Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Entering the US- US Customs

As a foreign national entering the U.S., you need certain documents as evidence of your legal status.  These include a passport and a U.S. visa stamp in your passport.  (Canadian citizens are exempt from visa requirement.) Individuals entering as F-1 non-immigrant students will need the "Certificate of Eligibility" Form SEVIS I-20,  J-1 visa holders need Form DS-2019.  Upon entering the U.S. you will receive an I-94 card from the Immigration. You are allowed to enter the U.S. in F or J status only 30 days prior to the beginning date indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019. Please plan accordingly.

Visa Stamp:  A U.S. visa stamp allows you to enter the U.S.  You can only apply for a student visa at a U.S. consulate and embassy outside of the U.S.  Notations on the visa stamp indicate the type of visa (F-1, J-1), the number of entries(M=Multiple) allowed and the expiration date.  A visa stamp may expire while you are in the U.S. without compromising your legal stay because the only purpose of the stamp is to request entry to this country.

Form I-94/Departure Card:  This small white card is issued each time you enter the US and, most of the times, collected each time you leave.  It records the date and purpose of your entry, and the length of time you are allowed to remain in the U.S.  I-94's issued to F-1 and J-1 students are marked "D/S" (Duration of Status), which means your completion date plus 60 days (for F-1s) or 30 days (for J-1s).

Certificate of  Eligibility Form SEVIS I-20:  This is a three page document issued by Fordham, which describes the nature and expected duration of your program, your financial resources, and other information.  It has a SEVIS ID number on it which lets Immigration identify you are the correct person. Form I-20 permits one to apply for an F-1 visa stamp and to request F-1 (student) status upon entry to the US.

Immigration regulations require that you attend the school that issues you the SEVIS I-20 you use to enter the U.S.  DO NOT use another school's I-20 to enter the U.S. if you intend to study at Fordham.  HOWEVER, YOU COULD USE OUR I-20 WITH A VALID F-1  VISA ISSUED BASED ON ANOTHER SCHOOL'S I-20.

Certificate of  Eligibility Form DS-2019:  This is a three page document issued by your sponsoring organization that describes your purpose for entering the U.S., the expected duration of your program, and your sources of funding.  Form DS-2019 permits you to apply for a J-1 visa stamp and request J-1 (Exchange Visitor) status upon entry to the U.S.  

If you prepared your documents properly, your experience with US BCIS and Customs will go easily, but it might be time consuming. At the U.S. airport, when you leave the airplane, you will be directed to the Immigration(BCBP) station.  There, a U.S.  inspector will ask to see your  passport, visa stamp, and your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019. They may also ask to see proof of financial support. 

IF YOU LOST OR MISPLACED YOUR I-20 OR DS-2019, DO NOT PANIC.  ASK THE INS INSPECTOR TO ISSUE YOU AN I-515. That would allow you to enter the U.S. as an F-1, but for only one month.   Don't worry, we will take care of that form when you check-in with my office.

Once cleared by immigration, INS will give you an I-94 card.  Retain all forms as permanent records.

Then you will be directed to the "Baggage Claim" area.  Your "checked-in" baggage will be placed on a carousel marked with your flight number.  Do not worry if you do not see your luggage at first.  Sometimes it takes a while to have all bags placed on the carousel.  There might be carts available to rent to use carrying your bags to the Customs desk and to the ground transportation area. Sometimes these carts are free or could cost about $2. 

At the U.S. Customs desk, you will show your passport and the customs declaration form that your flight attendant gave you.   Customs regulations will not allow you to bring fresh foods or plants into the country, so you should leave such items at home. The officer might ask you to open your bags for a random check.


A Checklist of Dos and Don't · DO check passport validity.
DO apply for your visa stamp at a U.S. consulate or embassy.  You could apply earliest 90 days before your “reporting date”.

DO, if your spouse and children will accompany you, be sure that their names are included on your I-20 (p.4) or DS-2019 supplementary form.

DO NOT enter the U.S. on the “visa waiver” program or B-2 visa.

DO find out how and when your sponsors will pay tuition and living expenses

DO make housing arrangements.   If you could not secure housing, contact one of the services listed on pages 12 for temporary residence. 

DO have a physical and dental examination before you leave. (Medical care is very expensive in the US and your standard Fordham health insurance does not cover dental and visual care unless you register for these plans by paying extra. We recommend you get your eyes and teeth checked before leaving your country!!)

DO submit an official record of required immunizations with dates (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) to the University Health Center.

DO, if you require medication, get your medical prescriptions officially translated.  Not all of your medications are approved  for use in the U.S.  Get extra pairs of glasses or contacts lenses, if you wear them.

DO return your indication of attendance for the ESL class for academic study, IF IT WAS ENCLOSED. If this form is not enclosed, do not worry about it.

DO, if you drive, get an international driver’s permit, if available. You can use your permit for a temporary period in the US.

DO bring an electric current converter to 110 volts for your electric equipment.

DO contact your department for academic questions before the end of May; your professors may not be on campus during June and July.



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