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Here to Help: What to Expect at a Port of Entry with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer

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Here to Help provides information on each of the government agencies that has a role in the F and M student process

Upon arrival at a U.S. international airport, seaport or land border crossing, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will determine whether you can enter the United States. CBP is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security whose mission is to prevent terrorists, high-risk individuals and improperly documented travelers from entering the United States while facilitating the entry of legitimate travelers and trade.

What is a CBP officer?

A CBP officer is the first U.S. official you will encounter when arriving at a port of entry. The work of CBP is to ensure the physical and economic security of the United States.

What can I expect when I arrive at a port of entry?

At a primary inspection booth, a CBP officer will ask you questions to verify your documentations, examine your luggage and determine whether to admit you into the United States. Some of the questions a CBP officer may ask include the following:

  • The purpose of your visit to the United States
  • How long you plan to visit
  • Where you will be staying
  • If you have the means to support yourself financially in the United States
  • If the documents you present match the purpose and intent of your visit

If the CBP officer at the port of entry cannot readily verify your information or you lack the required documentation, the officer may direct you to secondary inspection. Secondary inspection is a more detailed inspection to determine admissibility. It allows the CBP officer to conduct additional research to verify information without causing delays for other arriving passengers.

A CBP officer who is unable to verify your admission eligibility in secondary inspection may issue you a Form I-515A, “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor,” to allow you temporary entry into the United States if there are any documentary deficiencies you can fix within the United States. The Form I-515A has a limited validity period of 30 days from the date of issuance which CBP issues in conjunction with the Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record.”  To learn more, visit What is a Form I-515A?

How can I prepare for my entry?

There are a few ways you can prepare for entry into the United States:

  • Make sure you have a valid passport, a signed Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” visa (if required) and evidence of financial support. Do not put these documents in checked baggage.
  • Do not bring any restricted items.
  • Carry the name and contact information for your designated school official, including a 24-hour emergency contact telephone number at your school.

Visit CBP's website to learn more about travel resourcesfor international visitors.  

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