Arriving in the U.S. at the Airport or the Port of Entry

U.S. Travel & Executive Orders on Immigraiton

In addition to the information below, please see executive orders regarding immigration page for additional travel guidance and information.

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

While you may be aware of students successfully entering the U.S. more than 30 days in advance, we urge you not to attempt this. The inspectors at U.S. ports of entry have the authority to refuse you entry to the U.S., which means you would not be able to leave the airport and would have to return to your home country at your own expense.

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 with a tourist visa or under the Visa Waiver Program, depending on your home country. This allows you to visit, then return home, and re-enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status within the proper time frame. Please note that if you plan to enter under the Visa Waiver Program, you will be required to register and obtain travel clearance through the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before boarding a carrier bound for the United States.

To comply with federal immigration regulations, you must be in a status that legally allows study before your program begins.

Start and Entry Dates

The start date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019 is based on the requirements of your academic unit; all students beginning that program have the same start date. Start dates take into account required orientation and other preparatory programs that all students must attend. Start dates cannot be customized for the circumstances of individual students.

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 an inspection at the port of entry.  Most often, this is the airport where you first land in the U.S., but it could also be a sea port or a land port of entry, depending on your mode of travel.

If you will initially land in the U.S. and will then connect to Chicago from there, you should allow plenty of time between your arrival and connecting flight, as you have to go through immigration and customs inspection at the first point of entry to the country.

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

If you were given a brown envelope at your visa interview, it will contain several of the above documents.

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.

If you are taken to secondary, it is important that you remain calm during the process. Even if there are delays and your patience is tested, it will ease the process to be cooperative.  

Helping Clear Up Entry Questions with CBP

Some questions can be resolved by CBP contacting OIA to confirm information about an international student or scholar. We recommend having the following numbers available on your phone, as well as written down:

  • OIA Office: 773.702.7752.
    You can call this number anytime during business hours.

    Emergency Dean on Call: 773.834.4359.
    You can call this number at in time during any urgent/emergency situation.

Admission Stamp & Electronic I-94

Check Your Entry Stamp Before You Leave the Counter!

When you are at the port of entry the officer will place an admission stamp in your passport and then write the visa status you are being given (F-1 or J-1) and the expiration date.  For students in F-1 or J-1 status the expiration is noted with "D/S" which stands for 'duration of status'. This means that there is not a specific  date that your entry will expire.  Rather, you are allowed to stay in the U.S. until your F-1/J-1 status ends (i.e. your entry will be valid for the duration of your status).

Check your entry stamp BEFORE walking away from the window. If your stamp shows the incorrect status or has a specific expiry date instead of D/S, RETURN to the inspection area and request your stamp be corrected.  In the event this is not possible, please contact OIA the next business day.  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.

We recommend that you carry the contact information of our office with you, so that if you encounter any difficulties, we can assist you.  Our telephone number is (+1) (773) 702-7752.

Canadian Students: Even though students from Canada do not require an entry visa (the entry document in your passport), you must be admitted in F-1/J-1 status to legally participate in your program.  Make sure you do not use ESTA or get admitted in Tourist status.  Confirm that your entry stamp says 'F-1 D/S' or 'J-1 D/S' before you leave the counter. 

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. 

You may also want to consider bringing items with you to help represent and share your home country or culture with others who are interested. Having such items from home can also help alleviate feelings of homesickness in the future.

What's Next?

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