Preparing for Your Trip to the United States
Before you leave for the United States, familiarize yourself with the different kinds of documents you might need. It is always a good idea to carry your original documents with you at all times. Do not put them in your checked baggage.
It is also a good idea to make at least two sets of copies of these documents: one copy to leave with your family before you depart and one copy to give to your school officials. Here is a list of the important immigration documents:
Arriving in the United States
Arriving in the United States should be a smooth experience if you have everything ready.
The Form I-94, "Arrival/Departure Record" is a critical record. It shows that you have been legally admitted to the United States, the class of admission, and the authorized period of stay. It is very important that the information on the record is correct. Inconsistencies between the information on the Form I-94 and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records can reduce the chances of a successful systems interface. In particular, this can cause issues with status verification for Social Security numbers.
If you arrive by a land port, you will receive a paper Form I-94. If you arrive at the port of entry by air or sea, an automated Form I-94 record will automatically be generated for you by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. CBP will provide you with an admission stamp on your passport that is annotated with date of admission, class of admission and admitted-until date. The electronic arrival/departure record can be obtained at www.cbp.gov/I94.
If the CBP officer at the port of entry cannot verify your information, or if you do not have all of the required documentation, a CBP officer may direct you to an interview area known as secondary inspection.
If you arrive at the U.S. border without all the necessary paperwork, CBP officials may issue you a Form I-515A, "Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor". To learn more, visit What is a Form I-515A?
Reporting to your School
You have 30 days to enter the country before your official program start date, which is recorded in SEVIS. You must report to your school by the program start date listed on the Form I-20 you received. This is one of the rules you agree to when you received your student or exchange visitor status. If you do not follow this rule, you are not maintaining your status.
It is best to contact your school immediately after entering the country so that there is no question of your arrival.
If you cannot enter the United States for the term listed on your Form I-20 or if you will be late by a few days, immediately contact your designated school officials so that they can accurately enter this information in your SEVIS record.