Arriving in the U.S.

When to Arrive

You are able to enter the U.S. in initial F-1 or J-1 status (as a new international student, not a SEVIS transfer) up to 30 days before the program start date on your I-20 or DS-2019.

Your I-20 should indicate the earliest date you can enter the U.S.

Entry Before the 30-day Grace Period

If necessary, you may visit the U.S. between now and your F-1 or J-1 entry date on a tourist visa or under the Visa Waiver Program. You will be required to exit and re-enter the U.S. using your I-20/DS-2019 and F-1 or J-1 visa to begin your studies.

Start and Entry Dates

The program start date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019 takes into account the required orientation and other preparatory programs. Students can arrive as early as 30 days before the program start date.

Finding Your Program Start Date

F-1: If you received an I-20, your start date can be found under “Program of Study” on page one.

J-1: If you received a DS-2019, your start date can be found under #3 on page one.

Visit the UC Santa Cruz academic calendar to find the first day of classes.

Port of Entry Inspection

Entering the U.S. involves a passport/document inspection at the port of entry. This is usually the airport where you first land in the U.S.

Many people will enter the U.S. through the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which is about an hour and a half from the UCSC Campus. Others may enter through the San Jose Airport (SJC), which is about 45 minutes from the UCSC Campus. If either of these is not your port of entry into the U.S., please allow plenty of time between your arrival and any connecting flights, as you have to go through immigration and customs inspection at the first point of entry into the U.S.

Regardless of where you enter the U.S., be prepared to provide the following documents at the port of entry to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. 

NOTE: CBP inspection takes place before you collect your luggage, so you must have these documents on you/with you/in your carry-on bag/in your personal item. Do not put your travel documents in your checked luggage.

  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • Visa stamp (does not apply to Canadian citizens)
  • SEVIS Form I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) for UCSC
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Supporting financial documentation

We also recommend you review the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) travel FAQs before coming into the U.S.

Secondary Inspection

Upon inspection of your documents, you may be sent to “secondary inspection” which means an additional inspection of your documents is required. Often this is done on a random basis and may have nothing to do with your specific circumstances.

Although secondary inspection can be intimidating and cause anxiety, there is usually no cause for alarm. Waiting in secondary inspection can take up to a few hours, but almost always results in successful admissions afterward.

Admission Stamp & Electronic I-94

An officer will review your documents at passport control, and handwrite in your passport your visa status and D/S (Duration of Status). 

When you enter the U.S., a record of entry, known as the I-94, will be created. You can obtain a copy of your I-94 on the CBP website. A new I-94 record will be created each time you enter the U.S. We recommend that you obtain a copy of your I-94 each time you enter the U.S. Save these copies as photos as your I-94 is the only documentation proving your date and record of entry. 

Canadian students: Do not use ESTA or enter the U.S. in visitor/tourist status. Confirm on your I-94 that you entered into the U.S. in the correct status (F-1 or J-1).

Is there a mistake with your I-94?

If you find a mistake on your I-94 record (entry status is not F-1 or J-1), or you cannot locate your I-94 arrival record, you should contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Deferred Inspection location in San Francisco, California for a correction.

Address:630 Sansome St. 
Room 1185 
San Francisco, CA 94111
Hours of Operation:7:45 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Monday – Thursday
Contact Information:Phone: (415) 844-5227 or (415) 844-5228
I-94 Correction Instructions:SFOI94CORRECTION@CBP.DHS.GOV

Customs Declarations

You may need to inform U.S. customs officials about items you are bringing into the U.S. in your luggage. Keep in mind that bringing certain products into the United States is prohibited. Visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information on banned items.

What’s Next?

After you enter the U.S.:

In this section

Last modified: Nov 21, 2023