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US Port of Entry(PoE) Process, Requirements for F1 Visa Students

One of the biggest myths international students with F1 visa, who are entering US for the first time, have is that if they get F1 visa stamped in their home country, they are all set to enter to USA and study…unfortunately, that is not true…instances like deportation of F1 students, who failed to convince the CBP officer at Port of Entry (PoE) is just an example. Our goal in this article is to give a very high level overview on the process, what to expect at PoE and list Port of Entry questions that are very common for F1 visa students entering US to pursue higher education.

Before we get started, let’s familiarize ourselves with some basics.

Does Having a Visa Guarantee Admission to USA ?

Not always. In fact, US Visa will only let you travel to port of entry and then seek permission of CBP officer to allow you to enter US.  What US Visa will indicate is that a consular officer at US embassy or consulate in other country has determined that you are eligible for entry, that’s it. The final decision vests with CBP officer. Read What is US Visa, General Info

What is Port of Entry in USA ?

Port of Entry ( PoE) is nothing but the international airport, seaport or the border check point where you would enter America from international border. Sometimes students flying to smaller cities, arrive at a major city airport and then take a domestic flight. In this case, the first major city airport that you land is called the Port of Entry. If you drive from nearby countries like Mexico or Canada, the border check point would be the port of entry…

What is Port of Entry Process for F1 Visa Students ?

Anyone, who enter the US at a Port of entry needs to go through a set of procedures. You would usually fill in some forms, be interviewed by CBP officer, give biometrics, and other aspects. All of these are standard for anyone entering US. This is no different for F1 Visa students entering to study in America. They also would be going through same process, CBP officer would verify the school info, etc. and ask questions as well. You can read Guide to US Port of Entry Procedures for full details.

Let’s dive into more details on some aspects that happen at Port of Entry and who you would be talking to below.

Who is CBP Officer ? What is their role ?

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer is the officer at port of entry, who will check your documents, ask you some questions and ensure that you are properly authorized to enter in US. Their role is to ensure the physical and economic security of the United States.  They have a guiding manual on what to do for the best interests of United States. 

For F1 students, they would typically check your I-20, school info, etc and make sure you are having all the correct documents. They may ask you questions as well, so be prepared. You need to answer them truthfully and correctly as it is in your documents.

What is Primary Inspection Booth ? What to expect here ?

It is the place, where CBP officer will check and interview anyone arriving to enter US. You usually would queue up in a line and there are a bunch of open booths in front of the line, where you will be directed to enter one of the open booths for interview.  The CBP Officer  would check your documents like I-20, US Visa, Passport, etc and ask you questions like  below ( detail questions will be in posted in other article)

  • What is your purpose of entering USA
  • What school you are planning to study
  • How do you support your education

If the CBP officer is convinced with your answers and your documents seem ok for them, they will stamp your passport indicating your US visa status at entry. Usually this last for anywhere from under 5 minutes to 10 minutes at the maximum. If CBP officer is not convinced or not able to verify something, they will send you for secondary inspection.

What is secondary inspection by CBP officer ? What to expect ?

Secondary inspection is something where student is taken for additional screening. It could be for reasons like they are not able to verify your documents, the CBP officer believes that there is some fraud in documents, they may believe that your intention to arrive in US is different, etc.  It is more detailed, where you may be asked questions for an hour or even longer depending on the situation. The whole idea is to verify your details without causing interruption to other passengers who are behind you. There is nothing to worry, if you are taken for secondary inspection, if you are genuine and your intentions are correct.

The CBP officer would check your status in SEVIS. If there are some issues or need more info on program or school, they may check with your School’s Designated School officer (DSO). That’s why it is recommended that you carry the Name, Phone number and emergency phone number of your school’s DSO handy.  If for some reason, it is just that your documents cannot be verified, SEVI Fee was not paid or reflecting, etc. the CBP officer may deny you entry or at their discretion issue Form I-515A Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor, which allows you to enter US temporarily for 30 days and you need to report to DSO and get your issues sorted out quickly. Read –FAQs on Form I-515A

What documents to carry as F1 student to make your entry smooth at PoE ?

While below is not a comprehensive list, it gives you general set of documents that you must carry. Make sure you do not put them as part of the check-in luggage. It has to be part of your carry on.  No excuses allowed at port of entry that my documents are inside luggage, etc. You will only be allowed to pick up your check-in bags after the interview with CBP officer.

Documents Check list at Port of Entry for F1 Students

  • Valid Passport with enough validity for study in US
  • For I-20 Signed by DSO
  • Admission/ Acceptance letters from school.
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee Payment receipt
  • Documents proof for your financial support to cover your education.
  • Originals of Your Undergrad and other Education Certificates
  • Copy of your past transcripts that were sent to school.
  • Name and Contact info of DSO at your school
  • Address of where you will stay in US
  • Contact info of seniors or anyone, whom you interacted ( Optional)
  • Any other documents like GRE, TOEFL score reports ( Optional )

That’s about it folks. It is very important as an international student to be aware of the entry procedure at Port of Entry in US to avoid issues.  You do NOT have to be in panic, if you are taken for secondary inspection, just stay calm and always tell the truth. It is your job to be fully aware of your school, your program, and other details of your education in US. Be prepared. We will cover the questions in other article for everyone to be prepared.

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Did I miss out anything?  Do you have any other question regarding process at PoE for Students?   Share your thoughts.


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  1. What is the process of initial entry at US Mexico border on F1 visa? I am currently in the US and have F1 visa from India consulate. I only need to re enter to activate my F1 status

    • Ravi Kiran,
      There is a specific process as such, when you enter, you would need to indicate your visa status intent by providing proofs like I-20, etc, so that they can allow you on F1 visa. they may put in a stamp in other visa that you have on passport like Cancelled without Prejudice . Talk to your DSO and Attorney before you travel and be clear.

  2. Hi,
    I have got admit from ASU, Arizona but I am planning on coming USA at NY and staying there with my friends for about 1-2 weeks and then going to AZ from there. Will it be a problem as my POE is different from that of my university?
    What should i say to the CBP officer? Is staying with friends a valid reason? I can pre-book the tickets for my onward journey. Also this way I am saving a bit on ticket cost compared to going Arizona directly from Mumbai.

    • Did it cause any problems??? My sister is trying to do the same. Her University is in Illinois and she is arriving at JFK to stay with me for two weeks.

  3. Hi I would be traveliing with my friend to US (both of us on F1 Visa) in Aug2019.
    We both have got admission to undergraduate program at Toledo University , however we both plan to land at Chicago airport and stay at my uncles place for a few days. My uncle will subsequently drop both of us at University of Toledo in Ohio State.
    My friend who is accompanying me has no relation with my uncle but will stay along with me at my uncles place.
    At POE in Chicago (being a different state) will it cause any problems for both of us?

    • In general, it should not create any issues as long as you are entering US within the specified time of entry. Just tell the truth, if asked, it should be fine.

  4. hello

    My visa just approved after my interview, but I am still waiting for my passport that the embassy will send to my address. should I book my ticket or I should wait until I get my passport?

    Is there any chance of rejection?

    it’s really urgent please, please answer

    Thank you please help

  5. Hello Sir/ma’am,

    My student visa was issued on August 1st 2018 and my course was supposed to start on 5th September. However,I was not able to join my university because,I fall into jaundice. Hence, I had to differ my i20 for January intake 2019 and now my university supposed to starts on 23rd Jan 2019. And my question is can I travel to USA in between 10th to 15th Jan 2019? Or I must travel before 30th December? Since I heard one has to travel within 5 months by the time visa was being approved. Please revert.
    Thank you.

    • You can travel anytime 30 days before your start of school. The five month rule in general applies to someone in school session. I suggest you check with your DSO on the visa or write to CBP officer, just to be sure. If you are not sure, then you can go around last week of December to avoid that issue.

  6. for my visa interview i have shown canara bank loan sanction letter. but now i wish to take loan from some other bank. Is there any problem at port of entry in USA

  7. I am enrolled in a university in Pennsylvania, does the Port of Entry have to be in PHL? I actually have my brother in Texas, so I want to visit him for a few days before I join the university. I will have already booked the tickets for Pennsylvania from Texas.

    • Hi Jenish! I have the same question and I can’t find any answers. Please let me know if you have as I’m leaving in just a few days. Thank you.

    • Hi Jenish,
      there is no problem if you go meet your brother in Texas. Your First Point of Entry has nothing to do with your university location.
      So relax, and enter the US from wherever you want!

    • i am travelling to india in coming september , since i am doing my second masters and my college is in Kentucky and i am arriving at JFK, will it be a problem or it’s ok to travel from jfk

    • Jenny please where you successful with your inquiry about going to see your brother in Texas before going to school. Please am in a similar situation as an international student coming from outside USA

  8. If I go back to my home country after graduation, for example in December, but I want to go back to the US for commencement which is in May, can I still using my F1 visa to enter the US? Or should I apply for a new type of visa?

  9. Do I need additional documents if I have an F1 visa stamped in my passport and go to Canada for a week end trip? This is not an initial entry

  10. Hello,

    When I was at my visa interview i made the mistake and named my mother as my official sponsor when my grandmother actually is, I was wondering if this would trouble me in US CUSTOMS since the bank statement i have is from my grandmother

    • Well, I am not sure, if they would have have captured everything. Not sure, if they would go into that detail at POE. If it is an honest mistake, should be fine, you just explain it. You do not need to panic at this point. Just carry all your documents and tell the truth, if asked.

  11. Hello
    I applied to defer my admission for August but didn’t get a response until yesterday. The response stated that the admission was deferred to January. I have already booked my ticket and the take off day is 30th of July. Pls I don’t know what to do.

  12. My university is at Dayton Ohio and I am leaving at Chicago and also Chicago is my immigration point and I decided to go to Dayton after a 1 week stay in my relatives house in Chicago . What should I tell to cbp officer regarding if he asks like why don’t you go to university directly

    • Just tell the officer the truth. You’re not doing anything illegal. It is perfectly reasonable and legal to visit relatives before starting school.

  13. Hello,

    Can I enter the US through a different state and not the state where my university is? I plan to visit my family before I start school.

      • Yes,I asked an immigration lawyer and the consulate. They mentioned that it’s advised to enter the state where your university is situated. But you can always enter from any state. The CBP officer might ask you the purpose and he has the ultimate decision of letting you in.

  14. What is the required number of units for students who are here on F1 visa? Can students take online classes during summer they’re continuing student?

  15. I would like to get information regarding PoE. I have to go to Lincoln-Nebraska to attend a PhD program on F1 visa. My friends live in Orlando, Florida. I have planned my itinerary in which i will land Miami, my friends will come Miami to pick me from there we will go to Orlando. After three days stay in Orlando i will take flight to Lincoln. Is there any issue at PoE with this schedule program as i’m entering US from Pakistan for the first time?

    • Just keep your flight to Nebraska handy and you should be just fine. You’re allowed to visit friends before school 🙂

  16. Dear Sir/Madame,

    I have visited your website and despite all the information you provide I still need some clarification.

    I have obtained a F-1 visa, and I am supposed to attend my University program in August, however I will not be able to join the University then but next semester (December).

    I understand that I can enter the country later with the same visa as long as it has not expired.

    The immigration officer has informed mw that if the SEVIS ID number has changed then I would have to change my visa. Does this mean that I will have to ask the University to issue me another I-20 document for that period of time, or I can keep the same I-20 document and enter the country later because my visa has not expired.
    Or do do I have to request another I-20 document from the University because I will be joining them next semester?

    Kindly help me with this issue or refer me to a link where I can obtain more info about this.

    Thank you in advance,
    Maja Pesic

    • Maja,
      If your term of joining University changes, you will need to ask your DSO at University to give you a new I-20 with the updated info regarding start date of the term, etc. What they mean is that, if the new I-20 issued by your school has different SEVIS ID, then you will need to go for stamping. Read details at StudyintheStates.Gov

  17. Am going to Franklin university from Nigeria, No direct flight from my country to Columbus. New york is 9 hours away by road and California is like 7 hours flight. what the best way to enter without unnecessary questions

  18. Do I have to enter US from a flight originating from my own country? Like, I am going to be attending San Jose State University(SJSU), and I have a brother in Canada, so I wanted to stay with him for a week and then go to San Jose. I have my F1 visa with SJSU. Will this cause any problem at the port of entry?

    • Utsav Jain,

      You can enter on a flight originating from a different country as well. No issues and if asked reply truthfully.

  19. for my update,April 19-May 21,2016 hired as the new USCIS employee while Emma in USCIS is the employee of the year.Wellstar Health System direct Atlanta,Georgia approved.The Us coast guard was given ahead acknowledgement me as employed that is why I have already the NORTHCREST resort and NORTHCREST subdivision for the 3 buildings,3 storey in (3) 150 sq.meters built OCBO made endorsement from Municipal Driveway Park Northeastern Georgia 2012 from Cabantian buhangin Davao City .Northcrest News receive read in emailed copied to my yahoo email direct from Georgia,Atlanta which have the Active Civic Association Heritage Georgia State University. Swimming and tennis competition was on the best topic February 2016 only.These are also made my Atlanta Regional Commission me as an awardee as Silver to Gold certified after inform endorsed October 26-29,2016.Also have the application for the American Passport until January 2017.

  20. I would like to know whether I can enter the US with the new I20 which is different from the university mentioned on my issued visa stamp.
    Thank you

  21. no comment… because i pass only december 16,2014, job january 12,2015 us coast guard ,us custom and border protection ,san francisco,california officer custom border protection informant balero and for travel back USA..travel documents package 2 GO for the delivery from Us embassy,uscis manila philippines to my home address davao city …


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