Travel: U.S. Departure and Re-entry

Updated February 21, 2020:

Pursuant to Executive Orders 13780 from 2017 and 9983 in Jan. 2020, thirteen countries are subject to partial or full restrictions for entry to the United States. The restrictions are country specific and tailored to the situation in each of the following countries: Chad, Eritrea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, N. Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Yemen. Please see the NAFSA Executive Order Travel Ban Resource page for the most recent updates, in addition to “Know Your Rights”  in the Important Reminders section below.  

Travel Document Checklist

If you plan to depart and re-enter the U.S., please be prepared to show the following documents at your U.S port of entry upon re-entry. Remember:  do not pack these items in checked luggage as you may need them at the border before you can access your luggage.

  1. Passport valid for at least 6 months into the future
  2. Valid F or J visa to re-enter the United States
  3. I-20/DS-2019 for current or new program of study with a valid travel signature (see below).
  4. OPT Students Only: EAD card and letter of employment on company letterhead
  5. Recommended for Current Students: Proof of enrollment for the next semester (print-out of PAWS course registration,  enrollment verification, or your GSU transcript for the most formal type of verification.)

Valid Travel Signature Requirement

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. Academic advisors and faculty members may not sign immigration documents.

How Long is a Travel Signature Valid? 

  • The immigration document states, “Each certification signature is valid for one year.” However, we know from experience that signatures near expiration can cause 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.


Where is the Travel Signature?

  • On form I-20, page 2.
  • On form DS-2019, bottom of page 1.

How do I get my travel signature updated?

  • Log into iStart
  • If you are unfamiliar with iStart, see the “Welcome to iStart” webpage and video here.
  • Click on “F1 Student Services,” then “Travel Signature Request.”
  • Your ISSS advisor will review your e-form and email you, once approved.
  • Then, bring your current I-20 or DS-2019 to ISSS for immediate signature at the front desk.
  • Normal processing time is 3-5 business days.

Important Reminders:

  • Know Your Rights at the Port of Entry: The American Civil Liberties Union publishes a helpful pamphlet called “Know Your Rights,” which contains information about your rights in case you come into contact with law enforcement at the airport or other ports of entry to the U.S. We encourage you to review this information, especially before international travel into the U.S. It contains useful questions and answers, and a list of other resources and referral contacts should you ever need them.
  • Grace Period: If you are in a post-completion 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 travel signature date. For students who are continuing their program by conducting research outside of the U.S., please note that you must obtain documentation from your department prior to departing the country that explains your stay outside the U.S for this time period.  You are required to visit the ISSS office before you depart.
  • 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 contact your international advisor if you have questions or concerns before traveling.


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. .

Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q)

You should expect to have your request processed in 3-5 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. If time permits, we can print and duplicate and mail it to you. We cannot email it. 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.
 Please don't let this happen. ISSS cannot email or fax duplicates of these items. You may be required to go through secondary inspection at the U.S. border, or you could be refused entry. Whatever your situation, please contact ISSS for further advice.
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. 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. *Note: As of Nov. 1, 2016 eye glasses will no longer be allowed in new visa photos. For more information please see the US Dept. of State U.S. Visas page
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.