For international students, planning your trip to the US is an exciting time, but where do you get started? As you embark on this new journey, there are many factors to consider. From student flights to visa applications, preparing in advance gives you a clear direction on what you need when entering the US!
Read on to learn more about special considerations for international student travel to the USA, including tips on booking student flights, packing, what to expect when you land at the airport, and more.
Student Flights Into the USA
International students choose to study in the US to build their knowledge and professional skills, grow their network, and improve their career prospects. But first, students have to get there! To prepare to travel to the US, students need to book student flights, organize their travel documents, and pack accordingly.
Given the ongoing impacts from COVID-19, knowing the latest policies about student international flights and airport procedures is vital for a smooth journey. Before you go, make sure your student flight and essential documents are in order.
Stay updated about COVID-19 protocols outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including vaccination requirements, needed to enter the US.
Documents Needed to Enter the US
When entering the US, you must have the following travel documents:
Your passport is the most important document needed for your travel. It is issued by the government of your home country and permits you to travel to foreign countries. A passport outlines vital personal information, such as your full name, photograph, nationality, place and date of birth, and signature.
To enter the US, your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of travel. Remember to check when your passport expires and, if necessary, make relevant appointments well in advance so you have a valid passport when it’s time to travel to your university.
You must meet the following requirements to be eligible for an F-1 visa:
The college or university you have been accepted to must be certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
You must be enrolled full time at your institution.
You must meet your program’s English language requirements.
You must show proof of financial support during the application process.
Keep your Shorelight advisor informed of your visa status, as they can guide you through the process and help you prepare for your visa interview.
The form I-20 is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status for F-1 and M-1 visa students. You will receive this form from your Designated School Official (DSO) once you are accepted at a SEVP-certified college or university in the US.
This is an important document that impacts:
Your visa — Your I-20 displays the date you will be eligible to enter the US. Your student visa can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your course of study start date.
Entering the US — You may have to present your I-20 form at Customs and Immigration point before entering the US.
Other benefits — You may have to submit your I-20 when applying for a driver’s license or obtaining your Social Security number in the US.
Your I-20 form is extremely important, containing personal information such as your SEVIS ID number, academic program start and end dates, and more. You can find out more information about the I-20 form on DHS.gov or by speaking to a Shorelight advisor.
I-901 SEVIS Fee Receipt
International students pay this fee when accepted at a SEVP-certified institution in the US. Fees go toward obtaining your F-1 or M-1 student visa.
To make the payment, the following details must be provided:
Personal information (name, address, date of birth, and email address)
Nationality and country of birth
School Code as stated on your I-20 form
SEVIS Identification Number as listed on the I-20 form
Remember to keep the receipt safe as it may be required at your visa interview. (It’s your proof of payment.)
While you gather your important documents, consider looking for student flights as well. Booking ahead of time offers cheap student flights options, and access to other deals!
How to Find an Airplane Ticket
Booking student international flights can be challenging: There are so many options, and you may not know the best time to lock in your travel. Beginning your search early can be helpful, as you can take advantage of early booking discounts, get additional information on student airfares, and stay updated on airline sales and promotions.
There are multiple airlines and agencies offering student flights, with pricing varying depending on student airfare, travel schedule, airline policies, and flight classes. Let’s take a look at what you need to know when booking your ticket.
Choosing an Airline
The first step to booking student international flights is deciding which airline to fly. You can begin by narrowing down airlines that offer flights to and from the US. There are more than 500 airports in the US, and some airlines may not offer flights to your desired destination. Depending on your carrier, you may have to book connecting flights.
You can choose to book a ticket directly through the airline or via a travel agent. A travel agent can compare dates, flight routes, seats, flight amenities, and price variations for you. Doing your own research online (e.g., identifying which student flights suit your preferences that align with your student airfare budget), then booking your student flight directly through the airline may be cheaper.
Price Options for Different Airlines
There are many ways you can book a cheap student flight. Airlines will offer different student airfare options, and there are additional possibilities to make your flight more affordable:
Choose a less-expensive day to fly — If you are on the hunt for cheap student flights, consider booking your ticket for a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday flight. Mid-week tickets are usually cheaper, as travel demand is lower compared to Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays.
Look out for student offers — Most airlines offer discounts, cashbacks, and additional baggage allowance to student travelers.
Use your miles — Consider signing up for a frequent flier program with your desired airline. As a frequent flier, you collect miles when you travel, which can be used for additional perks such as upgrading your seat, purchasing your seat, reducing the price of your ticket, and more.
When international students travel to the USA, the flight cost can take up a significant portion of your budget, so it is important to evaluate your options carefully. Even if you choose to work with a travel agent, make sure to clarify whether surcharges apply, and ask about other benefits you can qualify for as a student. By planning your travel in advance, you can be more confident and know what to expect during your journey.
Preparing for Departure
One of the best ways to stay organized for your departure is to prepare a checklist that includes all your required documents and essential steps. Here are some tips for before you go!
Ensure All Documents Are Prepared
The travel docs for entering the US to include in your checklist are:
Your student flight ticket
COVID-19 vaccination details
I-901 SEVIS fee receipt
Consider gathering every required document in a secure folder and storing them safely in your backpack or other carry-on bag. Remember not to pack them in your checked luggage, as you will need them during the immigration process.
Taking copies of other essential documents, such as your birth certificate, driver’s license, and university acceptance letter, can also come in handy. You can maintain scanned versions of the originals on a flash drive as an alternative.
Consider organizing transportation to the airport in advance and leaving early. Getting to the airport at least 90 minutes before departure time can give you enough time to comfortably find where you need to go. If your family or friends are driving you, share your flight details with them. If you are planning to travel by taxi, book in advance, and share how many bags you have and how many people will be joining you.
Remember to also check about planning transportation to your school campus. Most US airports have bus, taxi, and ride-share vehicle service available. Before you travel, ask your advisors and university contacts to see if a school shuttle is available or if your university can arrange for a rideshare to meet you. For example, many Shorelight universities offer airport transportation shuttle services for international students.
Will I be able to find my shampoo in another country?
Do I need these books this semester?
How many t-shirts should I take?
Choosing what to bring with you and how you should pack comes down to deciding what you need the most, and how easily you want to access your luggage. Before you pack anything, here are a few factors to keep in mind.
Clothes — Pack appropriately for the climate at your new university. During summer, cotton t-shirts, shorts, and other breathable pieces are comfortable options. Thermals, jackets, and scarves are useful during winter. Remember to take a towel, sleepwear, underclothes, socks, and other accessories with you. If you are concerned about baggage allowance, don't worry! You can always leave behind some clothes and purchase new ones after you reach the US.
Books — It’s likely you will purchase books from your university bookstore, or may even be able to check them out from your university library. There are some books that have digital versions published, so electronic options for your eReader may make the most sense. (Speak to your advisor to get a sense of which options are best for your upcoming courses.) For the most part, plan on getting your books once you get to the US – no need to purchase in advance.
Medicine — Consider taking at least a two months’ supply of your prescriptions. Once you get settled, your campus medical officer can guide you on how to obtain them in the US. Remember to take the prescription itself with you, as some medicines may not be available over the counter.
Electronics — Take your mobile phone, phone charger, laptop, laptop charger, universal multiplug, or other electronic devices you use regularly. Consider packing these in your carry-on bag for easy access.
Other items — Don’t forget to pack everything you need to make yourself comfortable, like travel-sized toiletries to use upon arrival, pictures of your family and friends, and non-perishable snacks to cheer you up if you get homesick!
Check with your chosen airline about your baggage allowance and prioritize what you pack. If you have a friend or family member living in the US, speak to them to find out what is available on or near your campus. You can always talk to a Shorelight advisor to get a better sense of what you need for your studies.
More Tips for Student Flights Into the US
The preparation phase before international students travel to USA can be challenging at first, as there are many steps to keep in mind. Remember to take care of yourself during this time — eat well, stay hydrated, and get a good night’s sleep before you leave. Airport lines, the journey itself, and different time zones can have a significant impact, so resting in advance can help make your overall experience more comfortable.
If you want more tips and support for your departure to the US, reach out to a Shorelight advisor. Your advisor can also provide you with visa assistance, brief you on airport procedures, and more, so you can begin your new journey in the US with confidence!