Information for F1/J1 Students Traveling Abroad Over Winter Break
International students in F1 or J1 status, and their dependents (F2 or J2), need the following to re-enter the U.S. after traveling abroad:
- SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 with a valid travel signature endorsed within the last twelve months by OIA (or endorsed within the last six months, if you are on OPT or STEM OPT);
- Valid visa stamp (sticker inside your passport); and
- Current passport, valid at least six months after the date of your re-entry.
OIA recommends you scan and email yourself copies of these documents. Lost or stolen documents are much easier to replace with copies. Copies should also be used if you are traveling when the University is closed (e.g. winter recess).
How to obtain a travel signature from OIA? For current students, a travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 is valid for 12-months from the last dated signature, regardless of how many times you use it to travel abroad and re-enter the U.S. in that 12-month period.
- If you are an F-1 student and your travel signature is expired, please complete the I-20/DS-2019 reprint request form on our website. F-1 students will receive an updated I-20 via email to print and sign for travel.
- If you are a J-1 student, you will be issued an original DS-2019. The original document is required for visa and travel purposes. Once issued, you can arrange for mailing or pick-up. Please complete the I-20/DS-2019 reprint request form on our website to have a document reprinted.
- F-1/J-1 students and their dependents traveling within the U.S. are not required to have a valid travel signature. Note: if you are on OPT or STEM OPT, a travel signature should be renewed every 6-months.
- If you realize your travel signature has expired during the winter recess when the University is closed (Dec 24, 2022 - Jan 2, 2023), please use the latest dated I-20 or DS-2019 you have in your possession to travel. See FAQs below.
Frequently asked questions:
- What if I forget my I-20? Electronic versions of the I-20 are valid for all purposes. Print and sign your most current I-20 and carry it with you on your return travels to Chicago. You must print, sign and carry your I-20 in your carry on luggage as you will not have access to your checked bags until after you clear passport control. If you do not have your I-20 with you, you may be issued a Form I-515A (conditional entry into the U.S. in F-1 status). Form I-515A allows you to enter the U.S. conditionally—if issued to you, please follow-up with your OIA adviser after the office re-opens on January 3, 2023.
- What if I forget my DS-2019? If you have a scanned copy, print and carry it with you on your return travels to Chicago. If you do not have a scanned copy and do not have your original DS-2019 with you, you may be issued a Form I-515A. Form I-515A allows you to enter the U.S. conditionally—if issued to you, please follow-up with your OIA adviser after the office re-opens on January 3, 2023.
- What if I am already abroad and notice my travel signature is expired? If you have already left the U.S., travel using the I-20 or DS-2019 in your possession, even with an expired travel signature. If you are an F-1 student, you can request a new I-20 with a valid travel signature be emailed to you during OIA business hours. If you are a J-1 student, a new DS-2019 can be shipped internationally. Information on creating a shipping label is available on the Reprint Request Form. Please keep in mind the University (including OIA) will be closed during winter recess (12/24/2022 - 1/2/2023) reopening on January 3, 2023. During this time we will not be operating to send updated I-20 or DS-2019 documents and in those situations, you should use the latest dated document in your possession to travel back to the U.S. Re-entry will be permitted with an expired travel signature as that alone is not reason to deny entry or boarding.
- What if I needed to renew my visa stamp while abroad/at home over winter break and cannot get a visa appointment at a U.S. Consulate/Embassy in time to return for winter quarter? Students are reminded that the University cannot intervene in visa applications or appointments at U.S. consulates/embassies. Our advice remains that a student in need of a visa appointment should schedule the earliest available appointment (even if it is beyond the start of the quarter/intended travel) and work directly with the U.S. consulate/embassy to which you are applying for a visa to try to move your appointment to an earlier date. Again, the University cannot expedite your appointment on your behalf as your application is seen as a private matter between you and the U.S. government. If your visa appointment delays your arrival back on campus, please communicate as much with your academic program, academic adviser, professors teaching your classes, etc. to alert them to your delayed return.
- I applied for a visa based on eligibility for a waived in-person appointment and it was refused. Now I have to schedule an in-person appointment; what should I do? Similar to the answer above, if you are experiencing this situation, you should schedule the earliest appointment you can and then work directly with the consulate/embassy to find an earlier date. The University cannot appeal to the consulate/embassy on your behalf.
- What is a visa stamp/sticker? A visa is a sticker placed in your passport by a U.S. consulate or embassy. It functions as an entry document when presented with your I-20/DS-2019, permitting your entry into the U.S. in a valid visa status. Canadian citizens are exempt from requiring a visa stamp, but are required to travel with a valid Canadian passport and I-20 or DS-2019 with valid travel signature. What is the difference between visa and status? Find out here!
For more information on traveling, visit the OIA webpage on Travel
To contact your OIA advisor, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at 773-702-7752. Always contact OIA for the most up-to-date information regarding your F1 or J1 student visa status.
PLEASE NOTE: a lost or forgotten I-20/DS-2019, expired travel signature, need for an updated copy of your I- 20/DS-2019, or visa delays while abroad do not constitute an emergency warranting contact with either the University of Chicago Police Department or the Dean on Call. Instead, you should contact OIA during business hours for assistance and next steps or refer to the FAQs listed above. The University and OIA will be closed for winter recess from December 24, 2022 - January 2, 2023.
For information about the Dean on Call and other campus support services, visit: https://csl.uchicago.edu/get-help