An increasing number of international students are taking cruises during vacation and holiday periods. Cruising can be a very economical way to enjoy a vacation to some beautiful warm weather destinations. Many of the cruises include stops in Mexico, and/or the islands of the Caribbean. Sometimes, the cruises venture further south into Central or South America.
International students on F and J visas need to be aware of some very important US immigration rules associated with cruise travel.
You must travel with your passport, I-94 departure card, and your most recent I-20 or DS-2019. Your passport must be valid at least 6 months into the future on the date you return to the United States. The travel signature on page 3 of your I-20 or in the lower right section of page 1 of your DS-2019 must be less than one year old on the date you return to the United States. If you are an F-1 student on post-completion Optional Practical Training, the travel signature on page 3 of your I-20 must be less than six months old on the date you return to the United States, and you must also have with you your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Visas For the Countries You Will Visit:
Some ports of call may require visas, be sure to research that information with the cruise line or by contacting the embassy or consulate of that country in the United States: http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.htm
If Your U.S. Student Visa is Valid (Not Expired):
If you have an unexpired U.S. F-1 or J-1visa inside your passport valid for multiple entries, you should not have any difficulties with your cruise plans, regardless of the itinerary, as long as your passport is valid at least 6 months into the future, you have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 (see the section on Documents, above) and you have secured any required travel visas for your ports of call.
If Your U.S. Student Visa Has Expired:
If your U.S. F-1 or J-1 visa has expired (or will expire during your cruise) your cruise destinations are limited to only U.S. territories, Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands of the Caribbean, and your combined visits to these countries must be limited to less than 30 days.
U.S. Territories in the Caribbean include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John).
Adjacent islands of the Caribbean (as defined in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations at 8CFR 286.1(a) include:
Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Marie-Galante, Martinique, Miquelon, Montserrat, Saba, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Christopher, Saint Eustatius, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Maarten, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and other British, French and Netherlands territory or possessions bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
If your cruise itinerary includes even one port of call not on the above list (for example, Belize) and you have an expired U.S. visa, U.S. immigration officials will not allow you to re-enter the United States. Even if you stay on board the ship during the entire time the ship is docked in that country, it won’t matter. The ship has physically entered that country’s sovereign territory, and if you are on the ship, you’ve entered that country, too.
This is why it is so very important to carefully review a cruise itinerary for potential travel problems if your U.S. visa in your passport has expired.
If You Are a Citizen of Canada:
Citizens of Canada are exempt from needing U.S. visas, so you do not need to be concerned about having a valid U.S. visa in your passport.
If You Are Planning to Visit Cuba:
Some students come from countries that have diplomatic relations with Cuba, and want to visit Cuba as part of a vacation. The United States does not currently have diplomatic relations with Cuba. That does not prevent international students from visiting Cuba, but they can only do so if they have a valid (unexpired) F-1 or J-1 visa in their passport. Students whose F-1 or J-1 visa has expired cannot visit Cuba and then return to the United States.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the validity of your passport or I-20 or DS-2019, bring them to the Slutzker Center for International Services (SCIS) before you travel and SCIS staff will gladly examine them and provide you with a fresh signature for your I-20 or DS-2019 if needed.
If you have a general inquiry, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This information has been adapted from ISSS at Binghamton University