Arriving in the U.S., HIO Registration, & Orientations

Welcome to Harvard!  This section details important information you need to know to enter the U.S. to start your academic program. After your arrival, you will need to bring your travel documents to register your immigration record with the HIO

Students should be aware that there are additional entry requirements and travel bans in place due to COVID-19. Students traveling to the U.S. should carefully review the HIO's COVID-19 FAQ for updates. 

When to Arrive

The U.S. immigration regulations allow F-1 and J-1 students and their dependents to enter the U.S. no more than 30 days prior to the program start date listed on page 1 of your Form I-20 or Item 3 of your Form DS-2019

U.S. Immigration Inspection

Upon entering the U.S., all F-1 and J-1 students must present the following documents to the Customs and Border Protection official at the airport or U.S. Port of Entry:

  • Valid passport
  • Printed Form I-20 or Original Form DS-2019 (no photocopies)
  • Valid F-1 or J-1 visa in passport (not applicable to Canadian citizens)
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee Receipt

F-2 and J-2 Dependents cannot enter the U.S. before the F-1 or J-1 Student.

You may not enter the U.S. in tourist visa status unless you are coming to the U.S. for tourism only. Individuals in tourist visa status are not permitted to enroll in full-time study in U.S. educational institutions.

Do not use NEXUS or Global Entry, 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.

Arriving in the U.S.

Once you enter the U.S., the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) creates an on-line, electronic I-94 record that details your entry into the U.S. The traditional paper form I-94 may only be issued at Canadian land ports-of-entry.  You need to do two things when you enter the U.S.:

  1.  If the CBP officer has put an entry stamp in your passport, check the stamp to ensure that it indicates the correct date that you entered the U.S., the correct visa status (e.g. J-1, F-1, etc.), and notes D/S (duration of status) in the case of F and J visa holders.
  2.  Print your I-94  or keep an electronic copy of the I-94 on your phone as you will need it for other purposes.

COVID-19 Arrival Requirements

As of January 26, 2021, all air passengers entering the U.S. will be required to comply with the following COVID-19 safety measures in order to board a flight to the U.S.:

  • show proof of a negative viral COVID-19 test within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs;
  • and take another COVID-19 test 1-3 days after arriving.

Full details may be found on the CDC website. This order is backed by President Biden, who signed an executive order on January 21, 2021, requiring all air travelers to comply with these CDC measures. 

More information about travel and visa issuance during the COVID-19 pandemic may be found on the HIO's COVID-19 FAQ.

HIO Registration

You must register your arrival with the HIO within 30 days of the start date on your visa document (Form I-20 or DS-2019), otherwise your SEVIS record will become invalid.

After arriving in the U.S., you must complete the HIO Registration Form and send it via email to internationaloffice@harvard.edu to fulfill your required immigration registration. Please note, in order to complete this form, you will need to access your I-94 record online. If you have difficulty locating your I-94 record, or your I-94 record has incorrect information, please contact your HIO Advisor.

You will receive an email from the HIO confirming when your registration has been processed. 

After arriving, please review our Welcome and Travel informational handout, as well as our New Student Welcome Guide, for more information about your immigration status and your time in the U.S.

HIO Orientations and Walking Tours

The HIO offers optional orientation sessions and walking tours of Cambridge and Harvard Square for all incoming students and their family members. Please see HIO Orientations for more information.