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Travel documents checklist for international students in the US

From the highest mountains to the deepest seas, make sure you travel with all the required documents. Source: Christopher Burns on Unsplash

As an international student, you’ve probably traveled halfway across the world to get to your American university; something that many domestic students can only dream about. You probably feel you have seen enough airports, experienced too many layovers and gone through enough immigration control points to last you a couple of years, at least!

That, however, does not mean you shouldn’t travel anymore once you’ve settled into your American university. There may be emergencies that will require you to return to your home country, academic assignments that require you to travel to a foreign country or simply, wanderlust driving you to explore America and beyond.

Traveling is fun but don’t forget your documents! Source: Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Whatever your purpose, international students should always take note of the necessary travel documents they need to bring along with them while traveling.

Below we compile a checklist of necessary travel documents you will need for different types of travel:

1. Documents for travel and re-entry to the US to resume studies

  • Valid F-1 Visa
  • Valid passport
  • Endorsed and original Form I-20 – this is the form issued to you by your designated school official when you are accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified institution.
  • Proof of financial support to pay living expenses and tuition fees, such as bank statements, salary slips, and other documents
  • Contact information for the designated school official at the SEVP-certified school they attend.

2. Documents for travel and re-entry to the US to resume Optional Practical Training:

  • Valid F-1 Visa
  • Valid passport
  • Original Form I-20 endorsed from your college or university for re-entry to resume Optional Practical Training.
  • Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)
  • Proof of employment, such as a letter from your employer which states the purpose of your trip outside the United States and that you are expected to return to continue employment, is highly recommended.

3. Documents for travel inside the US

    • State-issued picture ID with date of birth
    • Passport (or at least a photocopy of it)

For travel to Alaska or Hawaii, students should consult their respective schools’ international students office. While travel between the 48 states is unrestricted, Florida Institute of Technology advises as follows: ” To be prepared for the unusual possibility of an immigration check by US officials, we recommend that you always carry photocopies of your passport (photo, signature and expiration date pages), your visa, and I-20.”

Other documents that should come in handy for all three types of travel listed above include letter of enrolment, acceptance letter, student ID card, attested copies of academic certificates, accommodation agreement, copies of medical reports and history, certificates confirming you’ve received all the necessary vaccinations, health and travel insurance, etc.

You should also hand-carry all these documents instead of packing them into your checked luggage. This is so it will be easy to present them for inspection to the US Customs and Border Protection officers at the port of entry when you arrive.

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