Travel and Re-Entry

If you are planning a trip within the United States or abroad, it is essential that you are properly prepared with all of the necessary documents.

Travel Signature

Be sure to check your I-20 or DS-2019 for a valid travel signature. This is one of the simplest steps to complete and one of the easiest to forget about!

If you need a new signature, the first step is to submit a Travel Signature Request Form at least 2 weeks before you plan to leave campus.  An advisor will review the request and students should assume that their submission has been received and will be processed unless they are contacted by an advisor about a specific issue.

When the signed I-20 or DS-2019 is ready, a final email is sent to the student.  It can take 5-7 business days to be notified about the I-20 or DS-2019 being ready.

Please plan accordingly so that this process and your travel plans go as smoothly as possible!  And remember, you need this valid travel signature on your document to return to the US, not to depart.  If you have to travel before getting an updated travel signature, ISS will work with you so that you have what you need to re-enter the US.

Travel Within the United States

When traveling within the United States by car, bus, train or airplane, to cities near or far, you may prefer to carry and present your valid state-issued identification, such as a state ID card or a driver's license. This is perfectly fine to do; however, it is essential that you have your passport and visa documents with you (in a very safe place, of course!) when you travel within the United States also.

In recent years, there has been heightened security not only at all border crossings, but also at bus terminals, train terminals, and airports throughout the United States. International students may be stopped and questioned randomly. Therefore, students should have their passport, visa documents (I-94 printout and properly signed SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019), any state-issued ID, and Case student ID card with them for ALL distance travel. A person without valid travel documents can be arrested, threatened with deportation and taken into Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody. We certainly don't want any of these things to happen to you!

by car, bus, train or airplane, near or far, or even if you’re going abroad, it is essential that you have your passport and visa documents with you. Students are urged to be sure to have their passport, visa documents (I-94 card and I-20 or DS-2019), and CWRU student ID card or other form of US identification (like a driver’s license) with them for ALL distance travel, even travel within Ohio.

Travel Outside the United States

For information on gaining entry into specific countries, students should consult the embassy of the country they would like to visit.

The following websites contain information on foreign consular offices:

Documents Needed for Re-Entry to the United States

Individuals seeking admission to the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status while enrolled as full-time students at CWRU* must have:

  • A valid passport or travel document
  • A valid F or J entry visa in the passport**
  • A valid, accurate, properly endorsed I-20 or DS-2019 that has a current travel signature***

Please be aware that there is never a guarantee that an individual in F or J status seeking re-entry will be admitted, even if all of the criteria are met. Border officials have the authority to approve or deny entry to whomever they choose for reasons that may or may not be apparent.

*Students who have applied or have been authorized for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM OPT should read about traveling under the sections here.

**If the entry visa has expired or will expire before return to the U.S., you must apply for a new one at a U.S. Consular office abroad; you cannot apply for a visa within the United States. The process should be the same as when you applied for a visa for the first time- visit the Obtaining a Visa section of our website- but it’s always a good idea to visit the Consulate’s website to review the process. Students who have properly maintained status do not have to pay a SEVIS fee to apply for a new visa.

***Travel signatures typically are valid for 12 months and are required to enter the United States, not to depart. A student may use a single travel signature to return to the U.S. as many times as they need during that validity period. Two known exceptions are when returning from Canada and when authorized for Optional Practical Training. In those instances, travel signatures are only valid for six months at a time. Be sure to check the validity of your travel signature before departing the U.S. to ensure a smoother reentry process.

After Re-Entry to the United States

All students and their dependents should check their electronic I-94 information online upon re-entry to the U.S. and print a copy for their records. For Fs and Js, the I-94 information should have an end date of “D/S,” meaning “duration of status.” This means that your stay in the U.S. is legal as long as you maintain your nonimmigrant status. Your status end date is indicated on the I-20 for Fs and the DS-2019 for Js as your anticipated program completion date.

If your I-94 record is marked with a specific date rather than “D/S” or you notice any other incorrect information, call the local Cleveland CBP office at 216.267.3600 then press option 2.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you forget to get a travel signature before leaving campus, don't panic! ISS will be available to help you year round, except when the university is closed. Changes in ISS availability will be posted in ISSNews.

Effective March 16, 2020 and until further notice, ISS has adapted how we will issue travel signatures to students who depart the US without getting one.  Read on for more information.

You can request an I-20 Reprint, which will be signed and sent to you. When your document has been generated, ISS will notify you by email and provide instructions for receiving your document.

If you're unable to receive the I-20 reprint in time, be prepared to receive an I-515A from the officer at US Customs. The I-515A is temporary admission to the US and you must comply with the requirements of the form in order to return to good standing. This is an extremely time sensitive process so you must work with ISS staff immediately upon your return to Cleveland to resolve this situation. Failure to handle this properly could result in the government terminating your student visa status.

If you have other questions or concerns, be sure to send an email to

And remember, ISS should be your first point of contact whenever you have questions or problems regarding your visa status. Never attempt to resolve a problem with your I-20 without first contacting our office as there may be very serious consequences for your actions. We're here to help!

F-1 students can make travel signature requests on behalf of their F-2 dependent(s).

You should make your request using the Travel Signature Request

If the travel signature request is just for a dependent, you should make note of that in the text box request within the form.

An ISS staff member will review the request and be in touch by email when it is ready.

Nonimmigrants wishing to apply for a visa in a country other than their country of citizenship are referred to as “Third Country Nationals” (TCNs). Students should know that consular offices are not required to provide service to TCNs. If they do, the process likely will be more time consuming—officers adjudicating TCN application must take extra necessary measures to become informed about the applicant’s relationship to his/her home country and the U.S.—and the possibility of denial of a visa is significantly higher than if the student were applying in his or her own country, due to the officers’ unfamiliarity with the applicant's situation.

International Student Services strongly urges students who are considering applying as TCNs to consult with an advisor before doing so.

Generally, nonimmigrants (and their dependents) must present a valid, unexpired visa in their passport each time they enter the United States. An exception to this rule exists when nonimmigrants (and their dependents) enter the U.S. after a short trip (less than 30 days) to Canada, Mexico or “adjacent islands” other than Cuba. In this case, the visas are considered to be extended to the date of reentry through “Automatic Revalidation of Visa Validity.”

Individuals seeking to benefit from automatic revalidation must retain their I-94 when leaving the U.S., as it is essential for re-entry. In addition, all other travel documents relevant to the particular status (passport, I-20 or DS-2019) must be present, valid and properly endorsed.

For more information about automatic revalidation, please read the automatic revalidation information on the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website.

Please be aware that there is never a guarantee that an individual in F or J status seeking re-entry will be admitted, even if all of the criteria are met. Border officials have the authority to approve or deny entry to whomever they choose for reasons that may or may not be apparent.

Taking a cruise is a popular activity for international students, so here’s what you need to know before you book yours.


You must travel with your passport and your most recent I-20 or DS-2019. Your passport must be valid at least six months into the future on the date you return to the United States. The travel signature on page 3 of your I-20 or in the lower right section of page 1 of your DS-2019 must be less than one year old on the date you return to the United States.

If you are an F-1 student on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM OPT or traveling to Canada, your travel signature must be less than six months old on the date you return to the United States, and you must also have with you your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). ISS also recommends printing out your most recently issued I-94 card from the Customs & Border Protection website.

Visas for the Countries You Will Visit

Some ports of call may require visas, be sure to research that information with the cruise line or by contacting the embassy or consulate of that country in the United States.

If Your U.S. Student Visa is Valid (Not Expired)

If you have an unexpired U.S. F-1 or J-1 visa inside your passport valid for multiple entries, you should not have any difficulties with your cruise plans, regardless of the itinerary, as long as your passport is valid at least six months into the future on the date you return to the United States, you have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 (see the section on Documents, above), and you have secured any required travel visas for your ports of call.

If Your U.S. Student Visa has Expired

If your U.S. F-1 or J-1 visa has expired (or will expire during your cruise) your cruise destinations are limited to only U.S. territories, Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands of the Caribbean, and your combined visits to these countries must be limited to fewer than 30 days. It also must be your intention to resume your F-1 or J-1 status upon your return. This benefit is not available to citizens or nationals of Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba.

Your passport must be valid at least six months into the future on the date you return to the United States, you must have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 (see the section on Documents, above), and you need to have secured any required travel visas for your ports of call.

U.S. territories in the Caribbean include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John).

Adjacent islands of the Caribbean are defined in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations at 8CFR 286.1(a); however, it's important to know that traveling to Cuba will make you ineligible for revalidation.

If your cruise itinerary includes even one port of call not on the above list (for example, Belize) and you have an expired U.S. visa, U.S. immigration officials will not allow you to re-enter the United States. Even if you stay on board the ship during the entire time the ship is docked in that country, it won't matter. The ship has physically entered that country's sovereign territory, and if you are on the ship, you've entered that country, too. Cruise officials may not even permit you to board the ship!

This is why it is so very important to carefully review a cruise itinerary for potential travel problems if your U.S. visa in your passport has expired.

If You are a Citizen of Canada

Citizens of Canada are exempt from needing U.S. visas, so you do not need to be concerned about having a valid U.S. visa in your passport. Just be sure to be compliant with the visa requirements at the ports you plan to visit!

Document Check

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the validity of your passport or I-20 or DS-2019, stop by International Student Services (Tomlinson Hall, Room 143) during walk-in hours before you travel. ISS staff will gladly look everything over and provide you with a fresh signature for your I-20 or DS-2019 if needed.


    Students who have either applied  or have been authorized for OPT or STEM OPT  should read about traveling under the sections here.

    Most students will clear Customs after your documents are reviewed by a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer, but sometimes students are instructed to meet with another officer whose goal is to verify your student status or clarify any additional questions they may have.  This meeting with an additional officer is known as “secondary inspection”.

    Secondary inspection can be intimidating and students may feel nervous about this, but there is not usually cause for serious concern. Completing this process, however, can take some time- an hour or more.  Whenever possible, try to schedule your flights with enough time between connections so that secondary inspection does not significantly affect your travel plans.

    If the CBP officer has questions that can be answered by ISS ask the officer if they would like to call the office.  During business hours, call 216.368.2517.  After hours, follow the protocol described on our website to get connected with someone who can help.