Travel & Visas

What documents do I need to re-enter U.S.?

If you are a new or current student and have been out of U.S. for less than 5 months, you will be asked to present the following documents to a Custom and Border Protection Officer at a Port of Entry:

  1. Passport valid for at least 6 months into the future: If your country has a special agreement with the U.S. allowing, your passport will be valid until the date of expiration. Find the list of these countries on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement page.
  2. Valid F-1 Student Visa: Check the expiration date and the number of allowed entries on your visa. Most visas have "M" (multiple) printed under entries. This means there is no limit on the number of entries for which you can use your visa. If your visa is expired or have already used the number of entries you are allowed, you will need to renew your F-1 student visa at the U.S. Consulate/Embassy office in your home country. If you are seeking entry to U.S. after traveling back from a contiguous country (Canada, Mexico) or adjacent islands for less than 30 days, you may be permitted to re-entry with an expired F-1 visa. See the Automatic Visa Revalidation section for more details.
  3. SEVIS Form I-20, endorsed for travel by DSO: Your I-20 needs to be authorized for travel on 2nd page by a Designated School Official (International Student Advisor). You must plan ahead to get your I-20 signed before leaving the US. Each signature authorizes travel for one year following the signature date. For students engaged in Post-Completion or STEM Extension OPT, the signature is valid for six months. To receive a signature, please complete Travel Authorization Signature Request Webform and drop off your current I-20 to ISS Front Desk. 
  4. Evidence of Financial Resources (optional but strongly recommended): A bank statement, a letter from your sponsor or a scholarship award letter. The amount should cover one year of expenses that you are responsible as indicated on the first page of your I-20.
  5. Evidence of Student Status (optional but strongly recommended): Print out your class schedule and unofficial transcript by accessing MyUW.

You should also have phone numbers of the UW Tacoma available in case a CBP officer needs to contact UW Tacoma to verify your student status. In that case, please contact:

International Student Services| 253-692-4695 | Mondays-Fridays, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. except university holidays

Campus Safety | 253-692-4416 | Open 24 hours, 365 Days

What to expect when seeking re-admission to U.S. at an airport

  • Have the following documents available for presentation: a valid passport, a valid student visa, a valid SEVIS Form I-20/DS-2019 or DS, Customs Declaration Form CF-6059 and other recommended documents.
  • When you arrive you will proceed to the customs/inspection area. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will ask you, "what is your purpose in coming to the U.S.?" Inform him or her that you are a new or returning student in the United States. Always answer their questions honestly and directly, but do not provide extra information or documents they do not ask for.
    • If a CBP officer asks you for your social media identifiers, you have the option of listing your usernames. Do not offer your passwords unless you are explicitly asked for them.
    • In extremely rare instances, a CBP officer may ask to see your phone, tablet, laptop, or other device. If this happens, do not argue with him or her because the law currently does not protect travelers from having their belongings searched at borders. Know that anything that has been on your device is subject to search.
  • The CBP officer will process your I-20/DS-2019 form and return it to you, take a digital photo and your fingerprints.
    • If a CBP officer refers you to secondary inspection, this is simply because they need more time to review your documents or a database. Remain calm and be prepared.
    • If a CBP officer gives you an “Order to Appear – Deferred Inspection,” this means that you are missing an important document. It is mandatory that you go to this appointment.
    • If you have issues that the CBP officer describes as “grounds of inadmissibility,” please contact a qualified immigration lawyer.
  • Pick up your baggage at the baggage claim carousel.
  • Proceed through CBP checkpoint and show your Customs Declaration Form (CF-6059) to the CBP officer (your baggage may be examined).
  • If your first entry to the U.S. is at Sea-Tac International Airport, you may need to drop off your baggage once after inspection, take a shuttle train to the Main Terminal Baggage Claim area, and pick up your luggage again there before leaving the airport.

Travel to a Third Country

When traveling to a third country (a country other than U.S. or your home country), you are responsible for knowing whether or not you need an entry visa for that country. Below is a brief information on visiting Canada and Mexico.

Visiting Canada:

  • Visit this Government of Canada's website to find out if you need a visa to travel to Canada  If you need a visitor visa to enter Canada, visit Govenrment of Canana's webpage regarding how to apply for temporary resident visa. Here are some important reminders:
    • Applications and forms must be completed electronically or submitted in-person at a Visa Application Center.
    • Applications will be returned to you by USPS mail only, not by courier.
    • Application may take more than 30 business days. To check on application processing time, visit this page.
    • ISS recommends students to get WA ID card first before applying for Canadian visa. This is because during the application process, students will not have access to passports for ID purpose. To apply for WA ID card, please complete online webform for Support Document for WA ID and Driver's License.
    • Multiple entry temporary resident visa may be valid for up to 5 years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. The fee is $150. The fee for single entry temporary resident visa is $75. The single entry visa may also be used for repeated entries into Canada from the U.S. within the time allowed for your stay in Canada (normally 6 months).
    • Pay close attention to all the requirements, such as requirements for those with a U.S. mailing address (refer to the how to apply for temporary resident visa link).

Visiting Mexico

  • Tourist cards or visas may be required for travel to Mexico. For more details, contact the Consulate General of Mexico in Seattle located at 2132 3rd Ave Seattle, WA  98121, Phone (206) 448-3526 or Email conseattle@sre.gob.mx

Automatic Visa Revalidation

If you are returning from Canada, Mexico or one of the adjacent island to the U.S. for fewer than 30 days, you may enter the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa. However, if you meet any of the following criteria, you will not be able to automatically re-validate your visa.

  • You applied for a new visa and it has not been issued.
  • You applied for a new visa and were denied.
  • You have a terminated SEVIS record indicating that you are out of status.
  • You have been outside of the U.S. for more than 30 days.
  • You are a citizen of Iran, Sudan or Syria.

If you wish to travel using Automatic Visa Revalidation benefit, please make sure to travel with a printout of this webpage by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Travel Within the U.S.

Federal law requires you to carry "registration" documents at all times, including your immigration documents. ISS suggests that you keep your original immigration documents in a secure location, and carry copies of your immigration documents for day-to-day purposes. However, if you are traveling within/outside the U.S. you must carry your original immigration documents with you. Keep photocopies of all your documents in a separate location in the event your documents are lost or stolen.

Travel After Completion of Studies at UW Tacoma

If have completed your program of study, you are allowed to remain in the U.S. for 60 days to travel within the U.S. and prepare for your departure. If you step outside of U.S. after completion of your program of study, you are not allowed to re-enter U.S.

Students who have graduated and applied for OPT:

While your application is pending, you can seek re-admission to U.S. with the following documents:

  • Passport valid for at least 6 months into the future: If your country has a special agreement with the U.S. allowing, your passport will be valid until the date of expiration. Find the list of these countries on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement page.  
  • Valid F-1 Student Visa: Check the expiration date and the number of allowed entries on your visa. Most visas have "M" (multiple) printed under entries. This means there is no limit on the number of entries for which you can use your visa. If your visa is expired or have already used the number of entries you are allowed, you will need to renew your F-1 student visa at the U.S. Consulate/Embassy office in your home country. If you are seeking entry to U.S. after traveling back from a contiguous country (Canada, Mexico) or adjacent islands for less than 30 days, you may be permitted to re-entry with an expired F-1 visa. See the Automatic Visa Revalidation section for more details.
  • SEVIS Form I-20, endorsed for travel by DSO: Your I-20 needs to be authorized for travel on 2nd page by a Designated School Official (International Student Advisor). For students engaged in Post-Completion or STEM Extension Optional Practical Training (OPT), the signature is valid for six months. To receive a signature, please complete Travel Authorization Signature Request Webform and drop off your current I-20 to ISS Front Desk.
  • Evidence of Financial Resources (optional but strongly recommended): A bank statement, a letter from your sponsor or a scholarship award letter. The amount should cover one year of expenses that you are responsible as indicated on the first page of your I-20.
  • Notice of Action (receipt notice) from United State Citizenship and Immigration Service indicating that you have applied for OPT.

Once your application is approved and EAD card is issued, you must travel with the following document in addition to documents specified above.

  • Valid EAD (Employment Authorization Document) Card   
  • An employment offer letter or letter of employment from your employer, internship or volunteering site

Absence from the U.S.

Your current F-1 program will be terminated if you are outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months, unless you have been authorized to study abroad. Consult with ISS if you plan to be out of the U.S. for more than 5 months.

Air Transit in Canada

Starting March 15, 2016, visa exempt foreign nationals who fly to or transit through Canada will need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travelers with a valid visa. To learn more, visit Government of Canada's webpage.