Navigating United States Immigration

Preparing For Arrival

You may enter the U.S. within 30 calendar days of the start date listed on your Form I-20. If you are not able to arrive by the first day of classes due to travel or visa delays, you must contact your enrollment advisor and the DSO department at

Prepare Documents for Travel

You must carry all of your original and copy of documents on you at all times. Do NOT put any of them on your checked baggage because you will need to access them when you arrive at the port of entry and speak with a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer.

List of documents you should carry on you:

  • Current Passport. Note: Make sure it is not expiring within a minimum of six months and always keep it current. 
  • USU Admission Letter
  • F-1 Visa
  • Form I-20
  • Original documents showing financial ability
  • SEVIS I-901 Fee Payment Receipt
  • Copy of health and immunization records
  • Copy of transcript(s), degree(s), diploma(s)
  • Dependent's Form I-20s and Passports, if your spouse and children will be traveling with you

Also, make at least one (1) set of photocopies of all documents you've received up to this point and leave with your family in your home country or someone you can trust in the event of an emergency.

We recommend flying into the San Diego International Airport (SAN).

Arrival: Port of Entry and Inspection

Once you arrive in the United States at your point of entry, a U.S. CBP officer will check your documents and determine if you can enter the country. This is where you will need to show your passport, visa, financial documents, admission letter, I-901 receipt of SEVIS fee and Form I-20.

Students who travel without all of the required documents may be denied entry into the U.S. It will be up to the discretion of the CBP officer at the port of entry. 

Your passport should be stamped by the port of entry official notating F-1 duration status, date, and location of arrival in the U.S. If this is incomplete of the stamped date or visa classification is incorrect, please bring it to the attention of the CBP officer before you leave so they can make the correct annotation.

While a CBP officer inspects your immigration documents, you may be asked some general questions. Do not allow yourself to become agitated or nervous; it is just a routine procedure. Always answer clearly, honestly, and politely.

If the CBP officer admits you into the country, you may be given a Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. This form shows that you have been legally admitted into the United States, the class of admission, and your authorized period of stay. If you traveled by air or sea the I-94 may be retrieved through the online I-94 website. Therefore, those traveling by land keep the I-94 card in a safe location should you not be able to retrieve it online.

After a CBP officer checks your documents and clears you to enter the U.S., you may proceed to the baggage claim area (if not done prior, each airport is different) to collect your luggage. After you collect your luggage, you will go through the customs checkpoint. The U.S. Customs (or Agriculture Department) officials may ask about the contents of your bags or ask to open them. Follow their instructions and answer their questions honestly and politely.

Here you will turn in the form you may have been given on the airplane, if applicable. On this form, you must declare if you have funds exceeding $10,000 (in any currency) and any items that need to be declared. Please visit for detailed information on what you are allowed to bring and what items you need to declare. 

Customs and Border Protection Officers may ask the following questions:

  • The purpose of your visit to the United States
  • How long you plan to visit
  • Where you will be staying/residing
  • If you have the means to support yourself financially in the United States
  • If the documents you are presenting are compatible with the purpose and intent of your visit

If the CBP Officer cannot verify your information (i.e., you do not have all of the required documentation) you may be directed to an interview area known as "secondary inspection." It is important not to panic or stress, this is simply to allow inspectors to conduct additional research without delaying other arriving passengers. In the event that the CBP officer needs to verify information with United States University you should do one of the following:

  1. If you are arriving during university hours, provide them the contact information of United States University to get in touch with the DSO.
  2. If you are arriving during non-school operating hours (evenings, weekends, holidays) please be advised that it will be difficult to get in touch with the DSO. Please send an email to the DSO; while we try to monitor the email on weekends and evenings they may not be able to respond immediately, especially during a holiday week/end.

Form I-515A

Under certain circumstances CBP officers may authorized a temporary admission into the United States utilizing Form I-515A Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor. This is typically issued when the nonimmigrant student lacks proper entry documentation and the most common reasons for issuance to an F-1 visa student includes, but are not limited to:

  • Lack of travel endorsement by a school official or sponsor official on the Form I-20.
  • Lack of evidence of payment of the I-901 SEVIS fee.
  • Lack of valid SEVIS record associated with the Form I-20 (i.e., the SEVIS record is not in Active or Initial Status).

In the event that you receive a Form I-515A and are granted entry to the U.S. with insufficient documentation, contact the DSO immediately after you have settled into your place of residence to begin working on gathering the documentation to submit to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for processing. The form grants a student only 30 days of legal presence in the U.S. to allow them to submit all missing documentation.

Airport Transportation

Once you have cleared the customs checkpoint, you will exit into the international arrivals area of the San Diego airport (SAN). If you need to catch a connecting flight to get to SAN, you will need to take your bags with you to the proper terminal or check-in counter for your domestic flight. At many airports, you will need to take a free inter-terminal shuttle or tram/train to get to the proper terminal. We highly recommend visiting the website of your destination airport to become familiar with what you will need to do.

To leave San Diego airport, you can use taxis or ride/sharing services such as Uber or Lyft to get around. You can also pre-plan transportation such as shuttles online. 


Once you complete your program, there are a variety of options for what you can do next including applying for training, changing your status, or transferring to another SEVP-certified program. If you do not choose any of those options, as an F-1 visa student, you and your dependents have 60 days after your program end date to depart the United States. 

NOTE: If your SEVIS record is terminated, you must exit the country immediately unless you decide to apply and transfer to another institution. It is up to that institution to determine if they will accept you and work on reinstating your SEVIS record. More information can be found in Study in the States