Traveling while on a Student Visa can be confusing. We have prepared this information to help make traveling abroad as smooth as possible.
What You Need to Know Before You Travel
- What documents do I need to bring with me when entering the US?
- What items am I not allowed to bring into the US?
- What do I do if I get searched at the airport?
- Who can I contact If I experience difficulty entering the US?
- What should I expect at the Airport or other Point of Entry?
- What do I need to do when leaving the US?
The most important thing to have when attempting to enter the US is your documentation. Before you fly you should have a folder containing all your documents so they are easily accessible. Keep these documents with you at all times, do not place the documents in with your checked baggage. Immigration checks at most US airports are performed before you pick up checked luggage. Please note you will need the original documents not copies when entering the US, however it is advisable to make photocopies of all your immigration documentation and store the copies in a safe place in case the originals are damaged or lost.
When entering the US you should have:
- A valid Passport
- A valid Student Visa
- A current I-20 or DS2019 form
- All previous I-20 forms or all previous DS2019 forms
- The International Students Office's contact information
- A completed Form I-94; After April 2013, the I-94 card has been automated, click here for online I-94
- A completed Customs Declaration Form 6059B
The last two forms on this list will be given to you at the point of entry. If arriving by plane they will be given out by aircraft personnel these forms will also be available at the point of entry. When filling out the I-94 card make sure your information is consistent with the information on your I-20, however your Date of Birth must be entered as "Day/Month/Year", which is different from your I-20.
You should have the contact information of this office with you when coming into the country. This will help in the event of there being a problem with your entry, you can find our contact information here.
Depending on your situation you may have more documents you need to bring, for example, if you have been issued with a social security number it is advisable to have the card or a copy of the card with you. If you have an EAD card that allows you to work, you must bring the card with you when attempting to re-enter the US. You should also have the contact information of this office with you in case you experience difficulty.
Please note that recently some students have experienced trouble entering the US after a status change. If you have recently changed your status or become a permanent resident make sure you have all your documentation with you. If you have adjusted your status and have a United States Permanent Reident Card or "green card", it may happen that your old student record is still active in the SEVIS system and it may present an alert flag to immigration officials when you try and enter the country under a new status. If this occurs, remain calm, present all your current documentation to the immigration official. Inform them that you are attending college or, if you have completed your education, inform them as to which College you attended. If this course of action does not solve the problem, politely request that the official contact us here at the International Students Office so we can verify that you are, or were, a student here and that your status has changed.
If coming to Hunter College from abroad you will most likely be flying into John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA) or Newark Liberty Airport (EWR) in New Jersey. Once you get off the plane you will proceed to a customs and immigration check. If you are on an immigrant visa you will get in the "Non-U.S. citizen" line.
Your wait time will vary depending on what time and day you have arrived, some times you will be processed very quickly and at other times you may have to wait for over an hour. You can expect to wait on a main line first, then you will directed by an official to a smaller line where you will wait next to a booth before you are told to step forward.
Upon being called forward, step up to the booth and present your documentation to the Customs and Border Protection Officer. Remaining polite and courteous will help to ensure you are processed efficiently with as little trouble as possible. It is advisable to present them with your passport and visa first, so they know who they are speaking to. The Officer will ask to see your I-20's and other forms. The Officer will ask you to look into a camera and they will photograph you, they will also require you to scan the index finger of each hand.
If you have all your documentation in order things should proceed smoothly, the Officer will Stamp your passport and will also stamp and staple a white I-94 card into your passport, make sure this is done before you leave the booth because it will be up to you to rectify any mistakes later and this may cause you problems when crossing a border in the future. Be sure to take all your documentation with you when you leave.
If you come through another Point of Entry such as a land border or by sea the procedure is much the same, you will need the same documents as described above and can expect the same protocol to be followed. If coming across a land border you may be asked to disembark from your vehicle and proceed to an processing center, this is perfectly normal. Often the booths that cars drive through do not have the same equipment as a processing center or it is not practical to conduct the processing there.
Often when people travel to the United States they want to bring something from home with them or gifts for friends and family. However it is important to remember that certain items are prohibited and may cause you to be stopped at the point of entry. Commonly brought items that are prohibited include:
- Food; including meats, vegetables, fruits and soils.
- Merchandise from Embargoed countries.
- Certain Medications.
It is inadvisable to bring food to the US as it will most likely be confiscated and you may be fined if you fail to declare it. If you buy an item made in an embargoed country and bring it to the US you are breaking the law. Please check this website for a list of prohibited and restricted goods if you are in doubt: http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/prohibited_restricted.xml
It is routine procedure that customs officials randomly check baggage for prohibited items. Please remain calm, this does not mean you are guilty of anything. Customs officials are allowed to search all your luggage and your person without a warrant at a point of entry.
Customs and Border Protection Officers also have the ability to search any electronic device you may have with you. This includes, but is not limited too: laptops, cell phones, digital cameras, digital music players, tapes, disks or other electronic storage medium. Officers do not have to prove reasonable cause to search these items.
If you feel you have been badly treated by a CBP officer or feel you are constantly subjected to secondary screening at points of entry, you can file a Complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP). It may be that you are being misidentified on a government watch list and constantly stopped, by using DHS TRIP you can make these occurances less frequent. DHS TRIP can be found here: http://www.dhs.gov/files/programs/gc_1169676919316.shtm
When going abroad and planning to re-enter the US you must have all the documents discussed in the "Documentation" section of this web page. When leaving the country you need to surrender the white I-94 card stapled into your passport, most border Officials will take this automatically but they may forget and it is your responsibility to make sure you have given it to the appropriate official. Failure to surrender this card may delay your re-entry to the US or cause other problems. Before making any trip abroad you should come see us at the International Students Office to make sure you have everything you require and an endorsed I-20.
Where can I find more information?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is comprised of many elements, one of the biggest and most complex is Customs and Border Protection (CBP), they have a very informative website where you can find most of the information you need to know when traveling. You can find their website here: http://www.cbp.gov/
If all your documents are in order, you should not experience problems at the border. However sometimes students occur a problem when entering the US, you should remember to remain calm, it may be a stressful situation but remain calm and logical. The first thing you need to do is establish what the problem is, when you know this you can ask the Customs and Border Protection Officer to either contact your Embassy in the US and/or contact us here at the International Students Office on: (212) 772-4864 and we can help assist you as much as possible.