Travel for International Scholars


This page is designed to give general information on requirements for international scholars to enter the U.S., whether for the first time or after a brief trip abroad. In all cases, SISS advisors are here to help with travel questions! International scholars and their dependents should contact a SISS advisor with any questions about travel in any category.

Documents Needed to Enter the United States

In general, all international scholars will need the following items to enter the U.S.

  • A passport that is valid for at least 6 months after entry;

International scholars who need to extend their passports after entering the U.S. and/or prior to a trip abroad from the U.S. must contact their country’s embassy or consulate to request a passport renewal. It is recommended to do this at least 6 months prior to passport expiration.

  • A valid visa stamp which is issued for the same category of visa shown on the immigration documents and which will be valid on the day of entry to the U.S. (no visa is required for Canadian citizens or those who qualify for “automatic revalidation” as explained below);

International scholars who have a valid visa in an expired passport may travel with the expired passport and a valid passport and continue to use the valid visa, as long as they are allowed to keep their expired passport. It is important to make this request to the agency issuing the renewed passport.

  • Valid immigration documents. For more information on these documents for specific non-immigrant visa categories, please refer to information specific to your visa type.

If you are a J-1 international scholar, please visit our J-1 Current Scholars page.

Visa Stamp in the Passport

Each time an international scholar enters the US as an E-3, H-1B, J-1, O-1 or TN visa holder (or family members enter on the relevant dependent visa), he/she should have a valid visa stamp in the passport.

The only exception is for Canadian citizens (who do not need visas) and people who have already been admitted to the U.S. and are traveling from the U.S. to Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days, and then returning to the U.S. In that case, a valid visa is not needed to re-enter the US. This is called “automatic revalidation.”

Unfortunately, citizens of Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan are not eligible for automatic revalidation.

The following links will assist international scholars in applying for a visa:

Immigration Documents

Most international scholars and their dependents will need to present at least one immigration document to apply for a visa and/or enter the U.S. In almost all cases, that document will be provided by SISS, based on a request from the department that is hosting the international scholar. International scholars should make sure that the information on the document they are given is correct. In particular, please check that the spelling of the name on the document matches the passport; the correct birth date is listed; the correct country of nationality is listed, and the expiration date is at minimum the day after arrival in the U.S. For more information on the specific documents needed for each visa category, please please refer to information specific to your visa type.

Visa versus Status

The “visa” is a stamp that is placed in the passport by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, which gives an individual the ability to ask to enter the U.S. within specific dates for a specific purpose. A “status” is the non-immigrant visa category indicated on the I-94 record and/or in the passport upon admission to the U.S. Although a person might have several visas in their passport for entry to the U.S. (e.g. a tourist, a student, and a scholar visa), he or she may only have one status at a time based on the documents shown upon admission to the U.S. and the stated intent of the visit. Many people use the word “visa” (what is your visa?) when they mean status (what is your status as a non-immigrant in the U.S.?).

Inspection at Port-of-Entry (airport or land border)

It is important to make sure that the correct visa is granted at the time of entry to the U.S. The visa type granted will either be written in the passport with the entry stamp and/or on an I-94 record prior to leaving passport inspection. (The I-94 card is a white or green card that is stapled in the passport. International visitors who entered prior to April 30, 2013, will have this card but in most cases, these cards will no longer be issued after April 30, 2013). An individual can only have one visa status at a time in the U.S. Therefore, an international scholar who is mistakenly granted a visitor visa, for example, would still be considered a visitor and would not have permission to work, even if the passport inspector made a mistake. Therefore, it is very important for international scholars and their dependents to check their passports prior to leaving the passport inspection area and politely point out any errors to the passport inspector if needed.

Errors are more likely to happen with some individuals who have more than one type of valid U.S. visa in their passport (such as a valid B-1/B-2 visa stamp and a valid J-1 visa stamp). It may also happen to citizens of certain countries who qualify to enter the U.S. without a visa under the “Visa Waiver Program” (a list of those countries can be found on the State Department website). Therefore, international scholars and their dependents who are eligible for more than one type of visa classification should be particularly careful to get the correct status granted when they go through passport inspection at the airport. If an error is noticed after the international scholar has entered the U.S., please contact an international scholar advisor for advice and assistance.

Special Topics

Pending Petitions

In general, people who applied for an international scholar visa category after arriving in the U.S., or international scholars changing from one international scholar category (such as J-1) to another category (such as H-1B) cannot travel while the change of status petition is pending without canceling the petition. International scholars who applied for a change of status in the U.S. and have an application pending should not make any international travel arrangements without first discussing their options and consequences with their international scholar advisor.

Approved Change of Status Petitions

Once an international scholar receives a new status through a petition that was filed inside the U.S., that person can remain legally in the U.S. and accept an appointment within the parameters of the type of status granted. However, a change of status inside the U.S. will not include a new visa stamp in the passport. Therefore, international scholars who have changed status inside the U.S. will need to apply for a new visa in the passport the next time they exit the U.S. if they plan to re-enter the U.S. using the new visa type requested in the change of status petition.

Children, Partners and other Relatives who do Not Qualify for Dependent Status

Unfortunately, U.S. immigration law does not allow children over the age of 21, unmarried partners (same or opposite gender), relatives who are neither spouses nor children (such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents), or more than one spouse to use a dependent visa status, such as an E-3D, H-4, J-2, O-3 or TD. However, the U.S. Embassy may grant these types of family members a visitor visa (B-2) to accompany and/or visit the international scholar in the U.S.

For information on applying for a B-2 visa to invite family members who are not eligible for dependent visa status, or same-sex partners and/or unmarried partners (also known as “domestic partners"), please check the information on B-2 visas on the website of the US Embassy that pertains to your country.

Travel in Canada or Mexico

International scholars who are not citizens of Canada/Mexico but who plan to travel in those countries should check to see if they will need a visa to enter those countries (Canada | Mexico).

Travel inside the U.S.

International scholars who will travel inside the U.S. (including Hawaii and Puerto Rico) are not required to carry any documents except official ID, such as a passport and/or a valid state driver’s license. However, international scholars may want to carry their valid immigration documents or a copy of those documents, particularly if they are traveling in a state close to the U.S. border with Canada or Mexico. Please note: International scholars who will travel inside the U.S. and expect a travel reimbursement, per diem, honorarium, or another type of payment should check with their international scholar advisor on the regulations related to accepting outside payments for their particular immigration category.

Transit Visas

International scholars may have to apply for a transit visa if their flight is not directly from the U.S. to the country of final destination and/or vice versa. For international scholars who transit through a third country on their way to their destination, requirements differ and are enforced by the country where the stop-over airport (transit place) is located. It is best to contact either the airline providing the plane ticket or the stop-over country’s embassy before traveling, to learn whether a transit visa is required for the country of citizenship of the traveler and the particular stop-over country. If the airline cannot provide the information, visit the website of the embassy of the stop-over country for more information about transit visas.

Travel Warnings

International scholars who are traveling outside the U.S. may want to check for travel warnings (warnings about civil unrest, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, etc.) prior to planning their travel.