know from  experience that signatures near expiration have caused problems at U.S. re-entry.
  • Therefore, ISSS recommends a new (updated) travel signature if the current one will be more than 6 months old at the time you re-enter the U.S.

How do I get it updated?

  • Be registered for the current semester and next semester if registration is open.
  • Log into iStart
  • If you are unfamiliar with iStart, see the “Welcome to iStart” webpage and video here.
  • In iStart, click on “F1 Student Services,” then “Travel Signature Request.”
  • The e-form will be reviewed by your advisor. If approved, you will receive an automatic email notification from ISSS of the approval.
  • Then, bring your current I-20 or DS-2019 to ISSS for immediate signature at the front desk.
  • Normal processing time is at least 2 days.

Important Reminders To Know:

  • Grace Period: If you are in a post-completion (you graduated) grace period, and you depart the U.S for any reason, such as a cruise, the grace period automatically ends. You cannot re-enter the U.S.
  • 5 Month Rule: If you will be outside the U.S. more than 5 months, your I-20 will automatically expire, regardless of the date of the travel signature. You will need a new SEVIS fee and new I-20.
  • Forgot your Immigration Form: If you arrive back in the U.S. without your I-20 or DS-2019, you will not be allowed immediate entry. You will go to secondary inspection (a waiting area for further questioning that can take several hours), or possibly refused entry to the U.S.
  • Questions or Concerns: Please see your international advisor if you have questions or concerns before traveling. Normal processing time is 2 days, except in emergency cases.


Canadian Students

Canadians must carry a valid passport, I-20 or DS-2019 and a NEXUS card (if applicable) to enter the U.S. If you do not show your I-20 or DS-2019, you will be admitted as a tourist in the B Visa category, which does not allow study in the U.S. .

Other Common Travel Questions

You should expect to have your request processed in 2 business days. However, your travel request should be submitted at least two weeks before your departure in case you need to resolve issues, such as holds or balances on your account. In addition, most students tend to travel at the end of the semester, and this large number of requests might delay the time travel requests usually take to be processed.
First, don’t panic. You just need to complete the travel signature request through iStart. Also, contact International Student & Scholar Services to make sure we are aware of the situation. You will be required to pay the mailing fee if your I-20/DS-2019 needs to be express mailed to you.
No, it is not a problem. You can use the same travel authorization for a later trip.
Paper I-94 cards are no long issued. Customs officials will stamp the passport of the traveler indicating the date of admission, visa type and authorized period of stay. Travelers who still have a paper I-94 card are advised to turn it in to the airline official when checking into an international flight. To obtain the I-94 information valid for any official use, travelers can print it for free at:
You are responsible for maintaining a current passport at all times. Your passport should always be valid for at least 6 months into the future. Depending on your country, you might be able to extend your passport here in the U.S. or might have to go home to do it. If you get a new passport, make sure you always travel with the new one and the old one if your valid visa is on the latter.
You only need to renew your visa if you are planning to re-enter the U.S.  You cannot re-enter if your visa has expired. However, as long as you are maintaining status, you can stay in the U.S. with an expired visa.
Generally you do not need to pay the SEVIS fee again for a renewal of a student visa. However, you should take your receipt from your first SEVIS payment with you to the visa interview. For information on SEVIS fee payment, visit
If you already have an F1 or J1 visa, but it’s expired, students can usually depart and re-enter the U.S. from these countries with an expired visa as long as they have a valid I-20/DS-2019, passport and I-94—there are some restrictions though. This is called Automatic_Visa_Revalidation.

If you plan to travel to obtain, renew or change status to an F1 or J1 visa, ISSS advises you to return only to your home country. Attempts to obtain a student visa in a 3rd country outside your own is very risky. You could be denied the visa and denied re-entry to the U.S. ISSS has no control over this process.

Please speak with ISSS before considering this travel situation.

Yes, but you need to have been maintaining your status in the U.S. and have your I-20/DS-2019 endorsed for travel.
For information from the U.S. Department of State, visit their website. For more information from ISSS, see the Visa Renewal page.