Arriving in the U.S.

When to Arrive

You may enter the U.S. in initial F-1 or J-1 status (meaning you are a new international student, not a SEVIS transfer student) up to 30 days before the program start date on your I-20 or DS-2019.

Your I-20 should indicate the earliest date you can enter the U.S.:

i20 earliest admission date_1.PNG

Entry Before the 30-day Grace Period

If you find it necessary to visit the U.S. between now and your earliest possible F-1 or J-1 entry date, you may do so on a tourist visa or under the Visa Waiver Program. However, you will be required to exit and re-enter the U.S. using your I-20/DS-2019 and F-1 or J-1 visa stamp to begin studies. 

Start and Entry Dates

The program start date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019 takes into account required orientation and other preparatory programs. Students beginning academic programs in Autumn each year will notice a start-date in early September, in advance of the first date of classes for this reason. Students can arrive as early as 30 days before the program start date (listed on the I-20 or DS-2019), and should arrive no later than the start of classes.

Finding Your Program Start Date

F-1: If you received an I-20, your start date can be found under "Program of Study" on page one:

I-20 program start date and end date_0.JPG

J-1: If you received a DS-2019, your start date can be found under #3 on page one:

 DS-2019 start date_0.png

Visit the UChicago academic calendar to find the first day of classes.

Port of Entry Inspection

The next step in the visa-related process will be entering the U.S. which involves a passport/document inspection at the port of entry.  This is the airport where you first land in the U.S., but could also be a sea port or a land port.

If Chicago is not your port-of-entry into the U.S., please allow plenty of time between your arrival and connecting flights, as you have to go through immigration and customs inspection at the first point of entry into the U.S.

Regardless of where you enter the U.S., be prepared to provide the following documents at the port of entry to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. NOTE: CBP inspection takes place before you collect your luggage, so you must have these documents on your person. Do not put your travel documents in your checked luggage. 

  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • Visa stamp (does not apply to Canadian citizens)
  • SEVIS Form I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) for UChicago
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Supporting financial documentation

We also recommend you review the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) travel FAQs before coming into the U.S.

Secondary Inspection

Upon inspection of your documents, you may be sent to "secondary inspection" which means an additional inspection of your documents is required. Often this is done on a random basis and may have nothing to do with your specific circumstances.

Although secondary inspection can be intimidating and cause anxiety, there is usually little cause for alarm.  Waiting in secondary can take up to a few hours, but almost always results in successful admissions afterwards.  Visit our Executive Order page for more information about what to expect in secondary inspection.

Admission Stamp & Electronic I-94

At passport control, an officer will review your documents and handwrite in your passport your visa status and D/S (Duration of Status - meaning your stay will be valid for the duration of your status). 

When you enter the country, an electronic record of your admission, known as the I-94, will also be created. You can retrieve a copy of your I-94 by visiting the CBP website. A new I-94 record will be generated each time you enter the U.S., and we recommend you retrieve this record each time you enter. Keep these records as screen grabs or photos as your I-94 is the only documentation proving your date and status of entry. 

Canadian students: Make sure you do not use ESTA or get admitted in visitor/tourist status. Confirm via your I-94 you were entered into the U.S. in the correct status (e.g. F-1 or J-1). 

Is there a mistake with your I-94?

If you find there is an error with your I-94 record (e.g. entry status is not F-1 or J-1 and you intended to arrive in that status, etc.), or you cannot locate your I-94 arrival record, you may need to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Deferred Inspection. Contacting them by telephone or email requesting information or a correction is best and will depend on where you entered the U.S./passed through U.S. passport control and customs. For a list of CBP Deferred Inspection sites:

What to Bring & Customs Declarations

In addition to all of your immigration documents, you may need to inform U.S. customs officials about items you are carrying into the country in your luggage. Do be aware that it is unlawful to bring some items, such as certain foods, into the U.S. Learn more about Customs declarations and restricted items on our travel page. 

What's Next?

After you enter the U.S., you will need to do the following: