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What to Expect when Entering the United States

Traveling to a new country can be stressful, especially when you don’t know what to expect at the border. Read through these guidelines before you travel so you’ll be better prepared to enter the United States.

You can find the most updated information for international visitors at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website and the Study in the States website.

If you are a new initial F-1 or J-1 student or scholar, you may enter the United States up to 30 days before the program start date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019. Please plan to arrive no earlier than this, as you may be denied admission into the United States or admitted on an incorrect visa type.

You will pass through immigration and customs inspection at your first point of entry into the United States. If this is not Salt Lake City, make sure your flight itinerary allows for plenty of time between your arrival and connecting flight. Passing through immigration and customs can take an hour or more at busy airports, and you will need to collect your baggage and pass through security again before boarding your next flight.

Make sure that you have your immigration documents with you and available to show to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer. You will not have access to your luggage, so ensure all documents are in your carry-on bag. Be prepared to show:

  • Passport (valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry into the U.S.)
  • Valid visa for an F-1 or J-1 visa category (Note: Canadian citizens do not need to obtain a visa.)
  • Immigration documents such as an I-20 or DS-2019

You may also want to have these additional documents available in case you are asked to present them:

  • Admission letter to the University of Utah (F-1 students) or invitation letter from the department you’ll be working for (J-1 scholars)
  • Proof of F or J SEVIS fee payment
  • Original financial documents
  • Recent transcript or proof of enrollment if you are a continuing student

After inspecting your documents, the CBP officer will ask you why you are traveling to the United States. Be honest in your responses, telling the officer that you are a student or scholar intending to study or do research at the University of Utah. If you are asked for information about your financial situation, you may show the officer the relevant financial documents you have with you.

Keep in mind that you are applying for admission to the United States on a non-immigrant visa, which implies that you are intending to return to your home country after your period of study.

If the CBP officer decides you are eligible for admission into the United States, he or she will stamp your passport and write in your visa status (F-1 or J-1) along with the notation “D/S”. (This stands for “duration of status” and means that you can remain in the United States for the amount of time it takes you to complete your program, provided you adhere to all visa regulations.)

Be sure to check your passport after you are admitted and ensure the correct visa type is recorded. If the officer has not recorded your F-1 or J-1 visa type correctly, respectfully alert the officer of the error and ask for a correction. Entering the United States in the wrong visa type can impact your immigration status, and in some cases you may need to exit and re-enter the country if the error is not corrected immediately.

Your visa status information is also available in your I-94 document, which can be printed and should be kept with your immigration documents.

Secondary Inspection

Sometimes students are sent to secondary inspection after presenting their documents to the CBP officer. This means that CBP wants more time to inspect your documents, look at your record, or ask you additional questions. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are in trouble or that anything is wrong with your record. You may wait for some time in secondary inspection, but try to remain calm and respond politely and honestly to any questions you are asked.

More information about secondary inspection can be found here.

 After being admitted to the United States, you will also need to pass through customs. You were likely provided a form on the airplane that asks questions about what goods you are bringing to the United States. Answer these questions honestly.

It can be unlawful to bring certain items, such as fresh fruits, nuts, or meat, into the United States. Find out more about prohibited or restricted items here.

Once you have passed both immigration and customs inspections, you will be allowed to collect your luggage. If you have a connecting flight, you will need to follow signs that lead you back to the terminal’s gates. In some cases, you may need to re-check your baggage or go through security screening again.

When you arrive at the Salt Lake City airport, check out this video for what to expect on arrival and information on how to get to campus. 

If you have any questions about the arrivals process, were given additional paperwork to complete, or think you may have been admitted into the wrong visa category, please contact us.

Last Updated: 2/24/20