At the Border

I-94 - Customs

Having received your visa, secured your flight and perhaps travel insurance too, packed what you needed and brought the appropriate things on the plane with you, you are now ready to cross the US border!

Once your plane has landed in the United States, you will need to go through US Passport Control and Customs. Be sure to queue in the appropriate line based on your citizenship, as there will be a queue for US and non-US citizens.

The following documents should be carried with you on the plane (not checked with your luggage):

I-94 (Arrival Departure Record or also known as Permit to Stay)

This form will be given to you on the plane, and you will be asked to complete it before you disembark. After reviewing your documents, the immigration officer will indicate on this form the length of time you will be permitted to stay in the US (indicated by the notation D/S, which stands for Duration of Status). This means that you will be allowed to stay in the US until this date as long as you maintain your visa status.

The officer will attach the I-94 form to your passport. When you leave the US, you will give the I-94 back to an immigration officer as proof you have left the country on time. Every time you leave and re-enter the US, the I-94 will be replaced. Similarly, the I-20 and DS-2019 need to be signed by the university every time you leave the US in order for you to be allowed re-entry. Keep your original I-20 or DS-2019 with the passport at all times. When speaking with an immigration officer, be courteous and polite. Answer their questions about your stay in the US directly and honestly. It is probably not the best time to joke.

Once you tell them you are a student, they may ask questions about your studies, such as what university you will be attending, what you plan on studying, why you decided to study in the US, how long/where you will be staying, as well as anything else they feel is important to confirm your intentions in the US. They will also want to see your documentation from your US university so keep all official paperwork on you in your hand luggage/carry-on.

Visa holders of any classification are not required to hold a return ticket. However, you should carry with you, for presentation to US officials, evidence of funds sufficient for your visit (this can be the same paperwork you submitted to get your I-20 or DS-2019 and took to your visa interview) and proof that you have a residence outside of the US to which you intend to return at the end of your stay. See our page on visas for further information.

Note on Your Visa Status

To maintain your status you must do the following:

*If you wish to transfer to another institution, you must complete a transfer of your immigration documents by obtaining a new I-20 or DS-2019.

You should be admitted to the US for the specific period of time indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019. If it takes you longer to complete your studies than indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019, you must apply for an extension of your stay well before it expires (see your International Student Advisor for more information).


After passing through immigration, you will collect your luggage and proceed to customs. Normally all personal items are duty free, although customs officers can, by law, demand duty on any item that you have had for less than one year. If you have any questions regarding US customs regulations, check with the US Embassy or Consulate nearest you. (See the US Embassy Customs website for more details.)

Below are some tips to getting through customs quickly and successfully: