Traveling to the U.S.A. - Tips and Information
As an international student entering the U.S. it is very important to follow the below tips and understand entry procedures. If you do not, you face a possibility of being detained at the airport, or, worse-case, deported. These tips and information will also help make sure that you have a safe and pleasant trip.
AT THE AIRPORT
- For security reasons, the airlines are asking people to arrive earlier than before; It is important to arrive early at your departure site 90 minutes to two hours is the general rule. Sometimes, longer for an international flight. International travelers usually go through three lines; once at check-in, once for the examination of checked luggage, and once at the personal security check-through. Being late for your flight will not get you moved to the front of these security lines.
- If you miss a flight for some reason, don't panic; the airlines will put you on a different flight. However, it is very important to CALL the International Office at the school and your pickup contact (if you have one) to let them know of the change of plan. It is very important that the school knows of your where-abouts at all times, in case Border Patrol or Homeland Security calls them.
- If you have traveled at all in the past few years, you've probably already stood in security lines while your bags were x-rayed and you and your fellow passengers produced identification papers numerous times, took cell phones and laptops out of their cases, emptied pockets of coins and keys, stripped off shoes, belts and jewelry. And for some, the need to stand, arms and legs outstretched, while an electronic wand was waved around their body, possibly to determine what caused all that beeping when they stepped through the metal detector. Or everyone going through a Bio-scanning machine. During this process do not argue with the officials. Just do as they ask. Also, do not make any comments AT ALL about guns, bombs, box cutters, hijackings and anything else related to terrorist activities that have caused the deaths of thousands of innocent travelers. At the very least, you will be detained; not a good way to start your journey.
- To make things move faster for yourself
and for those waiting in line behind you, make use of the following tips:
- Read the permitted and prohibited items list: http://www.tsa.gov/ . Some things that are not allowed in your carry-on baggage and should be carried in your checked luggage.
- Keep your passport and boarding pass readily available. You will be asked for these documents more than once, so there is no point in putting them away until you are completely through security.
- How you dress for an international flight can make a difference in how quickly you can move through security. Since you will be asked to remove your shoes, we advise against intricate laces, long rows of clasps, buckles, or other fasteners that take time to get your footwear off and on because it will hold up the line. Smart travelers wear slip-on shoes, which are also convenient for getting comfortable on long international flights. Although you will not be asked to remove your clothes (other than coats, suit jackets, and blazers), clothing with metal buttons and buckles will definitely cause the beepers to go off and you will need to be "wanded" which, is not a fun process. Wear comfortable clothing with a minimum of metal fasteners. Keep in mind that you will have to remove much of your jewelry if it contains metal, and you will also have to empty your pockets of coins, keys, cell phones, and other bulky items. Even full packs of cigarettes can set off the beepers. It takes time to take things off and put them back on, to empty each of your pockets and fill them up again. Dress accordingly. If you have lots of pocket items, put them in a clear plastic bag so you can pull it out for inspection in one easy go and are not patting yourself down repeatedly while your fellow travelers are glancing at their watches. Even better, put the plastic bag in your carry-on luggage and retrieve it after clearing the inspection point.
- Pack your valuables and fragile items such as jewelry, cash, cameras, and laptop computers in carry-on baggage only. If you are traveling with a laptop computer, remember that you will have to remove it from its case and may need to turn it on for inspectors. You may be asked to do the same with other electronic devices.
- Do not pack wrapped gifts and do not bring wrapped gifts to the security checkpoint. This will assuredly cause you to be pulled aside for further inspection. And use common sense: if you bought a friend or relative a great set of knives, pack them unwrapped in your checked, not your carry-on luggage. (better yet, leave those knifes at home! It just makes you a target in the eyes of the inspectors.) Items confiscated at security checkpoints are not returned.
- If you wish to lock your baggage, use a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recognized lock. Go to www.tsa.gov for more information; otherwise you may find the fastener on your bag broken when you arrive at your destination. Checked luggage may randomly undergo additional inspections before being loaded onto the carrier. If your bag is chosen, it will be opened so it's best to allow unfettered access.
- The Transportation Security Authority (TSA) has ruled that passengers are only allowed to bring liquids through the security checkpoint that fit in a 3 ounce or smaller container. These containers must fit in a quart size clear plastic bag. This is for all liquids and gels, including, beverages, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, hair gel, and other items of similar consistency. If you are going to transport these items in containers larger than 3 ounces, then you will need to place them in your checked luggage. Passengers may have baby formula, or juice if a baby or small child is traveling. Passengers may also have prescription medication labeled with a name which matches the name on the passenger's ticket, insulin, or other essential non-prescription medications. Items purchased passed the security checkpoints may be brought on board the aircraft.
- For further information, please visit the Transportation Security Department at www.tsa.gov.
- You cannot bring into the US more than $10,000 cash without telling immigration. (We have had students whose money was taken from them at the border because they had more than $10,000 and did not report it.)
- If you are bringing cash, be careful with it. There are many pickpockets and thieves just waiting to steal your bags and wallets. We recommend that you keep your passport and visa documents on your person, not in a bag or wallet. Also, any large quantities of cash that you carry should be in a safe place on your person. (We have had people tape cash around their stomachs or sew it into their clothes.) Do be careful of anyone who is near you, because the pickpockets are very good at what they do. The safest thing to do is to have your tuition and fees wired directly to the school before you leave your country, and to set up a US bank account (after arriving to the US) and have family wire your living expenses directly into the bank account. This way you will only need to travel with minimal funds. It takes about ten days for an international wire, so bring enough funds to last you a couple of weeks.
- Keep your passport, I-20, I-797, financial documentation, and ID on you and safe at all times. If you lose these, you will not be allowed into the US
ARRIVING AT A U.S. PORT OF ENTRY: WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
We have generated a list of what you can expect when you arrive at the U.S. port of entry.
- PLAN YOUR ARRIVAL. You may be refused entry into the United States if you attempt to arrive more than 30 days before or any days after the program start date listed on your SEVIS I-20 form.
- DOCUMENTS TO CARRY ON YOU AT ALL TIMES:
- Your passport, valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected stay;
- SEVIS Form I-20.
- Evidence of financial resources;
- Evidence of student status, such as any tuition receipts and your official transcripts;
- Paper receipt for the SEVIS fee (Form I-797.) This can be the original mailed receipt or the online confirmation receipt.
- Name and contact information for your Designated School Official, including an emergency contact number for when the school is closed. For more information on procedures for traveling and arriving in the United States, visit: http://educationusa.state.gov/predeparture/travel/customs.htm
- Return ticket. We recommend you purchase a round-trip ticket, so you have a ticket to return home. (even though you will not have a specific return date scheduled)
- ALWAYS HAND-CARRY YOUR DOCUMENTS. Do not check the above documents in your baggage. If your baggage is lost or delayed, you will be unable to present the documents at your port of entry. As a result, you may not be able to enter the United States
- COMPLETE YOUR ENTRY PAPERWORK. Flight attendants will distribute Customs Declaration Forms (CF-6059) for you to fill out before landing. (NOTE: The Arrival Departure Record Form (I-94) is no longer filled out on the airplane. These are now available to customs electronically after you arrive.)
- AS YOU ARRIVE AT THE PORT OF ENTRY. Proceed to
the terminal area for arriving passengers. Here you will speak with a
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer who will look at your
documents and ask you questions. This is the primary inspection to
enter the US. A few things to know about the primary inspection:
- Have the following documents available for presentation: your passport with Visa; I-20 Form; Sevis Receipt (I-797), and Customs Declaration Form (CF-6059).
- Additional documents you should have on hand are your financial documents (to prove you have enough money for your stay in the US), your official school transcripts, and a return ticket.
- You should know the address where you will reside, (not the address of the school or program.), so if asked you can confidently know where you are staying. If you do not yet know where you will be living, ask the school for an address you should use. They sometimes have temporarily housing available.
- All visitors entering the United States will be asked their reason for wishing to enter the country. You will be telling the CBP Officer that you are entering to be a student.
- You will also be asked to provide information about your final destination. Again, it is important that you tell the CBP Officer that you will be a student. Be prepared to include the name and address of the school program where you will enroll/participate.
- The CBP Officers are trained to look for inconsistencies. If, you seem overly nervous, they may have you go to a second inspection for further investigation. Or, if your reasons for coming to the US do not match documents you are holding. For example, if you say you are coming into the US to study, but you have a briefcase full of company profiles and resumes instead of transcripts, they may assume you are coming to work instead of studying. In this cae, you will be sent to secondary inspection. Be honest and be consistent.
- If your inspection is successfully completed, the inspecting officer will: Stamp your SEVIS Form for duration of status (D/S) for F visa holders, Stamp your SEVIS Form for 30 days beyond program end date for M visa holders, Stamp the Arrival-Departure Record Form (I-94) and staple it in the passport.
- NEVER LIE. It is important to remember to never lie to government officials. This is against the law and if caught in a lie may cause you to be deported.
- FOLLOWING ADMISSION INTO THE UNITED STATES. Students should report to their school within 30 days of the date that appears on the SEVIS I-20 form to register for courses or to validate their intended participation. Failure to do so may result in serious consequences.
- SECONDARY INSPECTION. If the Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
officer at the port of entry cannot verify your information, or you
may not have all of the required documentation, or you may have
displayed inconsistent behavior, (as we mentioned
above), you may be subjected to a secondary inspection. (This is why it
is very important to make sure you have all the required documents in
hand and you do not lie during your visa interview or during the primary
inspection.) Secondary inspection allows CBP Officers to conduct additional research in order to
verify information. Here are a few things you need to be aware of
during the second inspection:
- The inspectors are allowed to go through the contents of your luggage, laptop, cell phone and mobile devices.
- The inspectors have access to your visa application, and if what they find is inconsistent with what you filled out on the form or said in the visa interview, you will be deported for lying to a government official.
- These second inspections can be very long, sometimes lasting 10 or more hours. It is very important for you to remain calm and to always, always, always, tell the truth.
- You may be placed in a holding cell while you wait for an officer to interview you.
- You are not protected by US laws while in secondary inspection, such as the legal right to an attorney, legal right to make a phone call, the need for a warrant to inspect your belongings, etc. Unlike the US criminal system of innocent until proven guilty, you are viewed as guilty until proven innocent.
- You will not be allowed to contact anyone while you are in second inspection. This is important to know so your friends and family, your pick up contact, or the school do not worry if you are a no-show. Sometimes people are deported and placed on returning flights without being able to contact anyone.
- The inspector will first attempt to verify your status by using the Student and Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In the event that the CBP Officer needs to verify information with your school or program, we strongly recommend that you have the name and telephone number of the foreign student advisor at your school. In the event you arrive during non-business hours (evening, weekends, holidays), you should also have an emergency or non-business hour phone number available for the official.
- Failure to comply with U.S. government entry-exit procedures may result in your being denied entry to the United States. It is important that you have a purchased a return ticket in case you are deported. Otherwise, you may get stranded in another country's airport. (The location where you had a connecting flight)
- Under certain circumstances, the CBP officer may issue a "Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor" Form (I-515A), which authorizes temporary admission into the United States. Work with your school to submit the proper documentation without delay. US-VISIT All nonimmigrant visitors holding visas -- regardless of race, national origin, or religion -- participate in the USVISIT program, a comprehensive registration system tracking entries to and exits from the United States. For more information: www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/editorial/editorial_0440.xml/
- NATIONAL SECURITY ENTRY-EXIT REGISTRATION SYSTEM (NSEERS) Some individuals may be asked to provide additional information under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). A packet of information will be available at the port of entry explaining the registration procedure. For more information: www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/editorial/editorial_0440.xml
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