Travel While on OPT/STEM OPT Extension

If you are an F-1 visa holder on OPT or STEM OPT Extension planning to travel abroad, be sure to carry the following documentation with you when you request reentry into the United States:
  • A passport, valid at least 6 months into the future.
  • A valid F-1 visa*
    • * If you are a Canadian citizen, you will not have a visa stamp in your passport.
  • An OPT I-20 (showing an OPT status of Requested, Pending, or Approved on page 2) with a travel signature less than six months old
    • After receiving your I-20 from the DSO via email, please be sure to print out your I-20 and sign the bottom of page 1. Carry the print-out of this I-20 when presenting it to U.S. officials.
  • Proof of employment (i.e. letter from your supervisor, job offer letter, contract, etc.)
  • A valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)

Please note: Leaving and reentering the U.S. after graduation while an OPT or STEM OPT application is pending with the USCIS, or if you are unemployed, should be undertaken with caution. If you are in this situation and need to travel abroad, please consult with the DSO. If USCIS approves your OPT application, you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to re-enter the United States. Like a request for further information, USCIS can only send the EAD to your U.S. address.

Failure to have the proper documentation with you can result in you being denied reentry into the U.S. or you being granted temporary, conditional entry with a I-515A.

Note: This list only applies to return travel to the U.S.; you must check to see if you need a visa to enter another country (including transit visas). Check on the website of the embassy of the country you want to visit.

Read more about travel and reentry for F-1 visa holders, including frequently asked questions on the Department of Homeland Security website.

Know the Risks

You should not be afraid to travel while on OPT but there are risks you have to be aware of:

  • Expired Visa
    If your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to apply for a new one at a U.S. embassy abroad before you can come back to the U.S. If you are only traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent Caribbean islands for 30 days or less, you may be able to re-enter the U.S. even with an expired F-1 visa.

Note: If you require a new entry visa while on OPT, be aware that there is no guarantee that you are eligible for one. You are required to establish non-immigrant intent every time you apply for a non-immigrant visa. This may be harder to establish when you are working rather than studying. If you have an expired F-1 entry visa, speak with a DSO before planning a trip abroad.

  • No Employment Upon Return
    If you have no employment to return to, an officer can legally refuse your entry to the U.S. If you need to travel abroad, we recommend that you carry with you proof that you are looking for employment (e.g., interview offers, registration to attend a career fair, etc.). Additionally, students who have exceeded the 90 days of unemployment are not considered  to be maintaining status and likely will be denied re-entry into the U.S.
  • Change of Status Filed /H-1B Pending /Green-card Application Pending
    If any of these apply, you need to be very careful about traveling abroad because doing so can void some of these applications and/or make you ineligible to return to the U.S. on your OPT. Talk to the immigration attorney or office that is assisting you with these applications before traveling abroad.
  • Expired EAD
    If your OPT period has expired and you are now in the 60-day grace period and you leave the U.S., you will need a different visa (e.g., tourist visa, H-1B work visa if you were approved) to return.