UKIC / International Student & Scholar Services / Student Travel FAQ

Student Travel FAQ

International students in F-1 or J-1 status may travel within the U.S. or abroad during their time at the University of Kentucky. ISSS has provided the following FAQs which include reminders and cautions to consider before traveling.

For more details about travel requirements visit the FAQ page on the Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) government website or consult legal counsel.

Information obtained on the ISSS website should not be construed as legal advice and when in doubt you should always check with legal counsel.  A list of some attorneys is available in this FAQ but you can also locate an immigration attorney through the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA on


General Reminders from ISSS

How to plan for travel outside of the US during your program:

  • Check your I-20/DS-2019 travel signature! Signatures are valid for up to one year (up to 6 months for student on OPT).
  • Check your passport expiration. To re-enter the U.S., a passport must be valid 6-months into the future from the next date of entry.
  • Don't forget your I-20/DS-2019 and Passport, and when preparing to come back after winter break, be sure these documents are with your person on the plane -- you will need them before you have access to checked baggage to pass through passport control.
  • Check to see if you will need a new visa stamp prior to returning to the U.S.  If so, follow the instructions in this FAQ or visit our travel page:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How should I prepare myself for travel?

Planning is the key. Think several weeks in advance about what you will need for your trip so you will not be stressed out at the last minute. Even before buying your airline ticket, it’s best to make sure you are aware of all the procedures or any risks associated with your specific travel as well as all the documents and/or signatures you may need.  For example, if you need a travel endorsement, processing times in ISSS are up to five business days. Travel endorsements (signatures on I-20s/DS-2109s) are valid for up to one year (up to 6 months during OPT).  Consider what you will need before, during and after your travel.

How can I prepare before leaving the U.S.?

Ensure you have the required documentation and signatures needed for any travel. International students in F-1 or J-1 status, and their dependents, need the following to re-enter the U.S.

  • SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 with a valid travel signature endorsed within the last twelve months by an ISSS immigration specialist (6 months for students on OPT)
  • Valid visa stamp (pasted inside your passport)
  • Current passport, valid at least six months after the date of your re-entry. Some countries have an agreement with the U.S. that allows their citizens to enter on a current passport up to the actual date of expiration; however, the policy is applied inconsistently by border officials.
  • Financial information showing proof of necessary funds to cover tuition and living expenses.
  • Proof of initial SEVIS Fee Payment

These additional items may also be required if filing for a new visa, changing degree levels, or changing your I-20 SEVIS record.

    • Transcript showing continued enrollment
    • SEVIS Fee may be required if filing for a visa with a new SEVIS record.

NOTE:  If you plan to apply for a renewal of your visa during your time abroad, you should make an appointment with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate before you leave the U.S.  Consult this complete list of U.S. Embassies.

Is there anything I should do while I’m away?

Ensure you have a valid U.S. Entry Visa. U.S. Entry Visas are issued by the U.S. Department of State and are obtained at U.S. Embassies or Consulates abroad. The visa application must be presented during a scheduled interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  • If you are entering the U.S. for the first time you will need to apply for a U.S. Entry Visa (Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt)
  • If you are a continuing student or scholar and your U.S. Entry Visa has expired you will need to apply for a new visa to return to the U.S. from abroad. 
  • There are certain exceptions to the Entry Visa requirement for travel to contiguous territories such as Canada and Mexico. See FAQ here.
  • The U.S. Department of State provides an online Visa Status Check, which allows both immigrant and nonimmigrant applicants to check the status of their cases at the Consular Electronic Application Center.
  • If you will be applying for a new visa check out NAFSA’s “10 Points To Remember When Applying for a Visa”. 
  • For more travel tips, visit the Study in the States website.  Also, information can be found on the U.S. News and World Report website. 



If I need a new (or renewed) visa, where do I apply?

  • All students and scholars applying for visas should consult the documentary requirements of the individual embassy or consulate at which they will be applying. Consult this complete list of U.S. Embassies.
  • Dependents will need to show proof of the relationship to the primary visa holder, e.g. marriage and/or birth certificates.
  • See the DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application for instructions on completing the form.
  • It is recommended that students and scholars apply for U.S. Entry Visas in their home countries.

Although many consulates will allow third country nationals to apply for visas, such individuals may face delays or difficulty proving non-immigrant intent. If denied a visa, the individual will not be allowed to (re)enter the U.S. and will likely have to return to the home country directly from the country where the visa application was submitted.   

Is there anything I should do upon my return?

Ensure you have received an accurate I-94 record reflecting the correct name, date of birth, nonimmigrant status and duration.  If this is incorrect, contact ISSS for instructions on obtaining a corrected I-94 record.


What if I forget or lose my I-20/DS-2019?

If you forget or lose your I-20/DS-2019, you may request a reprint in iCAT. ISSS can issue a new I-20/DS-2019 send you instructions to set up an express mail shipment to have the new document sent to you before you reenter the U.S. Remember, you only need an I-20/DS-2019 upon arrival to the U.S. and not for departure from the U.S. Every time you attempt to enter the United States, in F-1 or J-1 student status, you should have your original documents with you. If you do not have your documents, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer may issue you a Form I-515A, “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor.” If CBP issues you a Form I-515A, do not panic. The Form I-515A allows you to enter the U.S. conditionally.

What happens if I’m issued a Form I-515A by customs at passport control upon entry to the U.S.?

You have 30 days from when you receive a Form I-515A to submit missing documents or information to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). You will need an updated travel signature from ISSS to submit the documents. If you have lost your I-20/DS-2019, you will submit a reprint request in iCAT to get a new document signed for travel. Once you have the required information, you will submit it to SEVP. SEVP will process your documents and return the original copies to your DSO. If you have correctly submitted this information, SEVP also will send your DSO a letter of approval, and the Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record” you receive will have an extended departure date. Get these documents from your DSO and keep them in a safe place. If you do not submit your documents within 30 days, you will no longer have permission to be in the United States and must leave the country.

What if I am detained by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) at the airport and they need to speak to someone at the University of Kentucky?

Occasionally students are stopped by CBP and held until CBP can speak to someone at the university. If this occurs during ISSS business hours (8 a.m.-5 p.m.), please instruct CBP to contact the ISSS at 859-323-2121. If this occurs after business hours or on the weekend, please instruct CBP to contact the After-Hours phone number which is provided in the voicemail introductory message when calling 859-323-2121. 

*IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you forgot your I-20 or need a new travel signature, this is NOT an emergency.  Please do not call the emergency phone in these situations. Refer to the FAQ above for a lost or stolen I-20/DS-2019.

What if there is a family emergency and I need to travel home unexpectedly?

If you find yourself in the position of needing to travel unexpectedly and depart the U.S., be sure to take the latest dated I-20/DS-2019 with you. If necessary, the ISSS can ship an updated I-20/DS-2019 by using eShipGlobal.

What if I’m questioned at the port-of entry/border upon arrival to the U.S.?

  • Some individuals may encounter lengthy questioning or visits to secondary inspection every time they enter the U.S.
  • Sometimes this may be caused by a problem with an immigration record, which can sometimes be corrected with the help of an ISSS Immigration Specialist. However, not all border issues are within the purview of ISSS.
  • Individuals can make their own requests to correct their records and facilitate travel through the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP). For more information, please refer to the CBP website here .

What if I have been in trouble with immigration or the police in the past (e.g. arrested)?

If you have been arrested you may wish to speak with a qualified immigration attorney.  If you determine you need to consult with an immigration attorney, we recommend searching for an immigration attorney affiliated with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA. AILA is a national association of attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. We’ve also provided a list of attorneys that have worked with UK faculty and staff in the past.

In addition, you can review the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU's brochure describing how to "Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement."

You can also check this presentation which covers this topic along with other risks.

What are the general risks with traveling abroad?

Most students will be able to travel with little to no trouble or any concern.  However, it’s wise to be aware of potential actions which could make travel more difficult for you now or in the future. 

Click here to download a presentation on the risks of travel given on October 7, 2019 .  This presentation mentions several potential risks when traveling abroad.

If you determine you need to consult with an immigration attorney, we recommend searching for an immigration attorney affiliated with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA. AILA is a national association of attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. We’ve also provided a list of attorneys that have worked with UK faculty and staff in the past.

Is it true that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) also known as passport control officers may ask to see your cell phone or laptop computer or search other personal items during an inspection process at the border or other port-of-entry?

This has always been true but recently there have been several cases reported in the media and CBP has published the following publication related to searches.  If you have any doubts you should contact a qualified immigration attorney. A list of attorneys is available in this FAQ but you can also locate an immigration attorney on AILA is a national association of attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. We’ve also provided a list of attorneys that have worked with UK faculty and staff in the past.

Do I need an F/J visa to travel or reenter the U.S. if I’m a Canadian citizen?

Citizens of Canada are exempt from the U.S. Entry Visa requirement. However, Canadian F-1 and J-1 students and scholars must present the SEVIS fee payment receipt for their initial (first-time) entries to the U.S.

Can students on an F/J visa travel to adjacent islands, or a contiguous territory such as Canada or Mexico?

Some F and J status students traveling to a contiguous territory, such as Canada or Mexico, for 30 days or less may not need to renew the visa before returning.  Some F and J status holders may also travel to many adjacent islands without a visa. Non-immigrants from countries designated by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism, those who have previously overstayed a U.S. visa; and those who are applying for a new entry visa are not eligible for automatic visa revalidation.

See this website for more information on which island or contiguous territories may allow automatic revalidation:

NOTE:  Remember that if you have changed your visa status to F-1 or J-1 in the U.S., you will have to apply for the appropriate visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before returning to the United States.

What are the special visa requirements for CANADIAN LANDED IMMIGRANTS?

Permanent Resident Aliens of the Commonwealth and Ireland (Landed Immigrants) Residing in Canada seeking to enter the United States as non-immigrants must possess a valid passport and non-immigrant visa.  There are some exceptions.  For more information see:

How do I know if my I-20/DS-2019 record in SEVIS is considered valid upon my return (I’m in status)?

Make sure your documents are valid.

  • You should have not have been absent from the U.S. for more than five months.
  • If your current SEVIS status is terminated, or you think it might be, please contact ISSS before traveling outside of the U.S. or returning from a trip abroad.

What if I’m taking a cruise ship?

If you are planning to take a cruise, please check with your cruise provider to find out whether you will pass through Customs in any country you may enter, and whether you will be subject to U.S. Customs & Border Patrol inspection upon your return to the U.S.

Some ports of call may require visas to enter.  Therefore, you should verify the regulations and rules of each location by contacting the cruise line or the embassy or consulate of that country in the United States.

How do I obtain a travel signature on my I-20/DS-2019?

Getting a travel signature is easy if you follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Fill out and submit the "Travel Request" form in iCAT.
  • Step 2: Submit your most recent I-20 or DS-2019 to the ISSS main office in Bradley Hall.  If you do not live in the Lexington area: Please also follow these additional steps:
    • Step 1: Create a shipment within eShipGlobal. Specify document type (Ex: I-20, EAD card, receipt notice, etc.)
      Step 2: The ISSS office will send the document!

Note: If there have been any major changes in your financial support, please bring written documentation from the funding source (i.e. change from personal funds to assistantship, etc.) An updated I-20 or DS-2019 will be issued prior to your departure. 

What are the required documents for F-1 Status students on Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Students on OPT must carry the following when traveling abroad:

  • SEVIS Form I-20 with valid travel signature within the last six months;
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp inside passport;
  • Current passport, valid at least six months after the date of last entry;
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card (Note: All EAD cards say 'not valid for reentry.' This means that the card alone does not guarantee reentry but that you must also carry the I-20 and passport with valid visa.)
  • If you are, or will be employed, we recommend that you carry your offer letter.

What should dependents carry when the F-1 student is on OPT?

Dependents of F-1 students on OPT should carry photocopies of their spouses EAD card and employment offer letter, in addition to a SEVIS Form I-20, valid F-1 visa stamp, and current passport.

What do I need when traveling within the U.S.?

Traveling within the country is un-complicated and simple:

  • Carry two forms of photo identification (including your passport) and your form I-20/DS-2019.
  • You do not need an additional visa stamp or travel signature to travel within the U.S. Looking to visit somewhere warm? That includes Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Need Your I-20 Signed Before Traveling Outside of the U.S.?

The travel signature on page 2 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.  F-1 students on post-completion OPT or OPT STEM extension need a signature that is less than six months old.  If you need a new, updated signature on your I-20 or DS-2019, you should submit a travel request e-form through iCAT and drop off your I-20 or DS-2019 in the ISSS Main Office.  Information about travel and iCAT are available on our website. You should submit your request and drop off your document at least a week before you plan to leave Lexington.

Can I travel to states which are close to borders with Canada and Mexico (e.g. bordering states such as New Mexico, Arizona, California, Niagara Falls)

It’s best to carry your immigration documents with you at all times, even when traveling inside of the U.S., especially if you are traveling in areas which are close to Mexico and Canada.  Airport officials, police officers or customs and border patrol officials may ask for documentation to verify your identity when traveling inside the U.S.

Does the Executive Order (Travel Ban) apply to me?

For questions about how recent Executive Orders affect travel, please visit our EO updates and FAQ on our website.  For individual questions, visit the office during office hours to meet with an immigration specialist.

How can I get a list of attorneys?

We recommend searching for an immigration attorney affiliated with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA. AILA is a national association of attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Below is a list of attorneys that have worked with UK faculty and staff in the past.

Dinsmore & Shohl 
101 S. Fifth St., Suite 2500 
Louisville, KY 40202 
Phone (502) 540-2300 Fax (502) 585-2207 


255 E. Fifth St., Suite 1900 
Cincinnati, OH 45202 
Phone (513) 977-8200 Fax (513) 977-8141 

Jeffries & Corigliano, LLP 

1560 Broadway, Suite 914 
New York, NY 10036-1537 
(212) 764-4222 

Judith K. Jones- Toleman 
PO Box 118 
Lexington, KY 40588-0118 
Phone (859) 396-7230 

Stoll Keenon & Ogden PLLC 

Charles R. Baesler Jr. 
Stoll Keenon, Ogden 
300 W Vine St., Suite 2100 
Lexington, KY 40507-1801 
Phone (859) 231-3944 

Wyatt Tarrant & Combs 

250 West Main St., Suite 1600 
Lexington, KY 40507 
Glen Krebs 
(859) 288-7409

Ware | Immigration 

3850 N. Causeway Blvd., Suite 555 
Metairie, LA 70002-1752 
(800) 537-0179 Fax (504) 830-5909