WHAT TO EXPECT AT A US PORT OF ENTRY
When planning to travel to the United States, it is important to be prepared and learn what to expect at a U.S. port of entry. Whether this will be your first time entering, or you are returning to continue your studies, review this information to get ready:
If you are a new student or returning student who received an I-20 or DS-2019 with a new SEVIS ID number, do not travel to the United States more than 30 days before the program start date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019.
The first time you enter the US with a newly issued visa, the SEVIS ID # and school name on the visa and I-20 should match. If they do not, please contact your embassy to determine if you need an updated visa.
If you are a continuing student, valid immigration documentation about your program (I-20 or DS-2019) with travel signature from Rutgers Global - ISSS. Note that you need a valid travel signature when you return to the US, not when you are leaving. However, it is good to have it in advance in preparation for your travel.
Pack required documents. Put your passport with valid F-1 or J-1 visa and your I-20 or DS-2019 in your carry-on bag; you will not have access to your checked luggage before you cross immigration.
Present your passport and valid, unexpired F-1 or J-1 visa and your I-20 or DS-2019 to an immigration officer.
At the time of entry to the United States, your passport must be valid for six months beyond the period of your intended stay (i.e. program end date on your I-20 or DS-2019), unless your country is exempt from this requirement. You can also read more about this on the CBP site here.
Students on post-completion or STEM OPT must also present a valid EAD card, and/or proof of pending application (if applicable).
Students on Academic Training must travel with their Academic Training letter to prove employment authorization.
Carry other recommended documents in your carry-on bag (and only present them if asked):
- Admissions letter (for new students)
- SEVIS I-901 fee receipt
- Your complete unofficial transcript or Enrollment Verification to prove good academic standing (for continuing students)
- Current proof of funding
- All previously-issued I-20 or DS-2019 forms
- Students on OPT or AT can prepare proof of employment (job offer letter, pay stubs, confirmation letter from employer)
- If needing to apply for a new F-1 or J-1 visa before returning to the U.S., a recently-updated I-20 or DS-2019 issued to you within the 6 months prior to your application for a new visa
- If your field of study or research is technology or science-related, you may request a letter (on letterhead) from your supervisor, department chair, center director or graduate program director. The letter should explain as much about your program of study and research as possible in simple language.
After re-entering the United States, remember to check your I-94 and entry stamp for F-1 or J-1 and D/S. If this is not the case, you must contact CBP deferred inspections to have the entry corrected.
If you are pulled aside for additional questioning while being processed by Customs and Border Protection:
Be sure to treat the officer with respect.
It is advisable not to sign any papers – other than those that are clearly routine, such as a customs declaration form -- that you are given without first speaking to an attorney. Depending on what you sign, it could complicate future entry into the United States.
If you are detained, or are asked to sign something prior to being released, ask if you may make a phone call. Please note that you may not be allowed to do so, but you should be sure to politely ask.
If you are permitted to make a call, call your US-based attorney (if you have one) or our office
You can call or email the Rutgers Global–International Student and Scholar Services during office hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m.)
Rutgers–New Brunswick and RBHS (New Brunswick) Students: 848-932-7015; ISSS-Students@global.rutgers.edu
Rutgers–RBHS (Newark) Students: 973-972-6138; ISSS-RBHS@global.rutgers.edu
Outside of regular working hours call the Rutgers Police at 732-932-7211 (New Brunswick) or 973-972-4491 (RBHS Newark).
Keep these contact details on a printed piece of paper. You may not have access to your phone if you are sent to a secondary inspection area.
Traveling Out of the US
If you already have a valid travel signature but have more future international travel planned, please submit the "International Travel Plans" e-form under the "Travel & Location Information" menu on RGlobal Portal to report it. This helps us keep in contact with you during your trip abroad.
You do not need a travel signature to travel within the United States. Please note - if your travel involves any entry to a non-US territory (such as a tropical island when on a cruise), you will need a travel signature and valid F-1 visa to return. Be cautious!
"5 Month Rule"
Remaining outside of the United States for more than 5 months at a time could be considered a "permanent" absence by the US government, possibly impacting your ability to re-enter the US in the future with your current I-20 and visa, and future immigration benefits. If this is your plan, please speak an Adviser before your travel/time abroad. Students that do not need to maintain an in-person presence at Rutgers may be advised to close their SEVIS records/end their F-1 status until their return.
Taking a Leave of Absence
We understand emergencies happen and situations may arise that require you to take an extended unplanned break from campus or from your academic work. If an emergency requires you to travel outside of the United States, contact an academic dean or your graduate program director and an international student adviser about the situation before leaving the United States. Visit our Leave of Absence or Withdrawal and Returning to Rutgers pages to find out how this may impact your legal status and how to prepare for your return.
Communication While Abroad
You MUST have a way to read/access your Rutgers emails when you are in your home country/while abroad. This is especially true for students that live in a country with a firewall. Not being able to access your Rutgers emails can have negative impacts on your immigration status, as important updates are sent to you with this method. Read how to update your contact information below.
More Information and Reminders
- Update your address, email, and phone number on the MyRutgers portal (in the local address section)
- Review visa application information if you need to apply for a new visa before returning
- If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands for 30 days or less, you may be eligible for Automatic Revalidation
- Check visa requirements and entry procedures for the country you are traveling to, if you are not visiting your home country, and ensure you have required documentation before departing the United States.
- Review information about preparing to enter the United States and gather all recommended documents
- Review our Rutgers Global Alerts page for updated travel alerts, especially regarding presidential executive orders impacting travel
- If you will be conducting research outside of the United States or participating in a study abroad program, please visit our Doing Research or Study Abroad page for more information.
Useful Travel Resources for International Students
- Study in the States, What to Expect when Entering the United States
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Know Before You Visit
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Travel Guidance
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection – For International Visitors
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS) - I-94 Related Information