Entering the United States of America

Traveling to the United States

As you are preparing to come to the United States, it is important to know what to bring.  This section will tell you about your immigration documents.  Another section will tell you about other things we suggest that you pack and bring with you.

Documents to Bring

You must carry with you the following items:

  • Passport including US F-1 visa stamp showing your picture
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status (INS Form I-20) from Lewis University
  • Admission letter from Lewis University
  • Original documents proving the availability of sufficient funds (the “Total” in item 7 on your Form I-20)
  • Documents which demonstrate that you intend to return home after your studies (see explanation below)

Place these documents in a folder or envelope which you will have with you at all times during your travel.  During your trip to or upon your arrival in the U.S., you will be given a form called Arrival Record/Departure Record (INS Form I-94).  If you do not fly into the U.S., this form will be given to you, at the latest, when you arrive at the checkpoint where an Immigration Inspector will examine your documents.  Using an ink pen, print the information requested on this form, making certain to spell your name exactly as it is spelled in your passport. 

At the Border/Getting through the INS Inspection

When you arrive in the U.S., you will apply for “admission” and an Immigration Inspector will examine your documents. 

You will need to present the following documents: 

  • INS Form I-94
  • Passport with valid F-1 visa, and
  • INS Form I-20. 

You will need to have the following documents ready to present, should the Inspector ask for them: 

  • Admission letter from Lewis University
  • Original financial documents (see Step 3, item 7), and
  • Documents which demonstrate your intent to return home (see Step 3, item 8, to determine if you need these documents). 

The Immigration Inspector may ask you one or more questions.  If you are asked about the funds which will pay for your studies, answer the question and offer to show the Inspector your financial documents.  If you are asked about your “intentions,” answer the question and offer to show the Inspector the documents which demonstrate your intent to return home (see Step 3, item 8).

If you have the required documents and there are no more questions, the Inspector will “admit” you to the U.S. by placing a stamp in your passport, on your Form I-94, and on your Form I-20.  The Inspector will keep parts of the I-94 and the I-20, and give parts of those documents to you.  When you leave the inspection area, make certain you have the following documents in your possession: 

  • Passport
  • Form I-94 Record of Arrival/Departure (Part of a long cream colored document you will be asked to complete on the airplane)
  • The I-20-ID (Student) Copy  stamped in the upper right hand corner
    (pages 3 and 4 of Form I-20),
  • And all financial documents.
Entering the U.S. from Canada or Mexico

If you will enter the United States from Canada, Mexico or certain nearby Caribbean islands, you should follow all procedures listed above except that Canadian students may be exempted from the visa requirement. 

You must have your Form I-20 stamped by an Immigration Inspector.  You must also have your Form I-94 stamped, unless you already have an I-94 stamped “F-1” and have been in one of these “contiguous territories” for 30 days or less. 

You may not take advantage of this benefit if you are from one of the countries excluded from the provisions of the automatic revalidation of the I-94 (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba). If you enter without a Form I-94 or without having these two documents stamped, you will be in B-1/B2 visitor status (see “Caution” in first section above).

At O'Hare International Airport

Most international students arrive at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. O'Hare Airport is about 30 miles north of Lewis University and is the largest U.S. airport. When you get off the plane, take a deep breath then, look around for the sign that says Customs and Immigration.

As a non-immigrant student on F-1 status, you need to go through the line marked "Visitors." Present your passport, visa, Form I-20, and possibly evidence of financial support to the official there. You will receive the departure portion of Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) with an 11-digit admission number (if you do not already have this number). The official may also ask you questions about your stay in the U.S.

Then you will collect your baggage. There is no charge for the baggage carts at O'Hare International Airport. After you have your baggage, you will exit. At the final exit, there will be a customs official who may or may not stop you and ask questions. Most of the time, they do not say anything. Occasionally, they may ask travelers to open some of their suitcases. This is just random inspection.

If your baggage has not arrived, you can receive assistance from the Customs Office in the baggage claim area or at the airline counter of the airline with which you traveled. The airline counter is located in the airport terminal, outside the customs area.