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Transfer Students

To be admitted with advanced standing, a transfer applicant must have earned credit for at least 24 semester hours at an ABA-accredited law school. The college will not award credit for more than 30 semester hours earned at another law school. Transfer applicants are required to submit the following:

  • A completed application for admission
  • The $55 non-refundable application fee
  • An official letter of good standing from the law school from which the applicant is attempting to transfer
  • Personal statement
  • Resume
  • An official transcript reflecting all law grades earned

If you are waiting for your final grades, we ask that you send your application, supporting documentation, and the official transcript before the deadline of June 15 for fall transfer applicants and November 15 for spring transfer applicants — or as soon as documents are available. Decisions on transfer files cannot be made, however, until all the above items are received.

Visiting Students

A student from another ABA-accredited law school may apply to South Texas College of Law Houston as a visiting student, subject to availability of space. Visiting students must submit the following:

  • An application for admission
  • The $55 non-refundable application fee
  • A letter of good standing from their law school indicating that transfer credit will be accepted towards the student’s degree program.

Visiting students will be required to pay registration fees and tuition in full at the time of registration. Visiting students are prohibited from applying as a transfer student once they have visited at South Texas College of Law Houston. Contact us about the application deadlines and details at admissions@stcl.edu or 713-659-8040.

Foreign Degree Applicants

Applicants with degrees from foreign institutions are required to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), administered nationwide by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), administered by ETS. South Texas College of Law Houston will not consider an LSAT or GRE score from a test administered more than five years before the beginning of the semester for which application for admission is made. If you have not taken or prepared for the LSAT or GRE yet, start by reviewing our LSAT/GRE Guide. Registration information for the LSAT and CAS may be obtained by calling LSAC at 215.968.1001 or www.lsac.org. Registration information for the GRE (School Code: 2749) may be obtained by calling ETS 609.771.7670 or at www.ets.org/gre.

Applicants are urged to utilize the J.D. Credential Service (JDCAS). This service is available as part of CAS at no additional expense to the applicant beyond the standard CAS fees. The service is for all applicants who have completed work at any foreign institution outside the U.S. or Canada.

Any student who is not a U.S. citizen and holds a temporary visa (F-1 or J-1) is classified as an international student by South Texas College of Law Houston. In addition to meeting standard admissions requirements, these applicants, if admitted, must submit the following:

  • Non-U.S. citizens must include a copy of immigration documents (such as a current U.S. visa or permanent resident card) when submitting the application, if applicable.
  • Letter of Financial Backing and Statement of Understanding (U.S. citizens and permanent residents are exempt).
  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)

South Texas College of Law Houston requires the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) from applicants who obtained their degree from a country where English is NOT the official language and/or instruction was NOT in English. If you earned your degree from a foreign university where the courses are taught in English, we do not require the TOEFL. South Texas College of Law Houston will accept a score of 600 or better on the paper based TOEFL exam, a 250 on the computer based TOEFL exam, or a 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL exam.

For more information about the exam, contact TOEFL:

P.O. Box 6154
Princeton, NJ 08541

Your TOEFL scores should be submitted to the CAS by the Educational Testing Service (ETS); LSAC’s TOEFL code is 8395. Your score will be included in your law school report. The TOEFL should be taken as early as possible in the application process, and only scores submitted within the past two years will be accepted.

Application Evaluation for Foreign Degree Applicants: An admission decision cannot be made until an applicant’s file is complete. A completed application file for fall consideration consists of the following items:

  • Completed and signed application for admission (sent directly to us or through LSAC on the Web)
  • $55 Application fee
  • Official LSAT score received from LSDAS
  • Official LSDAS evaluation received from LSDAS or foreign credential evaluation received from a recognized service
  • Resume of employment
  • Personal statement
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Immigration documents (if admitted and if not a U.S. citizen)


Click Here to Access VA Benefit Information Including:

  • Information regarding the chapters South Texas College of Law Houston certifies, the annual tuition cap, and the Yellow Ribbon Program, etc.
  • A list with links to the information/documentation we must have on file before we can certify tuition

Veteran Certification Forms

External Resources

The Texas Veterans Portal is a one-stop site dedicated to assisting veterans and their families. The resources provided include a crisis lineaccess to links regarding Health & Wellness, Education & Training, Employment & Career, Housing & Loans, information for dependents and caregivers, and much more.

International Students

Welcome to South Texas College of Law Houston!

We are very pleased that you have chosen to attend our college and we look forward to meeting you. We are here to help you learn about and follow the F-1 student visa regulations. There are many benefits and restrictions associated with F-1 and we will assist you with understanding how the immigration regulations intersect with college policies.

Please review the Pre-Arrival and Post-Arrival information:

Pre-Arrival Info

Below is a list of steps that are required for your entry into the United States as an International student. Please read and review the below information to ensure that you are able to arrive on campus on time.

The Form I-20 is an important document that you should keep safe, as you will need it throughout the international student life cycle.

After paying your seat deposit, request your I-20. All international students that study in the United States need a form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”.

Once accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, international students will receive a Form I-20 from their designated school official (DSO). You and your DSO must both sign the Form I-20. If you are under age 18, your parents must sign the Form I-20 for you.

In order to be issued a Certificate of Eligibility (I-20), submit the following documents to your DSO in the Student Services Office:

South Texas College of Law Houston will only issue an I-20 once your file is complete and financial resources are considered complete.

**If you do not need an I-20 from South Texas College of Law Houston, please complete the Immigration Questionnaire and submit legible photocopies of both sides of any U.S. immigration documents you have indicating your current status. For example, these might include a U.S. “Resident Alien” card, Department of Homeland Security or State Department notations or stamps on your passport, your I-94, I-20, DS-2019, or Department of Homeland Security letters. Please do not send original documents; send only photocopies.

Proof of Financial Resources

Students are required to show proof of one full year of funding while applying for an I-20.

The estimate budget for the 2024-2025 academic year for a full time student is $75,020.00.
Tuition & Fees: $42,520.00
Books and Living Expenses: $32,500.00

Required Documents for Various Sources of Funding

Your funding can come from a variety of sources, such as private funds, college funds, sponsoring company/agency/government funds.

Private Funds

Private funds can be provided by individuals such as the student, friends or family members. Financial support can come from inside or outside the United States.

If you will be supported by private funds, please provide the following:

  • Bank Statement(s):
    • Should be current. The bank statement should include three most recent months worth of transactions.
    • Should be official. The bank statement should clearly identify document source (monthly mailed statement, online statement, statement by request, etc.) and include the account holder’s name, type of account, bank name and branch
    • Should be legible. Originals may be requested at South Texas College of Law Houston’s discretion
    • Should contain the specific amount of money available. The bank statement must show liquid assets such as cash deposits, certificates of deposit, saving accounts, etc. Statements regarding property, jewelry, cars, and other non-liquid assets are NOT acceptable. Statements regarding investments such as stocks and bonds are also not acceptable.
    • Should contain the specific denomination and currency of the funds. It is acceptable that the funds are in currencies other than U.S. dollars.
  • Personal Support Letter:
    • Have the individual who is supporting you complete the Declaration of Support form and submit with your financial documents.
    • If your funding comes from multiple sponsors, each sponsor needs to provide this form, along with the bank statement.
  • I-134 Affidavit of Support:
    (in case funding is from an individual currently residing in the U.S.)

    In addition to the bank statement and the personal support letter, if the individual who is supporting you is inside the United States they should also submit the I-134, Affidavit of Support and supporting documents. The original must be submitted. Please read the directions of the I-134 to learn what supporting documents are required.

Please note that South Texas College of Law Houston will not accept Chartered Accountant statements.

Important Notice Concerning Personal Security

For your personal security, please be sure to avoid sending complete bank account numbers. However, financial documentation should display enough information so our staff can tell the difference between multiple accounts. For example, if you have multiple accounts with the same bank, and, if the accounts do not have different names listed on the bank documentation (e.g. checking account, savings account, etc.), you should mark out all but the last 4 numbers of the account to show the difference in the account numbers.

After receiving the initial Form I-20 upon program acceptance, students may receive a new Form I-20 from their DSO in the following circumstances:

  • If the physical copy of the form is destroyed or misplaced.
  • For travel endorsement.
  • When the student’s SEVIS status changes (e.g., from Initial to Active).
  • For any substantive change to student information, such as changes to a student’s personal information, program of study, optional practical training (OPT), etc.

Before you pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Fee, you must receive the Form I-20 from a DSO at the school you plan to attend. You will need information from the Form I-20 to pay the fee.

Regulation requires all prospective F-1 students to pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Fee before the Department of State issues you a visa. To pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee, visit FMJfee.com to access the SEVIS Form I-901. Watch the I-901 SEVIS Fee payment tutorial to learn about each step of the payment process.

Be sure to pay the SEVIS fee at least 3 days prior to the visa appointment at the U.S. embassy or consulate, because the visa application requires proof of the payment, the SEVIS identification number to which the fee was paid. Paying the SEVIS Fee on-line is recommended because it is faster, data transfer is more accurate, and payments are more secure.

The Form I-20 lists your program start date, 30 days before which you are allowed to enter the United States. F-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your course of study start date. You are expected to have the original Form I-20 at your visa interview. The consular officer may accept a copy of the Form I-20 in limited circumstances that warrant visa issuance prior to you receiving the original Form I-20.

All students who are applying for a VISA at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate must complete the online DS-160 Visa Application online before scheduling the visa interview. Find DS-160 FAQs here. You must present the I-20 and a printed copy of the Visa Application to the consular officer when you attend your visa interview. 

If you are living outside the U.S. you must obtain a passport from your government. Next, you must apply for an F-1 student visa. As soon as you receive your I-20, schedule your visa appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to apply for an F-1.

What Is a Visa?

The F-1 visa stamp in your passport is permission to apply to enter the United States in that visa category. Although your passport and I-20 must remain valid while you are in the U.S., it is okay to remain in the U.S. with an expired student visa. The visa expiration date is separate from your length of authorized stay in the U.S.  If your visa expires while you are in the U.S. and/or its number of entries has been used, or if you have changed your nonimmigrant status while in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must apply for a new F-1 visa in order to return to the U.S.  Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. (Canadian citizens are not required to have a visa stamp to enter the U.S.)

Automatic Visa Revalidation

An exception to the rule requiring a valid, unexpired visa exists for students in F-1 status who travel for fewer than 30 days solely to Canada or Mexico or islands in the Caribbean except Cuba. Your visa will be considered to be “extended” to the date of reentry, eliminating the need to obtain a new visa at a U.S. consulate before that particular re-entry. This procedure is known as “automatic visa revalidation.” Note that if you apply for a new visa while in Canada, Mexico, or islands in the Caribbean, you will not be able to return to the U.S. if the visa application is denied. Also, citizens of Iran, Sudan, and Syria are not eligible for automatic visa revalidation.

The same benefit applies to students who changed status within the U.S. and have an F-1 approval notice from USCIS. The previous visa type is considered to be “converted” to the F-1 for that entry only.

How, Where and When to Apply for a Visa

Apply for the visa at a U.S. consulate in your home country, unless circumstances or travel plans make this impossible. It may be possible to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate in a country other than your home country. This is called a “third country national (TCN)” application. Not all U.S. consulates accept TCN applications, and some allow TCN applications for limited situations; check with individual consulates, including those in Canada and Mexico, for TCN application policies. It can be risky to apply in a country other than your home country. For instance, if you apply for a new visa in Canada and encounter delays, you must remain in Canada for the length of the processing. You will not be able to reenter the U.S. until the new visa is approved.

Allow ample time for the visa application process. U.S. consulates require in-person interviews for most visa applicants. You are encouraged to schedule the visa interview appointment as early as possible. You can also find information about how long it will take to get your visa. Students applying for initial-entry F-1 visas may be issued the visas up to 120 days before the academic program start date as noted on the I-20.

Visa processing delays may occur due to enhanced security reviews that take into account your field of study, country of origin, and likelihood of returning home after completion of studies.

At the consulate, include the following items:

  • Visa application. Complete the form provided by the U.S. consulate in the country where the application will be submitted. You will be charged a fee for the visa application.
  • Receipt confirming payment of the SEVIS fee.
  • Valid passport. Your passport must be valid for at least six months when seeking admission or readmission to the United States. Your passport should remain valid throughout your stay in the U.S.
  • Photos following U.S. State Department photo guidelines.
  • I-20 form. Newly admitted students do not need a travel signature for the initial visa interview.
  • Financial evidence detailing source and amount of funding. Consular and immigration officers exercise considerable discretion in determining whether financial support exists and is sufficient to cover your entire period of stay. Prepare documentation that is thorough, consistent, credible and varied.
  • Official academic transcript and confirmation of enrollment. If you are a newly admitted student, you should provide proof of admission.
  • Proof of English language proficiency may also be requested.
  • Evidence of continuing ties (such as family, career, or property) to your home country. Visa applicants are presumed to be “intending immigrants.” Your visa will be denied unless you satisfy the consular officer that you will return home. Unfortunately, there is no single explanation, document, or letter than can guarantee visa issuance.
  • Consular officers conduct quick interviews! Their initial impression of you is critical to your success. Keep your answers concise. Be honest in everything you write on your visa application and say during the interview. Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English. Don’t bring other people to speak on your behalf.
  • Be able to explain the reasons you want to study in the U.S. and remember that your main reason for coming to the United States is to study, not to work!
  • If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your home country, be prepared to explain how they will support themselves in your absence. If they are accompanying you to the U.S., be prepared to show proof of adequate funding.
  • If you are denied the visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring the next time you apply, and try to get the reason you were denied in writing. Maintain a positive attitude! Do not engage the consular officer in an argument.

Visa Validity After a Break In Studies

If you have been outside of the U.S. for more than five months and were not registered full time while abroad, your F-1 visa will be considered invalid, even if it has not yet expired. If you are returning to resume study, you must obtain a visa and pay the SEVIS fee.

Canadian citizens do not need a visa, but simply present the I-20, SEVIS fee receipt, financial documentation, and proof of admission to the immigration officer at the U.S. port of entry. A passport may be required depending on your method of travel. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State’s travel pages.

Apply for the Visa as Early as Possible

Students applying for initial entry F-1 visa may be issued the visas up to 120 days before the academic program start date as noted on the I-20.

You may not enter the U.S. earlier than 30 days before the start date noted on the I-20form. You should make your travel arrangements with this date in mind.

Your I-20 does not require a travel signature for your initial entry into the U.S. However, you need a travel signature for subsequent trips. Your DSO cannot sign your document for travel and reentry to the U.S. until you have registered for your first semester. Do not plan to travel outside the U.S. after your first entry unless you will be able to register first and obtain a travel signature.

You are expected to have the original Form I-20 with ink signature on hand as you enter the country. Do not pack it away in your suitcase. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer will instruct you to present your Form I-20 at the port of entry. You may arrive up to 30 days before the start date listed on your Form I-20.

Post-Arrival Info

Maintaining Status

While studying in the United States, it is important to maintain your F-1 student status. Your status relates to the purpose, or reason for why you want to come to the United States. The U.S. Department of State issues you your visa based on your intended purpose.

If the Department of State issues you an F-1 student visa, this means that you are coming to the United States to study. You should not take any action that detracts from that purpose. Maintaining your status means:

  • Fulfilling the purpose for why the Department of State issued you your visa.
  • Following the regulations associated with that purpose.

Below are actions to take in order to properly maintain your status.

When arriving to the United States, you must:

  • Enter the United States no more than 30 days before your program of study begins.
  • Immediately contact your designated school official (DSO) when you enter the United States.
  • When you arrive at school, you need to contact your DSO again, no later than the program start date listed on your Form I-20.

While studying in the United States, you must:

  • Attend and pass all your classes. If school is too difficult, speak with your DSO immediately.
  • If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your Form I-20, talk with your DSO about requesting a possible program extension.
  • You must take a full course of study each term; if you cannot study full-time, contact your DSO immediately.
  • Do not drop a class without first speaking with your DSO.

F-1 students must complete at least one full academic year at an SEVP-certified school to be eligible for annual vacation. Additionally, students must intend to register for classes in the academic term following their annual vacation.

Please note that during an annual vacation, students can take as many, as few or no courses as they want. SEVP considers all study during an annual vacation incident to status.

You need a Form I-20 if you are already in the United States as another type of nonimmigrant and you are applying to USCIS to change your status to F-1.

F-1 students may be eligible for certain benefits while they study in the United States. These include applying for a driver’s license, applying for social security number, and taking advantage of practical training opportunities (OPT). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorizes practical training opportunities (OPT). Your Form I-20 proves that you are legally enrolled in a program of study in the United States. Therefore, it may be needed when you apply for the benefits available to F-1students. If you are eligible to apply for a driver’s license or a social security number, remember to bring your Form I-20 with you.

If you are changing schools within the U.S. and transferring your SEVIS record, there are visa and travel policies unique to your situation.

  • You can travel with your current F-1 visa and I-20, even if the visa has your previous school’s name on it, as long as the visa is not expired and you are not outside the U.S. more than five months between academic programs.
  • You can use your “transfer pending” I-20 to enter the U.S. once without a travel signature before the start date, even earlier than 30 days before the I-20 start date. The 30-day rule is only for travel with “initial” I-20s, not “transfer pending” I-20s. However, if you wish to travel outside the U.S. after your initial entry on your “transfer pending” I-20, you will need a travel signature from your DSO. It is recommended that transfer students wait to receive a “transfer complete” I-20 before traveling outside the U.S. as the “transfer complete” I-20 is issued with a travel signature.

An F-1 student may only work when authorized by a DSO and USCIS. If you choose to work without authorization, you will be forced to leave the United States immediately, and you may not be able to re-enter the United States at a later date.

F-1 students are eligible for optional practical training (OPT) during or following the program of study. OPT is a form of temporary employment that directly relates to your program of study.

Forms and Instructions


You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are currently in F-1 status.
  • You have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year or will complete one academic year by the date the OPT approval begins.
  • You do not need a job offer first; you can apply for the 12-month OPT authorization without a job offer.
  • You have not previously completed 12 months of OPT at the same degree level.
  • You are eligible for 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level. For example, you may apply for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor’s degree and then another 12 months after completing a master’s degree.
  • You may apply for OPT authorization during your academic program (Pre-completion OPT) or after your program completion (Post-completion OPT).

Pre-completion OPT–(c)(3)(A). OPT used while you are still enrolled in your course of study. Because pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12 months of OPT eligibility, most students prefer to save OPT for after program completion. The OPT start and end date must fall before your I-20 expires and before you graduate. You may start the OPT application process up to 90 days before your requested employment start date. Pre-completion OPT can be approved for different rates:

  • Full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours per week or less) during your vacations
  • Part-time (20 hours per week or less) while enrolled in a full course of study

Post-completion OPT–(c)(3)(B). OPT authorization that begins after completion of your academic program. This is the most common type of OPT. Post-completion OPT is full-time, and it can begin after you complete your degree program. The OPT start date can only fall after the I-20 end date.

While approved for OPT, you are still in F-1 status and must report any change of name, address, or interruption of OPT employment within 10 days.

  1. Complete and submit the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Request to the Student Services Office, so that your designated school official (DSO) recommend the OPT. Your DSO will make the recommendation by endorsing your Form I‑20, Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and make the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Your I-20 must be endorsed before filing Form I-765.
  2. Refer to the USCIS website for detailed instructions: https://www.uscis.gov/opt
  3. Gather the following Documents:
  • Photocopy of all previously issued I-20s (all pages)
  • Photocopy of passport identification page
  • Photocopy of F-1 visa page
  • Printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
  • Photocopy of previously issued EAD (if applicable)
  • Two identical passport-style photos. Photo specifications:
  • Lightly print your name and your I-94 number in pencil or felt pen on the back of each photo.
  • The photos must have been taken within the last 30 days (do not use the same photos used for your F-1 visa application; USCIS might notice and will return the application).
  • They should be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched.
  • The two photos must be in color and should have a white background.
  • Your head must be bare unless you are wearing headwear as required by a religious denomination of which you are a member.
  • The photos should show a passport-style, full-face image, with both ears visible.
  • The photos should be 2 by 2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 3/8 inches.
  1. Properly file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS, accompanied by the required fee (see Filing Fee section) and the supporting documentation as described in the Instructions for Form I-765. Check the instructions and the  Form Filing Tips for the following information:
  • Categories for Foreign Students: Pre-completion OPT–(c)(3)(A) or Post-Completion OPT–(c)(3)(B).
  • General Instructions and How to fill out Form I-765
  • Specific Instructions for Item Numbers
  • Required Documentation
  • Filing fee(extra $85 biometric services fee is not required for OPT applications) paid by money order, personal check, cashier’s check, or credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions. If you pay by check, you must make your check payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • Filing locations list for mailing addresses. The filing address for Form I-765 depends on the Foreign Students eligibility category.
  • Address Change
  • Processing Information
  1. Attach Form G-1145(optional) to the front of your application package to receive an electronic notification when USCIS accepts your application.
  • Pre-completion OPT. You may start the OPT application process up to 90 days before your requested employment start date.
  • Post-Completion OPT. Applications must be delivered to USCIS no later than 60 days after your program completion date. Your requested start date must be within 60 days after your program completion date.
  • It takes approximately 3 months from the date USCIS receives your application to get approved
  • The OPT “start date” is the date your work permission begins. You cannot work earlier than the start date, but you can start working later.
  • Changing the requested OPT dates after the application has been mailed to USCIS can be very difficult. Choose your dates carefully.

USCIS will send you a receipt notice (I-797 Notice of Action) confirming receipt of your OPT application, assigning a “receipt date,” and assigning a receipt number. Carefully review the notice to make sure your name is spelled correctly. If it is not, contact your DSO adviser immediately.

You may use the receipt number on your receipt notice to check the status of your application online. It is normal for your case status to say “initial review” for most of the 2-3 month processing period.

You may not begin employment until USCIS approves the OPT application and you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Authorized OPT dates will be on your EAD.

You must report your practical training/employment to your DSO. If you do not report your practical training/employment, the U.S. government will terminate your F-1 SEVIS record 90 days after the OPT start date printed on your EAD card. A terminated SEVIS record cancels the OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.

Students have many questions about whether or not it is okay to travel while OPT is processing and/or during the OPT period. Here are the rules about travel and OPT, depending on your situation.

1.  During your final semester, after you submit your 12-month OPT application:

You can travel and reenter the U.S. as a student during your final semester. You will use the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on page 2, along with the other regular travel documents (valid passport, valid U.S. Visa, I-20 and valid travel signature, financial evidence, current class schedule, SEVIS I-901 Fee receipt). If you plan to return to the U.S. before the expiration date of the new I-20 (your program completion date), it does not matter whether your OPT application is still processing or is approved, and whether or not you have a job offer yet.

2.  After graduation, while your 12-month OPT application is processing:

After your final semester ends, you can travel and reenter the U.S. while your 12-month post-completion OPT application is processing, with or without a job offer. You must carry your OPT receipt notice from USCIS, your OPT I-20, and the other regular travel documents (valid passport, valid U.S. Visa, I-20 and valid travel signature, financial evidence, OPT Fee receipt). However, be aware of these risks:

  • USCIS sometimes sends a request to OPT applicants asking for more information or for you to correct a problem with your documentation. These requests are sent by postal mail, so it might be difficult for you to respond if you are not inside the U.S.
  • After your OPT application is approved, you must also have proof of employment and your EAD in order to reenter the U.S. If the OPT application is approved while you are abroad, and if you do not yet have proof of employment or your EAD, this could jeopardize your return to the U.S.
  • You must have a valid F-1 visa to travel during the OPT year (except for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean). It is risky to apply for an F-1 visa while your OPT application is pending. If your current F-1 visa is expired, we recommend waiting until your OPT application is approved and you have a job offer before applying for a new F-1 visa.

3.  After graduation, and after your 12-month OPT application is approved:

After graduation, if your 12-month post-completion OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you can travel and reenter the U.S. only if you have proof of employment. If you are still looking for practical training opportunities, you should not travel internationally.

For travel, carry the following documents with you:

  • OPT I-20 signed for travel by your DSO within the last 6 months
  • Proof of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer, payment records, letter from supervisor on official letterhead that confirms continued employment)
  • EAD card (on the EAD card, there is a statement “Not Valid For Reentry.” This means the EAD card cannot be used by itself for reentry to the U.S.)
  • Valid passport
  • Unexpired F-1 visa (unless you are Canadian or are returning from a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean).

After the OPT approval start date, time spent outside the U.S. will count as unemployment against the 90-day limit.  However, travel while employed either during a vacation authorized by an employer or as part of your employment will not count as unemployment. Please keep your DSO informed of any travel plans while on OPT that may affect your status.

If you have dependents in F-2 status who will travel without you, be sure they carry a photocopy of your EAD card and proof of your employment along with their updated F-2 I-20 that is properly signed for travel.

A Social Security number (SSN) is issued to track earnings over a worker’s lifetime. Students holding F-1 status who are employed in the U.S. must apply for a Social Security number. Dependents in F-2 status are not eligible for a Social Security number.

In order to issue a Social Security number, the Social Security Administration requires evidence that you are eligible to work in the U.S. A Social Security number is not required to obtain a driver’s license, cell phone, credit card, insurance, admission to an academic institution or other “non-work” reasons. The Social Security Administration must also verify your immigration documents and status with Immigration before issuing the Social Security number. The Social Security number itself is not a work permit.

Apply for a Social Security number in person at a local Social Security Administration office. Apply on or after the start date on your EAD card. Bring with you:

  • Valid Form I-20 (updated and endorsed for practical training)
  • Valid Passport
  • I-94 card; or, a copy of your F-1 admission stamp in your passport and a printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
  • Valid EAD card
  • Form SS-5 (Application for Social Security Card)

If your immigration status changes or you become a legal permanent resident (LPR), you should inform the Social Security Administration office so that your records can be updated. You will need to present documents that prove your new status.

As a student in F-1 status your earnings from authorized employment are generally not taxable for social security purposes. Please review the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publications 515 and 519 for details about employment taxes payable on the earnings of a nonresident aliens.

As long as you have OPT authorization, you can start to work while your SSN application is still processing. You should ensure your employer follows the correct instructions for allowing you to begin work without the SSN. The Social Security Administration’s publication, “Foreign Workers and Social Security Numbers,” has additional information.

Medical insurance is an extremely important consideration while you are on OPT. The cost of medical care for an accident or illness in the US can be more money than you earn in an entire year of OPT employment!

Additionally, health insurance in the U.S. is typically linked to your employer. If your OPT activity is not with an employer that offers insurance, or if your employer’s plan does not cover medical evacuation/repatriation for people living internationally, then you should purchase additional coverage.

When researching plans, consult the insurance company to see if they provide coverage during OPT. Some companies only provide coverage while you are a registered student.

Once you complete your program of study and any authorized period of practical training (the program end date is on your Form I-20), F-1 students have 60 days to leave the United States.

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