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Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Office of International Services

Current Students > Travel

Travel

Travel Requirements for Re-entering the U.S.

Note: This information is intended for F-1 students as well as J-1 students who are under the J-1 sponsorship of Teachers College's J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, P-1-00189.  J-1 students who are sponsored by an external organization (IIE / LASPAU / AMIDEAST / OSI) should contact their sponsoring organization to obtain the travel signature.

F-1 and J-1 students in lawful status and in good academic standing are eligible to return to the United States following a temporary absence abroad in order to continue full-time studies at Teachers College.

Basic Documents Required for Re-Entry to U.S.

In general, you will need the following documents in order to return to the United States:
  • 1.    An unexpired passport valid at least six months into the future
  • 2.    An unexpired F-1 or J-1 visa valid for multiple or further entries (exception: Canadian citizens are not required to have entry visas);
  • 3.    An unexpired I-20 or DS-2019 from Teachers College with a re-entry endorsement (travel signature) signed by the Office of International Services.
  • 4.    (recommended) Proof of enrollment and financial ability, such as a copy of your scholarship letter or bank statements.  
Upon return to the United States, your passport should be stamped by an immigration inspector "F-1 D/S" (for those individuals in F-1 status) or “J-1 D/S” (for those individuals in J-1 status).  This indicates that you are being allowed to re-enter the country in F-1 or J-1 status for "duration of status," i.e., for the period of time that you are a full-time student, as indicated on your I-20/DS-2019.  It is very important to print out your new I-94 admission information after you return to the United States from the port of entry website.

Obtaining a Travel Signature from the OIS

We recommend that you come to the OIS at least 2 weeks before you intend to travel outside the U.S. to obtain a travel signature for re-entry.  Please bring your most recently issued I-20/DS-2019 as well as your dependents’ I-20s/DS-2019s if they will be traveling with you.  We will check your record to make sure you are enrolled full-time and that there are no holds on your record.  Waiting until immediately before your departure may result in you not being able to obtain a signature if there is a hold on your record that cannot be resolved in time or if the international student advisor is out of the office at that time.  Please plan ahead, particularly around holidays when the OIS may be closed.

While a travel signature is valid for up to one year, the OIS recommends obtaining a signature in the most recent semester prior to your trip. However, you do not need a travel signature for every trip you plan to take - a travel signature is valid for multiple trips, provided you have the above documents. Exception: F-1 students on post-completion OPT must have a travel signature that is no more than 6 months old at the time of re-entry.  Note that you do not need a travel signature if you do not travel outside the U.S. 

J-1 Students on Post-completion Academic Training

J-1 students who have completed their program of study and have been authorized for J-1 post-completion Academic Training (AT) will have a new DS-2019 covering the period of authorized training, and are subject to the same travel requirements indicated above for continuing J-1 students. J-1 students on post-completion Academic Training should also carry evidence of employment, such as a job letter or pay stub, indicating current, on-going J-1 employment in accordance with your Academic Training authorization.

F-1 Students on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)

F-1 students who have completed their program of study and have been authorized for F-1 post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) must also carry with them their Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) (or I-797 Receipt Notice if your application is still pending) as well as evidence of relevant practical training / employment in your field of study, such as a job letter or page three of the I-20 indicating the place of employment as issued by the OIS after submitting the OPT reporting form. 

Note: F-1 students on post-completion OPT must also have a travel signature from the OIS which is less than 6 months old at the time of re-entry.

Re-entry after short-term travel (less than 30 days) directly to Canada, Mexico, and the Adjacent Islands*.

If you are taking a short trip (less than 30 days) to one of these destinations and will return to the United States directly, you may return with an expired visa. Your F-1 or J-1 visa does not need to be valid in order for you to be eligible to return. However, you must still have the following:
1)    An unexpired passport valid at least six months into the future from the date of re-entry
2)    An expired or unexpired F-1 or J-1 visa
3)    Your unexpired I-20 or DS-2019 with a travel signature from the OIS

Note: You must keep your I-94 card or electronic I-94 print out when you leave the U.S. and have it readily available for re-entry.  Simply show your existing I-94 for re-entry purposes, along with your passport, expired / unexpired visa, and signed I-20/DS-2019. However, you must be sure to keep your I-94 card (if applicable). If your I-94 card is taken or lost, you will need to obtain a new F-1 or J-1 visa from a U.S. Embassy in order to return to the U.S.

Exception: If you go to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands of the Caribbean for the express purpose of applying for a new F-1 or J-1 visa, your visa application must be successful. If it is rejected for any reason, you are not eligible to return to the United States. You must go to your home country and apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate there.

*The adjacent islands include: the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Hispaniola (Haiti and The Dominican Republic), Jamaica, Martinique, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Trinidad and Tobago, The Leeward Islands (Anguilla, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Nevis, St. Kitts and The British Virgin Islands), The Windward Islands (Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent) and other British, French or Dutch territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.

F-2/J-2 Dependents

F-2/J-2 dependents should carry their own individual I-20/DS-2019 forms when traveling, whether traveling alone or together with the F-1/ J-1 student. In addition, each F-2/J-2 dependent must have a valid F-2/J-2 visa. If the F-2/J-2 dependents are traveling alone, it is strongly recommended that they carry copies of the F-1/J-1 student's I-20/DS-2019, F-1/J-1 visa, I-94 card or electronic I-94 print out, and EAD card/Academic Training authorization (if applicable).

Departure from the U.S. for more than 5 months

If you intend to depart the United States for an extended period of time, please notify the OIS. Your F-1 or J-1 status may be terminated if:
•    You are not registered as a full-time student during any autumn or spring semester
•    You are outside of the United States for five consecutive months or more
Students who will be outside of the United States for an extended period of time for the specific purpose of engaging in data collection, fieldwork, and research-related reasons may retain F-1 or J-1 student status but must:
  1. Maintain full-time registration during the autumn and spring semesters (registration during the summer is not required)
  2. Maintain a U.S. address
  3. Re-enter the U.S. at least once every 5-month period (you cannot be out of the country for more than 5 month at a time
Please see an OIS advisor for further details.

Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
Box 7, 525 W 120th Street
New York, New York 10027-6696
Phone: (212) 678-3939 ♦ ~ Fax: (212) 678-3990 ♦ Email: