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Entering the U.S. – At the Airport

As a foreign national entering the U.S., you will need certain documents with you as evidence of your legal status. You should have with you:

  • your passport with a valid visa (Canadian citizens are exempt from visa requirement)
  • your I-20 (F-1 visa holders) or your DS-2019 (J-1 visa holders)
  • it is also a good idea to bring proof of your financial support with you, in case the inspector at the airport asks for it

You are allowed to enter the US in F or J status up to 30 days prior to the program start date listed on your I-20 (section 5) or DS-2019 (section 3). Please plan accordingly.

If you have your documents properly prepared, your experience with USCIS and Customs (CBP) will go easily, but it might be time consuming. Your experience will be as follows:

When you disembark from the airplane at the US airport, you will be directed to the immigration (CBP) station. There, a US inspector will ask to see your passport, visa stamp, and your SEVIS I-20 or SEVIS DS-2019. They may also ask to see proof of financial support.

Next, you will be directed to Baggage Claim. If you checked any baggage, those items will be placed on the carousel marked with your flight number. Do not worry if you do not see your bags at first. Sometimes it takes a while to have all bags placed on the carousel. There might be carts available to rent, which can help you with carrying your bags to the Customs desk and to the ground transportation area. The carts are free or could cost approximately $2.00.

At the US Customs desk, you will show your passport and the customs declaration form that your flight attendant gave you on the airplane (make sure you have completed the form). Customs regulations will not allow you to bring fresh foods or plants into the country, so you should leave those items at home. The officer might ask you to open your bags for a random check, or to put them on a scanner.

Lost or Misplaced I-20 or DS-2019?

If you lost or misplaced your I-20 or DS-2019, do not panic. Ask the inspector to issue you a Form I-515. The I-515 will allow you to legally enter the US as an F-1 or J-1, but only for one month. Come to the OIS to check in as soon as possible after you arrive, and we will take care of the Form I-515.