Travel Outside the U.S.
Travel Documents Needed to Return to the U.S.
You must plan for international travel by first reviewing your visa documents for reentry to the U.S. In addition, if traveling to a country that is not your own, you need to confirm that you have the required entry visa documents for that country. Please contact the embassy or consulate of the particular country you plan to visit for detailed information on what you need to do to apply for an entry visa should you need one. Note that it is also recommended that you take with you all related immigration documents for travel inside the U.S. but outside the Boston metropolitan area.
1. Unexpired passport
All international students, scholars and their family members are required to have valid passports. Your passports must be valid at least six months beyond the end date of your admission period to the United States or contemplated initial period of stay. Passports of some countries will be recognized as valid for the return of the bearer for a period of six months beyond the expiration date specified in the passport, thereby effectively extending the validity period of the passport an additional six months beyond its expiration date. Find out if your country is among them.
2. Unexpired U.S. visa (except for Canadian citizens)
It is not possible to apply for or renew non-immigrant visas inside the U.S. Citizens of all countries except Canada are required to have unexpired U.S. visas in their passports to enter and reenter the U.S. If you need to apply for a visa, please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate at which you plan to apply for the visa in advance to confirm its hours of operation, application procedures, and to see if any changes have been implemented. For a list of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, visit the U.S. Department of State web site. A U.S. non-immigrant visa is issued in an individual's passport by a U.S. consul in a U.S. embassy or consulate outside theU.S. A visa is used solely for the purpose of entry and reentry to the U.S. The visa does not determine how long an individual may remain in the U.S. Therefore, an individual may stay beyond the expiration date of a visa as long as the visa document (Form I-20, Form DS-2019, or Form I-797) is valid.
3. Unexpired immigration document (Form DS-2019, I-20, I-797)
Please check your documents prior to making international travel plans. Visa documents include the Form I-20, Form DS-2019, and Form I-797. For specific information review the immigration section and click on your visa type. A visa document certifies the length of stay for international students, scholars and their family members and it indicates an individual's visa status. A visa document must be unexpired at all times.
4. Unexpired travel signature on Form I-20 or DS-2019 (in most cases no older than 12 months)
Students and scholars on F-1 and J-1 visas (as well as their dependents on F-2 and J-2 visas) need a travel signature on Form I-20 or DS-2019, in most cases, no older than 12 months.
- F-1 students may request a travel signature to be sent via email by completing the F-1 Travel Signature Request Form. If you have dependents, you do not need to submit a separate request for F-2 signatures; all forms I-20 will be issued and sent to you automatically.
- J-1 students, scholars, and student interns and their dependents will need to visit the HIO during our walk in travel signature and document pick up hour, which takes place Monday-Friday from 12pm - 1pm on the 8th floor of the Smith Center to obtain a travel signature. DS-2019s cannot be sent electronically and must contain an original signature from the HIO. Walk in hours are also available in the Longwood Medical Area every other week. The schedule may be found here.
If you leave the U.S. with a visa document (Form I-20 or DS-2019) that has an expired travel signature, i.e. one that will be more than 12 months old at the time of your reentry to the U.S., the immigration officials at the U.S. port of entry have the discretion to readmit you for up to 30 days. You will be given the Form I-515A and an I-94 card that has a 30-day admission period. It is very important that you report to your HIO advisor immediately after you are back at Harvard. The HIO will provide you with instructions on correcting the I-515A to extend your permission to remain in the U.S.
5. SEVIS fee payment receipt
If you do not have the receipt and have paid the SEVIS fee before, please click here to print one out. If you have not paid the SEVIS fee, you may pay now via the same web site and print out the receipt.
6. Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination
In addition to the documents outlined above, you will also need to present the required COVID-19 vaccine documentation to board your flight to the U.S. Please review the CDC website for guidance on the COVID-19 vaccine requirements and limited exceptions for entry to the U.S.
Any non-U.S. citizens or non-U.S. green card holders will also be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at the land and ferry borders to the U.S. For more information, please see the Department of Homeland Security's website.
Each time you enter the U.S., the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) creates an on-line, electronic entry record to record your entry to the U.S. This is called your I-94 record. Note that many U.S. airports will no longer stamp your passport when you enter the U.S. Instead, the I-94 will be your only official record of entry to the U.S.
You should check and save a screenshot of your I-94 record each time you enter the U.S. as you may need it for other purposes. If the I-94 record ever displays incorrect information, or cannot be found, please contact your HIO Advisor.
Do Not Use Global Entry or NEXUS
Do not use Global Entry or NEXUS, or an automated passport kiosk, to enter the U.S. You must always speak with a Customs and Border Protection Officer and present the above documents in order to be admitted to the U.S. in the proper student status.
It is very likely you will be inspected into the U.S. as a tourist when using Global Entry or NEXUS, which does not permit you to study or work in the U.S. We understand that using Global Entry may result in spending less time in line at the port of entry, but the consequences of being inspected into the U.S. on an incorrect visa status can cause great difficulties for you and can prevent you from beginning your studies or appointment at Harvard University. In extreme cases you may be required to fly home and reenter the U.S. again to be considered in the proper status.
Transit through a Third Country
Please be aware that many countries (including the United States) do not allow visitors to transit through their countries unless they have an entry visa, a transit visa, or meet specific requirements. Before arranging travel that would require transit through a country that is not your home country, review that country's visa policies and/or ask your travel agent.
Register Global Travel
Harvard students and scholars who are traveling for school-related or personal reasons may register their travel with Harvard Global Support Services. If any incidents occur abroad while you are traveling, Global Support Servies proactively contacts registered Harvard affiliates in the area to confirm your wellbeing and offer medical or security assistance through International SOS.
Change of Visa Status within the U.S.
Those who have obtained an approval of a change of visa status in the U.S. through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will still be required to apply for a visa for the new visa status at a U.S. embassy or consulate when traveling outside the U.S. prior to returning to the U.S. in the new visa status.
Family Members in Dependent Visa Status
Family members in dependent visa status such as F-2, J-2, H-4, or O-3 must have their own dependent visa documents (Forms I-20, DS-2019, I-797) when traveling with or without their principal visa holders.
The U.S. Government has strict export control laws. If you are traveling abroad, you should check with the head of your department or laboratory before sending or taking with you materials related to your work. The U.S. Government may require a license to export such items. For more information, please see the University's policy statement.