Travel on Post-Completion OPT and OPT STEM Extension

When traveling outside the U.S. while on OPT or OPT STEM extension, please be sure that you have all the required documents listed below for reentry to the U.S.

Travel before your I-20 Program End Date

You can travel the way that you always have with:

  • a valid Form I-20, signed on page 2 by an OISA advisor (the signature must not be more than 12 months old at the time of reentry to the U.S.)
  • an unexpired passport
  • an unexpired F-1 visa in the passport (except for Canadian citizens). If your F-1 visa is expired at the time of your reentry to the U.S. you must apply for a new F-1 visa to reenter the U.S.

The above also applies to your F-2 dependents.

Travel after Your I-20 Program End Date while OPT Application is Pending

If you have completed your degree and are waiting for your OPT to be approved, international travel is not recommended. If you decide to travel, it is at your own risk and you will need to carry your I-20 with valid travel signature, F-1 visa, and passport. You should also carry your OPT application receipt notice and employment offer letter (if you have one). Entry to the U.S. in any status other than F-1 OPT will invalidate your OPT work authorization. This also applies to your F-2 dependents.

Travel During Approved OPT

During post-completion OPT, you are still in F-1 status and must follow the F-1 rules for travel.You must have ALL documents listed below in order to travel and reenter the U.S. while on an approved period of OPT.  In many cases you may also need to apply for a new F-1 visa before you may return to the U.S.

  • a valid Form I-20, signed on page 2 by an OISA advisor (the signature must not be more than six months old at the time of reentry to the U.S.). If you need a travel signature, please follow the procedure on our Visa and Travel page. 
  • an unexpired passport
  • an unexpired F-1 visa in the passport (except for Canadian citizens). If your F-1 visa is expired at the time of your reentry to the U.S. you must apply for a new F-1 visa to reenter the U.S.
  • an OPT EAD issued by USCIS. Printed on the EAD is the statement "Not valid for reentry." This statement means that the EAD alone is not valid for reentry.             
  • evidence of a job offer or evidence of resumption of employment

Students who have the documents listed above may travel outside the United States and reenter even before the date their work permission begins. For example, an F-1 student who graduates in May with an OPT EAD that begins in July may travel and return to the United States any time after graduation.

Entry to the U.S. in any status other than F-1 OPT will invalidate your OPT work authorization. If you have exceeded your allowed unemployment time, it is not appropriate to seek reentry in F-1 status. 

For more information and guidelines on traveling during OPT, please visit the ICE Travel FAQs.

Travel while STEM OPT application is pending, but before the Post-Completion OPT EAD expires

You must have ALL documents listed below in order to travel and reenter the U.S.:

  • unexpired Post-Completion OPT EAD card
  • a valid Form I-20, signed on page 2 by an OISA advisor (the signature must not be more than six months old at the time of reentry to the U.S.) If you need a travel signature, please follow the procedure on our Visa and Travel page. 
  • an unexpired passport
  •  an unexpired F-1 visa in the passport (except for Canadian citizens). If your F-1 visa is expired at the time of your reentry to the U.S. you must apply for a new F-1 visa to reenter the U.S.

The above also applies to your F-2 dependents.

Travel while STEM OPT application is pending, after the Post-Completion OPT EAD expires

You can travel abroad and reenter the U.S. with your expired Post-Completion OPT EAD card and the original receipt notice for your STEM OPT application issued by USCIS. You cannot travel with an email or text confirmation, or a printout of your online case status, in lieu of the physical receipt notice. This only applies during the 180 day period of authorized employment while your STEM OPT application is pending.

For reentry to the U.S. with a pending STEM OPT application, you should carry:

  • Expired Post-Completion OPT EAD card
  • USCIS-issued receipt notice for your STEM OPT application
  • a valid Form I-20, signed on page 2 by an OISA advisor (the signature must not be more than six months old at the time of reentry to the U.S.)
  • an unexpired passport
  • an unexpired F-1 visa in the passport (except for Canadian citizens)*. If your F-1 visa is expired at the time of your reentry to the U.S. you must apply for a new F-1 visa to reenter the U.S. with. For instructions, please see below.
  • Evidence of a job offer or evidence of resumption of employment

The above also applies to your F-2 dependents.

*You can apply for a new F-1 entry visa using the documents listed above, including the expired Post-Completion OPT EAD card and the original receipt notice for your STEM OPT application issued by USCIS. You cannot apply for a visa with an email or text confirmation, or a printout of your online case status, in lieu of the physical receipt notice.

If needed, the following guidance from the U.S. Department of State describes the ability to travel and apply for a renewed visa during the 180 day period following the expiration of your Post-Completion OPT EAD while your STEM OPT EAD is pending:

Applicable Federal Guidance: U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual - 9 FAM 402.5-5(N)(6)(e)

“As the STEM OPT extension is automatic for the first 180 days following regular post-completion OPT (when the student has properly filed Form I-765), the student may not necessarily have a renewed EAD. Therefore, any students having automatically authorized employment through the OPT extension may not be able to present a valid EAD when they apply to renew their visa. However, F-1 students in this situation can request an updated I-20 from the DSO, annotated for the STEM OPT extension, as well as proof that the I-765 petition was filed in a timely manner. You must confirm that the student’s electronic SEVIS record contains the same information as the updated hard copy Form I-20 before issuing a visa.” The preamble to the 24-month STEM OPT rule [81 FR 13103 par. 774] states:

“Students on STEM OPT extensions (including those whose application for a STEM OPT extension is pending) may travel abroad and seek reentry to the United States in F-1 status during the STEM OPT extension period if they have a valid F-1 visa that permits multiple entries and a current Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility endorsed for reentry by the DSO within the last six months. The student’s status is determined by CBP upon admission to the United States or through a USCIS adjudication of a change-of-status petition.”

Travel after STEM OPT approval

You must have ALL documents listed below in order to travel and reenter the U.S. while on an approved period of STEM OPT. 

  • a STEM OPT EAD issued by USCIS. Printed on the EAD is the statement "Not valid for reentry." This statement means that the EAD alone is not valid for reentry.              
  • a valid Form I-20, signed on page 2 by an OISA advisor (the signature must not be more than six months old at the time of reentry to the U.S.)
  • an unexpired passport
  • an unexpired F-1 visa in the passport (except for Canadian citizens). If your F-1 visa is expired at the time of your reentry to the U.S. you must apply for a new F-1 visa to reenter the U.S. with.
  • evidence of a job offer or evidence of resumption of employment

Entry to the U.S. in any status other than F-1 STEM OPT will invalidate your STEM OPT work authorization.