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Travel on OPT

If you want to travel outside the country while on post-graduate OPT or OPT with STEM extension, you will need to follow certain rules and carry various documents in order to reenter the United States. 

Be aware that post-graduate OPT is an extension of your F-1 status. If you return to the United States in another status—as a tourist, for example—it will invalidate your F-1 status and OPT authorization. 

Travel Documents for F-1 OPT

If you will be traveling during your 12-month OPT...

You will need the following documents to reenter the United States:

  • Valid passport 
  • Valid entry visa stamp (Canadians excepted) 
  • I-20 showing F-1 status, with travel signature within the last six months
  • EAD (OPT card) or, if your OPT application is still pending, the receipt notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • A job-offer letter or letter confirming current OPT employment

Travel Documents for OPT STEM

If you will be traveling while on OPT STEM extension...

You will need the following documents to reenter the United States:

  • Valid passport 
  • Valid entry visa stamp (Canadians excepted) 
  • I-20 showing F-1 status, with travel signature within the last six months
  • EAD (OPT card) for OPT with STEM extension
  • A job-offer letter or letter confirming current OPT STEM employment

Can I travel abroad if I’ve applied for OPT but haven’t graduated?

Before you graduate, you should be able to get back into the United States without an OPT card, as long as your graduation is still at least one month away. Your reentry will be based on your return as a current student. Your OPT application will have no impact on your travel.

If your graduation is coming in less than one month, and you want to reenter the United States in F-1 status, you have probably already applied for OPT. Instead of an EAD card, you will need to show the USCIS I-797 receipt notice of your OPT application, along with all of the other documents needed to enter the United States while on OPT. If you have questions about traveling close to graduation, talk with one of our advisors before you leave.

I’ve graduated, but I don’t have my OPT approval. Can I travel abroad?

If you have applied for OPT, we suggest you do not travel internationally before it is approved, and you have your EAD card. If your OPT application is denied while you are abroad, you cannot reenter the United States in F-1 status to reapply for OPT.

I’m waiting for my OPT approval. Can I leave the country and return on a tourist visa?

No! If you intend to continue working on OPT, never enter the United States in any other immigration status except F-1. If you leave the country and reenter with B status (tourist visa), you will lose your F-1 status, and your OPT will be invalid!

The visa stamp in my passport has expired. How can I travel on OPT?

If you are going to Canada or Mexico and staying for less than 30 days, you can reenter the United States on your expired F-1 visa stamp. You will need all of the other documents required for travel on OPT, and you must fulfill these requirements:

  • You do not apply for a United States visa while in Canada or Mexico.
  • You are not from one of the countries currently considered by the U.S. federal government to be state sponsors of terrorism. The current list includes Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan.

If you are traveling elsewhere than Canada or Mexico, you will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate while you are abroad, and apply for a new visa stamp. Find out more.

Before leaving on your trip, visit the Office of Global Learning to talk with an advisor. The consulates often change the visa application requirements for students on OPT.

Can I travel internationally if my application for OPT STEM is pending?

You may travel out of the United States and reenter while your STEM extension application is pending. You just need to show the USCIS I-797 receipt notice for your OPT STEM application. You will also need the other documents required for travel while on OPT with STEM extension.

How is my application for a new visa stamp affected by OPT?

When you have graduated, and you are on OPT or OPT STEM extension, you have a somewhat higher risk of being denied renewal of your visa stamp. This is because your F-1 student visa requires that you intend to return to your home country at the end of your study program. 

Now that you are on OPT or OPT STEM, it may be harder for you to convince the embassy official of your intent to return home. If the official is not convinced, your visa application will be denied. However, many students on OPT do get their F-1 visa stamps renewed. If you’re concerned, please talk with one of our advisors.

Do I still need to get a travel signature while on OPT?

Yes! While you are on OPT or OPT with STEM extension, if you travel outside the United States, you need to have the travel line on your I-20 signed every six months. 

If you are not located in Ithaca, mail your original I-20 to the Office for Global Learning for our signature, or submit the reprint request, leaving plenty of time for mailing delays both ways.
 

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