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5 Things to Know About Being in the U.S. on an F-1 Visa

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Studying in the U.S. can be as fun and exciting as it can be complicated for foreign students. Here are the answers to five common questions students have about studying in the U.S. on an F-1 visa. While these speak to the generalities of the rules, whenever in doubt consult the Designated School Official (DSO) or foreign student advisor.  
1. Can I work in the U.S.? Even though the intention of an F-1 visa is to enable foreign students to study in the U.S., students with F-1 visas are typically allowed to work up to 20 hours a week on the campus of the university in which they are enrolled. Employment off campus may be permitted with prior authorization from the DSO and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for severe economic circumstances, or in the form of Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and/or Optional Practical Training (OPT). CPT does not require USCIS authorization, but OPT does. Before seeking employment, foreign students should always seek counsel from the DSO or a foreign student advisor.  
2. Can I transfer to a different school? International students may transfer to another school, as long as it has been certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Foreign students will have to work with the DSOs of both schools to maintain legal immigration status and ensure the proper transfer of their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record. Once transferred, foreign students should work closely with the DSO of their new school to create a new I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status). It is important to note that foreign students should not enter the U.S. with the intention of transferring to another school. Students are required to enter the U.S. using the F-1 visa annotated with / I-20 issued by the school they actually plan to attend.
3. Can I travel outside of the U.S.? Whether it's a trip home over break or exploring a new country, international students on F-1 visas are allowed to travel outside of the U.S. Prior to leaving the country, students should make sure that their I-20 reflects their current educational situation, will not expire over the course of their travels, and has a valid travel signature from their DSO. Additionally, students should ensure that their F-1 visa will still be valid upon their return to the U.S.
4. How long can I stay? Foreign students are generally allowed to stay in the U.S. as long as they are enrolled in a SEVP certified school and working toward completing their academic program. Students may arrive up to 30 days prior to the start of their program and have 60 days to depart the U.S. at the completion of their program. Some students may stay in the U.S. longer after the conclusion of their program if they qualify and are approved for OPT or STEM OPT work authorization.
5. Are spouses and children welcome? An international student does not necessarily need to leave their immediate family behind as they may be allowed to accompany them to the U.S. However, spouses and children will need to apply for and be granted F-2 visas before being allowed into the U.S., and international students will need to prove they are able to financially support their dependents while here. 
Filed under:FAQ's