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Traveling Inside and Outside the US

1. Traveling Inside the US

While in Knoxville and the surrounding area, students should keep their documents in a safe and secure place. If traveling outside of Knoxville, students should take all original immigration documents and their passport with them. Students should have an electronic copy of their immigration documents on their phone or mobile device. It is also a good idea to keep a paper copy and make it accessible to a trusted friend or roommate in case of an emergency or in the event that original documents are lost or stolen.

2. Traveling Outside the US

In order to re-enter the US, students must submit all valid immigration documents at the port of entry.

Documents required for re-entry into the US

  • Valid passport (must have six-month future validity at time of re-entry to the US or at time of visa application)
  • Valid student/dependent visa (must be unexpired on date of re-entry)
  • Current, valid I-20/DS-2019 with a valid signature from CGE, with the correct up-to-date information
  • A travel authorization signature is valid for up to 12 months.

Note: Students on authorized post-completion OPT must be eligible for re-entry according to OPT rules, and must be carrying all of the following documents:

  1. A valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  2. A current employment/offer letter
  3. An I-20 with travel authorization signature on page 2 that is no older than six months. Travel signatures for OPT students are valid only for six months.

Students who must travel, but whose OPT application is still pending with USCIS, may use their Receipt Notice as a supporting document for re-entry. ISSS recommends that students consult with a CGE advisor before traveling.

Dependents must carry their own original documents. If traveling separately, CGE recommends that dependents carry copies of the primary visa holder’s documents.

How to request a travel signature from CGE

A student who needs a new travel signature should submit a Travel Authorization Request in the iVols portal as early as possible, and at least two weeks prior to traveling. After logging into iVols with your NetID and password, you will find this request in the Student Services section.

Then be sure to fill out and submit the E-form. Next, submit your I-20/DS2019 to the CGE front desk. CGE must certify that the student is maintaining legal status and full-time enrollment before signing or issuing a new I-20/DS-2019 for travel. Finally, a CGE advisor will process your request, sign your form, and notify you by email when the I-20/DS-2019 is ready to pick up.

If the F-1 visa has expired, students must apply for a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S. If the student has a multiple entry visa and the visa has not expired, then a new visa will not be required before traveling, as long as the SEVIS number on the I-20 form matches the SEVIS number (annotation #) on the current visa.

If a J-1 student has transferred to UT from another school and therefore has a different program date, program number, or sponsor listed on their visa, they must apply for a new J-1 visa before returning to the US.

Travel to Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands (except Cuba)

F-1/J-1 students are permitted to re-enter the US after a single visit of no more than 30 days to a contiguous territory (Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands) without having to obtain a new visa prior to re-entry. This rule, known as Automatic Revalidation of Visa, even applies to F-1/J-1 students with an expired visa.


  • Citizens from certain countries (Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba) are not eligible for the automatic revalidation of visa benefit. Check with US Customs and Border Protection to find recent information on which countries are excluded.
  • Students who choose to apply for a new visa while in a contiguous territory will not be eligible for automatic revalidation of visa benefit. Students will have to wait until a visa is granted in order to re-enter the US. If the visa is denied, the student must return to their home country directly from the contiguous territory.
  • Students whose visit goes beyond 30 days.
  • Students who travel outside of the contiguous territories (for example, they visit their home country from Mexico, return directly to Mexico, and then try to re-enter the US) will not be allowed to re-enter the US on automatic visa revalidation.
  • Graduate students who are citizens of the People’s Republic of China with student visas who currently or previously received funding from, are employed by, study at or conduct research for organizations supporting the military-civil fusion strategy.

U.S. Customas and Border Protection (CBP) Automatic Visa Revalidation Information

US State Department Foreign Affairs Manual—Automatic Visa Revalidation Information

FINAL NOTE: Students should provide copies of any new passport, visa, or I-94 record to CGE after re-entry to the US.