You just landed on U.S. soil once again after spending your entire summer in your hometown of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. As you join the hour-long line to the notorious U.S. Customs checkpoint, you reached in your bag for your passport, ready to present it to the customs officer. The officer looks at your passport, runs the fingerprint scanning routine, and asks for your I-20 form and other documents. That’s when you realize you left all at your desk at your apartment on campus and you don’t know what to do. This spells disaster. You’re in trouble. You enter the detention room, waiting to get deported out of the country.
Let’s say you got lucky and miraculously entered the U.S. without your documents but with a big lesson learnt. You arrived at your apartment, exhausted and relieved over the predicament earlier, and all that made you hungry for some ice cream. Immediately, you head down to the ATM machine to withdraw twenty dollars for ice-cream and other sugary treats, only to discover that your bank account and your $6000 stored does not exist anymore and you don’t know why.
Wouldn’t want that to happen to you, would you? This fictitious scenario could happen to you if you do not take the right measures before you leave the United States. Getting in and out of the country is hard enough as you will find out, and you would not want to make things harder on yourself by neglecting things you should do before you leave the country. But what exactly do you need to do? We will cover the necessary measures you should take and other things to consider before you travel out of the country over the summer.
Have your documents with you!
Do not forget to go through your documents before you set foot out of the country! When you travel, make sure you do not keep them in your check-in luggage; always have them with you in your hand-luggage or backpack. Neglecting them may keep you from reentering the United States. If you have any questions, International Student and Scholars Services (ISSS) is your best friend. Here is a list of important documents:
· Valid Passport
This is a no-brainer but make sure your passport is valid! Different passports may have different renewal requirements. Check with the embassy of your passport country. Keep in mind that the nearest embassy of your passport country may not be in the Twin Cities.
· Valid Student Visa
While most student visas last around five years, some last for only a year and require annual renewal. Do not reenter the U.S. with an expired visa! Renew it at the nearest U.S. Consulate in your home country. Keep in mind this process may take a few weeks.
· Admission Letter
Remember that letter you received from the university congratulating you on your acceptance to the University of Minnesota? You need that. The customs officer sees that as a form of enrollment verification.
· I-20 Form (with a VALID travel signature)
Remember to request a new I-20 Form if any information presented on the form needs to be updated. The I-20 form may update to a newer version every few years and you need to make sure you have the most updated version. Also, make sure that you have a valid travel signature at the back of the I-20 form! A valid travel signature comes from an official at ISSS and lasts for a year. Getting a travel signature from the ISSS office does not take very long.
· Document Evidence of Funding
Make sure you have that with you, whether it is proof you are under a scholarship or financial statements from your parents or legal guardian to show that you are financially supported in the States. From personal experience (NOTE: FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE), customs officers have not asked for document evidence of funding whenever I reenter the country.
The ISSS webpage has a more comprehensive document checklist. You could also send an email to ISSS or stop by at the office if you have any questions on travel documents. I make it a point to prepare all of my documents the week before I leave. Then I check three days before I leave to make sure I do not forget anything. I would do that again. And again. And again. Until I leave. Bottom line: make sure you have your documents with you!
Check your bank account!
I would highly recommend checking with your bank if anything needs to be done before you leave the U.S. If you leave for a few weeks or a month, it is usually not a problem at all complications may arise when you leave the country for the entire summer. Some banks close accounts that do not show any activity (e.g. withdrawing or depositing money, purchasing through your debit/credit card, etc.) in 90 days. Banks may differ in policy but make it a point to check with your bank before leaving the country. You would not want to return to the U.S. only to realize that your bank account does not exist anymore, along with that $6000 you saved.
Another great thing to do before you leave the country is to inform your bank of your travel plans to ensure that your account and check card does not freeze, which essentially means you will not be able to withdraw money from your bank account and use your check/debit card for transactions. When a bank identifies unusual activity—for instance a Minneapolis-based account holder spending two hundred dollars in Dushanbe—the bank suspects fraud activity and freezes the account for weeks or until the account holder calls the bank; the bank would not know that the account holder is visiting her home country, Tajikistan, to visit her family and friends UNLESS the account holder informs the bank of her travel plans. The more details she provides to her bank regarding her travel back home, the better the bank will do its job at identifying suspicious activity.
What about paying your rent?
Whether or not you’re around over the summer, you still need to pay rent since most housing leases go throughout the summer. It would also suck if you have to pay rent for a place you’re not living in. A lot of college students end up subleasing their place for the summer, which means letting someone else live at your place while you are gone. You could sublease your place to a friend or you could look for potential subleasers on Facebook through pages designated for housing. I would strongly advise getting to know your subleaser a little to make sure he will not wreck your place while you’re gone. I would also recommend paying a small share of rent, especially if you plan on leaving some of your stuff over. Make sure you complete the necessary paperwork with your landlord! This would prevent additional fines and complications while you are gone. If you do not find a subleaser, you will still have to pay the full rent; make sure you pay your rent for the subsequent months before you leave.
And You’re Now Set!
With the necessities sorted out, you need not worry about detention or deportation at the U.S. Customs, your bank account disappearing, housing issues, and other complications while you’re outside the U.S. over the summer. The earlier you sort things out, the less likely you will be to miss out on other issues. Keep in mind that this list may not cover everything you need to sort out, therefore I would strongly advise getting a head start on sorting things out in order to have time to figure out what else you would need to do before leaving the U.S. Then by the time you board your flight out of the U.S., you can finally have peace of mind as you look forward to seeing your friends and family back home.