Travelling to US on F1 Student Visa – List of Documents to Carry

After your F-1 Visa is approved, you would be frantically getting ready to rack and fly to the US. I was looking for a list of documents to carry with me to the US and what to leave behind.

What is included in this article:

  • List of documents
  • FAQ’s
  • Practical Tips
  • How to store your document

Question from Rajarshi

For students from India, who will be pursuing higher education abroad (be it any country ), do you suggest that we travel with all our previous academic documents (school and bachelors degree mark sheets and certificates)?

Will it be wise to do so so that they can be offered instantly if asked by any academic departments later on?

Do the employers who come via career service (here again the discussion is not restricted to USA ) demand the student’s previous academic documents?

There are many incidents of burglaries in student halls and one must decide before traveling whether he or she should leave the documents back home or not.

F1 Visa Students: List of Documents for Travel

Let’s divide the documents into the following categories

  • Travel Documents
  • Other Documents

Travel Documents

  • I-20
  • Passport (Current and Expired)
  • College Admission Letter
  • Copies of your Flight ticket

Visa and Passport are required to get the boarding pass and travel to the port of entry, where a CBP officer would admit you into the U.S.

CBP officer would look at your I-20, Passport, and the Visa and admit you into the U.S.

After you clear the immigration, you will clear the Customs.

For instance, your final destination is New York, your port of entry would probably be New York. If you have to fly to a different destination, after clearing the Customs, you will check-in the bags again for domestic flight.

Don’t forget to carry cash with you in smaller bills like $5 and $10.

Other Documents

  • Academic Documents
    • All previous Degree certificates
    • Course completion certificate
    • Provisional certificate
    • Original Mark sheets
  • I-20’s from other universities
  • Extra copies
    • Recommendation letter
    • University transcripts
  • Any other documents, like certifications, paper presentation reports, etc.
  • 8 Passport size Photos (45mmx45mm)

Practice Tips

  1. Carry all the documents in with you in the carry on bag (the one you take with you)
  2. Do NOT put these document in your big suitcase that is checked-in at the time of boarding
  3. Leave copies of your documents at home (passport, USA Visa, I-20, transcripts, passport size photos)
  4. Don’t laminate your Form I-20
  5. Leave a couple of signed papers (empty) with your parents, if in case they want your signature for Bank or other needs.
  6. Keep them in a file with multiple pockets
  7. At any given time, you should know where is your document in the folder
  8. Check them once every 3 months to make sure you know they are safe and sound
  9. Get a State ID or Driving License as soon as you come into the US, so you don’t have to take the passport for ID

At some universities, you will be asked to show the original transcripts or degree certificate during the orientation.

Take a few extra copies of Recommendation letters and transcripts (signed and sealed). If in case, you are not satisfied with this university and you can apply for other schools. It will be a hassle for you to get recommendation letters from back home while you are in the USA. So, get a few extra copies with you.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. For students from India, who will be pursuing higher education abroad (be it any country ), do you suggest that we travel with all our previous academic documents (school and bachelors degree mark sheets and certificates)?

Yes. The USA is your new home. Take it with you. I have digital copies of every document you can imagine in organized folders and stored in the cloud.

2. Will it be wise to do so so that they can be offered instantly if asked by any academic departments later on?

I had to provide the original Degree Certificate and Transcripts after arriving in the University. The process varies. But, have it with you. They belong to you and you have to keep it safe.

3. Do the employers who come via career service (here again the discussion is not restricted to the USA ) demand the student’s previous academic documents?

Never in my career, I had to provide the originals to Employer. But, I had to give the photocopies for immigration and visa purpose. For the Green Card process, formal transcript evaluation would be done by your attorney.

4. There are many incidents of burglaries in student halls and one must decide before traveling whether he or she should leave the documents back home or not.

I have seen students losing their passport. There was a birthday party on our campus and as any birthday party goes, it got out of hands. People started throwing some of the friends into the swimming pool. Guess what? One guy had his passport in his jeans pocket.

I haven’t seen anyone till date, who lost their entire document set, but losing a passport is something that happens frequently. So, take care of your document during the travel. For the most part, your passport will stay in your home. If you are taking it with you, have it wrapped in a ziplock and then inside a passport pouch.

5. Should I take Birth Certificate?

If you have one, take it with you. It’s required only when you are submitting the Green Card Stage 3. It’s several years away. Make sure you have access to the digital copy at the least.

Organize Your Documents in the Cloud

I can’t stress the importance of saving and taking care of your documents.

Every document you come in contact should be accessible to you via cloud.

The only exception is your Social Security Number.

You can organize the documents into the following categories

  • Passport
  • Employment
  • University
  • Education
  • Finance
  • Others

Using your mobile device and a Scanning App, save them as an image (not as pdf). If it’s saved as an image, it’s easy to identify when viewing the folder.

Bonus Tip:

Create a Google Sheet and enter the following details

  • Airline Name
  • From
  • Destination
  • Travel Date
  • Arrival Date
  • Notes

And every time you travel outside the U.S. update this sheet.

When you go on summer vacation and return back, add a new entry. Also, add a new column to include total days spent outside the U.S.

Trust me on this.

If you don’t do this for every trip, 10 years later, your attorney would ask for days spent outside the U.S to recapture the H-1B time, and you will be left to scramble to find the above information.

See Also:   Flight Travel India to the USA: Documents, Tips, and Caution