US Port of Entry Process for international students on F1 Visa

Stilt Inc.
Aug 2, 2017 · 6 min read

You finally receive the stamp in your passport that will grant you access to pursue higher education in the United States. You are carrying an F1 visa and believe you are all set to enter the United States now. However, this is not the reality at the US Port of Entry (POE), and your unawareness of the process to enter the US won’t help you get into the country. On the more extreme side, there are even cases of F1 visa holders getting deported because they failed to convince CBP officers of their right to study in the country.

This is not the fate anyone desires when trying to enter a country. The best thing to do to avoid this nightmare is to be completely aware and informed on how the US POE process works for your visa type. This article will give you a comprehensive outline of what you can expect at a US POE so that you are prepared for whatever will come your way. This high-level overview of the process will include details about what to expect, and the questions type common for F1 visa students entering the US to pursue higher education.

Before we get started, let’s go back to the basics so that you understand what this all entails.

Am I Guaranteed Admission to the US with a Visa?

Having a visa does not guarantee admission into the US; in reality, the visa only acts as a permission slip for you to arrive at the port of entry. The next part, which includes your interview with a CBP officer, will determine whether or not you will be allowed in. The final decision is always in the hands of the CBP officer at the POE you make it to. The visa is only the first step in the process to eventually be granted access to the US. If you want to know more about this, read the details about what a US visa is directly from the US Department of State.

What is a Port of Entry in the US?

The Port of Entry, usually abbreviated as the (POE), is simply the place where you try entering the United States. This can be an international airport, seaport, or land border checkpoint. If you have a connecting flight, the first stop would be considered your Port of Entry. A helpful tip is to make sure you have a lot of time between connections to get through immigration so you don’t miss the second or third leg of your flight plan. If you drive from nearby countries like Mexico or Canada, the border checkpoint on land would be the Port of Entry.

What is a CBP Officer?

A CBP officer is a Customs and Border Protection Officer that checks your documents, asks you questions, and ensures you are properly authorized to enter the US. You find these officers at every US POE and their role is to ensure physical and economic security in the United States. They have a guide they refer to that prompts them on how to act in the best interest of the United States. For students, they typically check your I-20, school info, among other things, and make sure you have all correct documentation for your entry.

What is a Primary Inspection Booth and What Can I Expect at One?

The Primary Inspection Booth is the place where CBP officers check and interview those arriving in the US. You usually get in a line with all other non-us citizens and wait to be called to one of the available booths for your short interview. Here, the CBP Officer checks all your documents and asks you questions like:

  • What is your purpose of entering the US?
  • What school are you planning to study at?
  • How are you paying for your education?

Usually, the inspection lasts anywhere from under 5 minutes to a maximum of 10 minutes. If the CBP officer is not convinced with your answers or is not able to verify a specific document then you will be sent for secondary inspection. If the CBP officer is convinced with what you had to say and your documents all pass his inspection, they will stamp your passport indicating your US visa status at entry. Your visa is now in full effect.

What to expect if I Get Sent to Secondary Inspection?

You will be sent to secondary inspection when the CBP officer believes you need additional screening to enter the US. The reasons for this action could be the CBP officers’ inability to verify your documents, possible fraudulent documents, or the belief that you have different intentions for entering the country. This part will be more comprehensive than what you experienced at the Primary Inspection Booth. You may be in questioning for hours, or even longer, depending on how the officers see your situation. The point of this inspection is to verify your details without causing interruption to other passengers who are coming in. If you are taken for secondary inspection, do not worry — as long as your intentions are true and you are genuine with your answers, you will not have any problems entering the US.

The CBP officer will check your status in SEVIS. If there are issues or they need more information on your program or school, they may check with your school’s Designated School officer (DSO). It is recommended you have the name, phone number, and emergency phone number of your school’s DSO at all times. If for some reason, your documents cannot be verified, or a SEVI Fee was not paid, the CBP officer may deny you entry at their discretion. They might then issue you Form I-515A, which allows you to enter the US temporarily for 30 days. Within these 30 days, you need to report to your DSO and get your issues sorted out quickly. To learn more about this process read FAQs on Form I-515A.

What Documents Should I Carry as an F1 student to Make Sure my Entry is as Smooth as Possible?

Below we outline a general set of documents you should have with you when arriving at your US POE. Make sure you do not put these documents in your checked luggage! Keep them handy with you at all time in case any problems arise — there will be no excuses at the US POE for misplaced documents. You are only allowed to pick up your checked-in bags after the interview with the CBP officer.

F1 Visa Student Document Checklist at US Port of Entry

  • Valid Passport with expiration date long enough for your studies in the US
  • I-20 Signed by DSO
  • Admission/ Acceptance letters from school
  • I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt
  • Document proof for your financial support to cover your education
  • Original documents of your undergrad and other education certificates
  • Copy of your past transcripts that were sent to school
  • Name and contact info of DSO at your school
  • Address of where you will stay in the US
  • Contact info of seniors or anyone, whom you interacted with (Optional, but recommended)
  • Any other documents like GRE, TOEFL score reports (Optional, but recommended)

That wraps up this review of the US Port of Entry process for F1 visa students. Remember, it is very important as an international student to be prepared for the US POE procedure to avoid any issues. If you are taken into secondary inspection, there is no need to fret — simply tell the truth and stay as calm as possible. It is your responsibility to be fully aware of your school, your program, and other details of your education in the US so be prepared to answer any question.

Good luck on passing your first test as you pursue higher education in the United States! We hope this gave you a better idea of what to expect whenever you get to the United States. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to let us know and we will do everything possible to help you resolve your worries and concerns.

About Stilt:

Stilt provides loans to international students and working professionals in the U.S. (F-1, OPT, H-1B, H-4, O-1, L-1, TN visa holders) at rates lower than any other lender. Learn more about us on Wikipedia or visit us at If you have any questions, visit or send us an email at


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