Travel while on Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Find out what students need for international travel & re-entry to the United States during OPT.

COVID Travel Advisories & Restrictions

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL NOT ADVISED: In light of the uncertainty of the global travel situation due to the emergence of the new Omicron variant, ISS does not currently recommend travel outside the U.S.

Travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines, COVID testing requirements and closed borders are possible during the COVID emergency. Travel at this time is risky.  The U.S. Embassies and Consulates in some countries have also not yet resumed routine visa processing. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite amount of time. Please review our travel alerts page, and be prepared for disruption in travel plans.  

>View the latest CDC Travel Advisories

>View ISS Travel Alerts for current list of impacted countries

Documents needed to travel while on Post-Completion & STEM OPT

  • Unexpired passport valid until at least 6 months into the future
  • Unexpired F-1 visa (Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
    • If your visa has expired, or will expire during your trip, review our Applying for a U.S. Visa page for tips and resources.
      • Under certain limited circumstances, a nonimmigrant (F-1/F-2 or J-1/J-2 may re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa provided that they meet the eligibility requirements for Automatic Revalidation.     
  • Unexpired I-20 with valid travel endorsement signature. The signature on page 2 must be less than 6 months old on the date you return. 
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)
  • Job offer letter or letter confirming current employment

If you have F-2 dependents, they should also carry a copy of your EAD, I-20 and employment letter.

If you have not yet found employment, we advise you not to travel as you may have difficulty re-entering the U.S.

Travel with a Pending OPT

If you will return to the U.S. after the end of your final semester, then we do not recommend international travel until your OPT is approved, you have your EAD and a job offer.

If you are currently enrolled and will return to the U.S. before the end of the semester, your re-entry will be based on your return as a current student. Please consider the following when deciding to travel with a pending OPT application:

  • If there are any problems with your OPT application, like an intent to deny or a request for additional evidence and you are outside the U.S., it may be difficult for you to respond.
  • If you are outside the U.S. and your OPT application is rejected or denied, it may not be possible for you to return to the U.S.
  • If your OPT application is approved while you are outside the U.S., you must have your EAD card in your possession to re-enter the U.S.  (USCIS will only mail EAD cards to a U.S. address.)
  • If your OPT is approved while you are outside the U.S., you may also be asked to show proof of employment to re-enter the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the right to deny entry.

If you still decide to travel despite these risks, we recommend carrying the following documents:

  • Unexpired passport        
  • Unexpired F-1 visa stamp (Canadian citizens are exempt from this requirement).  
  • I-20 with OPT recommendation and a valid signature on page 2.
    • The signature must not be more than six months old when you re-enter the U.S.
  • I-797 USCIS receipt notice for your pending OPT application.
  • Job offer letter or proof that you are actively searching for a job (communication about upcoming interviews, etc.)
  • If you have a pending OPT STEM Extension, then you must bring your current OPT EAD.
 
Do NOT re-enter the U.S. using a tourist visa or ESTA. If you leave the U.S. and re-enter on a tourist visa (B-1/2), you will not be in F-1 student status or eligible for F-1 benefits. Therefore, your OPT application and EAD card will no longer be valid, and you will not be eligible to work.

Travel with an OPT STEM Extension

If your Post-Completion EAD has expired, we do not recommend international travel while your OPT STEM extension is pending.

If you are returning to the U.S. while your Post-Completion OPT EAD is still valid or you already have your STEM OPT EAD, you will need the following documents:
  • Unexpired passport        
  • Unexpired F-1 visa stamp (Canadian citizens are exempt.)  
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD card). EADs include a statement "not valid for re-entry" which means that the card alone is not sufficient without the other documents listed here.
  • I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation and a valid signature on page 2.
    • The signature must not be more than six months old when you re-enter the U.S.
  • Proof of employment - A letter or contract from your employer confirming employment or a job offer.

How do I request a travel signature on my OPT I-20?

If you plan to travel outside the U.S. and the signature on page 2 of your OPT I-20 will be more than six months old at the time of re-entry, you need a new travel endorsement signature on your I-20.

To request an updated I-20, log in to UB Global and click "Optional Practical Training", then "OPT Travel Endorsement Request".

Please submit your request at least 10 business days before you plan to leave the U.S.

Renewing a F-1 visa stamp while on OPT

A valid visa is necessary if your current visa stamp is expired, you are attempting to re-enter the U.S. and you do not qualify for automatic revalidation.  Since OPT is a F-1 benefit, an F-1 visa is necessary if you are returning to resume OPT employment. To apply for a new F-1 visa, you should go to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, preferably in your home country.

The process to apply for a visa while on OPT is very similar to when you were an enrolled student. In addition to the documents explained here, be sure to have available proof of your employment. Since F-1 is a non-immigrant status, you may be expected to document or discuss your plans to return to your home country after your OPT is complete. While you are on OPT, the risk of denial of your F-1 visa application may be higher than when you were a student.  If the Consular Officer is not convinced of your intent to return home after your OPT ends, or they are concerned about your financial situation, or any aspect of your interview or documentation, your F-1 visa application may be denied. 

If your Post-Completion OPT or STEM OPT application is still pending, we do not recommend applying for a new F-1 visa until your OPT application is approved and your have your EAD.

When preparing for a visa interview while on OPT, you should have the following documents:

  • DS-160 confirmation page with your application ID number on it (additional DS-160 information can be found at travel.state.gov).
  • Your employment letter    
    • It should include employment details such as salary (if it is a paid position), location, job duties and beginning date.
  • Your valid passport
  • Your I-20 with OPT recommendation and unexpired signature on page 2
  • Your valid EAD card
  • Financial documents if your employment is unpaid or if your salary is not sufficient to cover all living expenses.
  • Documents proving ties to your home country, for example:
    • Proof that you will maintain a residence in your home country and will return there.
    • Personal, Professional, Financial ties to your home country
  • Any other document required by the US Embassy/Consulate

You should be prepared to discuss how this job experience will help you find a job in your home country.       

We also recommend that you review the Applying for a U.S. Visa page on our website and these tips on applying for a visa.

Unemployment and Travel Outside the U.S.

Time spent outside the U.S. while on OPT still counts as unemployment if you do not have a job. If you have a job, and will remain employed during your time spent outside the U.S., then this does not count as unemployment.

Cap Gap Extension & Travel

We recommend consulting with the attorney who filed your H-1B application before making any travel plans during your Cap Gap Extension. It is important to discuss with your attorney how travel could impact your H-1B application. ISS cannot advise on H-1B related topics.

Due to risk and potential complexities, we generally do not recommend traveling outside the U.S. and seeking readmission to the U.S. as an F-1 student during the Cap Gap Extension. We are aware of USCIS guidance explaining a very specific situation where travel during the Cap Gap extension is possible; however, we recommend exercising caution and consulting with your attorney before making any plans.