Ask an OISS Advisor: Travel to Mexico & Canada

QUESTION: I’m thinking about taking a trip to Canada or Mexico. Is there anything special I need to do? Are there any risks I should know about?
          by Annette Burris, International Student and Scholar Advisor

ANSWER: While Mexico and Canada are part of North America, they are separate nations with their own entry requirements. Students should be sure to do a bit of preparation before making travel plans. In particular, you want to consider your entry to Canada or Mexico, and your readmission to the United States.

Entry to Canada or Mexico

You may need a visa. Be sure to check the embassy website before making travel plans to find out if an entry visa is required for nationals from your country:

Canadian Embassy

Mexican Embassy

Be sure to travel with your I-20 or DS-2019. In some cases the entry requirements are different for individuals with a valid US visa stamp in their passport. You may be required to present a valid I-20 or DS-2019 in order to be admitted to Canada or Mexico.  If Canada or Mexico is your home country, you should also be sure to travel with a printout of your I-94.

Reentry to the US

Check the expiration date on your passport. In most cases Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires you to have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond your entry date.

Request a travel signature. Since you will be making an exit and reentry to the US, you must also have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019. This will be required when you are presenting yourself for admission to the US on your return trip.

Check the end date on your I-20 or your DS-2019. If your document will expire close to the date you plan to return to the US, travel delays can cause a problem. If you are travelling towards the end of your F-1 or J-1 program and you are not able to reenter the US before your document expires, you will no longer be eligible to enter in F-1 or J-1 status. This is especially important for F-1 students who plan to apply for OPT. If you have questions about this particular issue, be sure to discuss it with your OISS advisor before making your travel plans.

Check the expiration date on your F-1 or J-1 visa stamp. In general, you need a valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp to be readmitted to the US. However, in the case of travel to Canada and Mexico you can still be readmitted to the US if your visa stamp has expired. This is called Automatic Visa Revalidation. If you are: 1) travelling only to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands other than Cuba, 2) for a stay of less than 30 days, and 3) not applying for a renewal of your visa, the expired visa in your passport is “revalidated” for a new entry to the US. You must have your I-94 printout with you if you plan to use this benefit. If you are nervous about trusting this rule, you can travel with the CBP Fact Sheet on Automatic Visa Revalidation. It has been in effect for quite some time now and CBP is familiar with it.

You are not eligible to use Automatic Visa Revalidation if: 1) your visa has ever been cancelled under the overstay provisions of US immigration law (also referred to as 222(g)), 2) you are a citizen or national of a country that has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” or 3) your travel included a visit to Cuba.

If you are travelling to Canada or Mexico for the express purpose of renewing your visa, automatic visa revalidation will not apply. You should be sure to review the embassy website for information about third country national (TCN) visa applications. There may be restrictions on which consular posts will accept applications from third country nationals. You should also be sure to consider the risks of making a TCN application. If the visa is denied, you will not be able to reenter the US. You would be required to travel to your home country to apply for and obtain a valid F-1 or J-1 visa before you could return to the US.

If you have questions about any of these issues, please be sure to talk with your OISS advisor in advance. Safe travels!


Send us your questions! “Ask an OISS Advisor” is a regular feature in the International Voice where OISS advisors answer questions that have been submitted by International Students and Scholars from Washington University. This means that we need your help! If you have a question that you would like to have answered in this column, please send it to us. It might be a question for which you don’t know the answer or it may be a particular issue that you have noticed causes confusion for many other international students. If you’re not sure if it’s a good question for this feature, go ahead and send it in, and we will decide. Please send your questions to the editor of the International Voice at: . Indicate if you prefer for your question to be anonymous.