Whether traveling within the U.S. or outside, there are certain considerations you need to keep in mind. While you can make plans to depart at any time, you need to make certain that you have the appropriate documentation to return to the U.S.
Inside the U.S.
NOTE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has the right to check all documents of any person within 100 miles of the U.S. border. You should carry originals of your documents if you are within these zones.
The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) will soon require all air travelers to have a government issued REAL ID to fly within the U.S. If you do not have a REAL ID once required, you will need to use your passport.
Outside the U.S. while on OPT
If you plan to leave the U.S. to visit another country, all F-1 students on OPT and their dependents must have certain documentation to return to the US. If the F-2 dependent is traveling without the F-1 student, the dependent should also carry copies of the F-1 student's documents mentioned below.
F-1 Students on OPT should keep the information below in mind while planning their travels. Any student who wishes to enter the U.S. must have the following documents:
- Valid Passport
- Valid Visa (unless you are Canadian) (for other exceptions read Automatic Visa Revalidation)
- I-20 with a valid travel signature on page 2 (signed within the last 6 months)
- Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if on approved OPT (this is technically not a travel document)
- Job offer letter or job confirmation letter
There are numerous scenarios for students pending OPT and on approved OPT with regards to travel. Please read below to determine which scenario fits you best.
Remember: You may leave the U.S. without an updated travel signature. Failure to acquire a travel signature prior to departing the U.S. is NOT an emergency. Do NOT call UMPD. Request a reprint of your document and we can email it to you wherever you are.
- Travel while OPT is pending but before your program end date:
Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. You must ensure your documents (valid passport, valid visa, I-20 with travel signature signed in the last 12 months) are in order and you return to the U.S. before the final program end date listed on your OPT I-20. Prior to your program end date on your I-20, you are still considered a student. After the program end date, you are either on pending OPT or approved OPT when traveling.
- Travel while your OPT is pending and after your program end date:
Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. If you travel, be sure all your documents are in order (valid passport, valid visa, I-20 with travel signature signed in the last 6 months). Some ports of entry may request your I-797 notice indicating your OPT is pending, and confirmation of employment but these documents are not technically required for travel.
- Travel once your OPT has been approved and you have a job:
Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. International travel for personal and professional reasons while employed on OPT should be routine as long as you have the documents noted above. Working remotely outside the U.S. is permitted as long as your employer has approved it.
- Travel while on OPT (pending or approved) and needing to renew your visa:
Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. Renewing your visa can be quick or can take months if you need administrative processing. If you need to leave the U.S. while on OPT and renew your visa to return, please advise your employer about the potentiality that you might be outside the U.S. for longer than anticipated so alternative work arrangements can be made. As long as you are still employed, you may work outside the U.S. remotely and not accrue unemployment. Please see below for information about renewing your visa.
- Cap-gap and applying for an H-1B: You should confirm with your immigration attorney that you can leave the U.S. while your H-1B (or other immigration status) is pending. Leaving the U.S. is often considered an abandonment of your application so you will need to make alternative arrangements.
Requesting a New Travel Signature
While on OPT, travel signatures are valid for 6 months and must be renewed if it will expire before re-entry to the U.S. Check the travel signature date on page 2 of your most recently issued I-20. You may leave the U.S. without an updated travel signature.
You may request a reprint of your I-20 through the I-20 Reprint E-Form for an emailed I-20 that you will need to print. The approval emails occasionally go into your Spam/Junk folder. Please check this folder if 10-12 business days have passed and you have not received the approval email yet.
Renewing Your Visa Stamp
If your F-1 visa in your passport has expired or will expire prior to your next re-entry to the U.S., you will need to renew your visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad before you can re-enter the U.S. There is no option to renew a U.S. visa while inside the U.S. Visit this website for updated visa renewal information and procedures at your nearest U.S. consulate in your home country.
Note: If you are currently in the U.S. and your U.S. visa has expired, or will expire, please remember that you do not need to renew your U.S. visa if you do not have actual travel plans. Your U.S. immigration status remains valid as long as you are maintaining proper F-1 status at UMass. While on OPT, this means you have remained employed, reported personal information changes in SPIRE, and not accumulated more than 90 days of unemployment. A U.S. visa is only necessary for travel and re-entry to the U.S. but is not necessary if you do not have immediate travel plans.
Passports: Anyone planning to depart from the U.S. and return after a temporary absence must have a valid passport in order to exit the U.S. The passport must also be valid for a minimum of six months into the future at the time of re-entry to the U.S. Some countries have an agreement with the U.S. that automatically extends passport validity for 6 months, for U.S. entry purposes only.
Automatic Visa Revalidation
For a visit of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (except Cuba), you are allowed to re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa. This process is known as Automatic Visa Revalidation.
You will need your:
- Valid Passport
- Most recent Visa Stamp
- Current I-20 with a valid travel signature
Please note if you apply for an F-1 visa in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and are denied, you will not be able to return to the U.S. using Automatic Revalidation.
Nationals of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria are not eligible for automatic revalidation of an expired visa.
Note: This is for informational purposes only. The IPO cannot advise on non-U.S. visas, immigration statuses, or paperwork.
A Schengen visa is a short-term visa that permits travel within specific EU nation states for up to 90 days. More information can be found at the EU’s Schengen Visa.
If you plan to visit Canada, a visa may or may not be required depending on your citizenship. Review your Canadian visa requirements here.