Entering the USA

When you arrive at the US border, you will need to be prepared to pass through Customs before you are given permission to enter the country.  Students arriving by plane will go through these steps at the first airport they land in that is inside the US, regardless of if you have a connecting flight to another US city.  Students arriving by car will go through this process in a checkpoint before crossing into the US.  All individuals entering the US will be given a declarations form to complete, where you report certain kinds of items that you are bringing into the US.  Please complete this form before arriving at the border.

Please remember that students entering the US in F-1 status for the first time can only enter up to 30 days before the I-20 start date!


International Student Arrival Guide

Get ready for your journey to the United States and prepare for your first weeks at UMBC! This guide shares what you need to know about arriving and settling in on campus. From useful resources, campus contacts to packing lists and where to buy necessities once you’re in the US; this guide has everything you’ll need!

Click here to view the International Student Arrival Guide

You can read over the details below to learn more about what to expect when you arrive in the US, and can also watch a video summary of the arrival process on the CBP website, here.


Step 1 – Document Inspection

Before you can collect your luggage in the airport, you will need to pass through the first stage of Customs.  You will need to present your immigration documents to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, who will review your documents and ask about your plans for your stay in the US.  You will also have brief fingerprints taken, and a photograph taken.  This process usually lasts no more than 2-3 minutes per person.

Students with an F-1 visa should be prepared to show the following:

  • Passport
  • F-1 Visa
  • I-20
  • I-901 SEVIS fee receipt

Please be careful not to pack these documents in your checked luggage!


Step 2 – Baggage Checkpoint

After passing through the initial inspection with your documents, you can collect your baggage in the airport.  You will pass through one more inspection station, where you will present your declaration form.  This form shows any sensitive items that you are bringing into the US.   Please avoid bringing in items from the list of restricted items, such as perishable food items, weapons and large amounts of cash.  Officers may choose to inspect your luggage, but often will only ask a few questions from your declarations form and allow you to exit the airport.


I-94 Entry Record

Once you successfully enter the US, you will have an electronic record of your entry recorded in the Department of Homeland Security’s database.  You do NOT have to take any action while entering the US concerning this form, but you can access your entry record after your entry here.

Your I-94 record indicates the kind of status you have in the US, and how long you can remain in the US.  You can read more information on the I-94 document here.


Reaching UMBC from Area Airports

For more information on reaching UMBC after arriving in the US from nearby airports, please review the information here: Airports near UMBC.

If you need any emergency assistance upon your arrival at UMBC, please contact the UMBC Police at 410-455-5555.


Tips for smooth travel  

You can take steps to make sure your entry to the US is as smooth an experience as possible.

  • If flying, do not pack your immigration documents in your checked luggage – make sure to carry them in your carry-on luggage.
  • Plan your flights appropriately – if you will need a connecting flight after you first land in the US, remember that you will need to go through Customs first, which can often take 1-2 hours if the process is smooth.  Book a second flight that gives you plenty of time to get through customs first!  You can see average time required to pass through customs at different airports and checkpoints here.
  • Don’t arrive to the US too early – remember that the first time you enter the US in F-1 status, you can only arrive up to 30 days before your I-20 start date
  • Review the restricted items list before packing, to make sure you don’t unintentionally bring any restricted items to the US


Secondary inspection

If the CBP Officer reviewing your information at the border is not satisfied with your documents, you may be required to go through “secondary inspection.”  This is meant to provide officers with an opportunity to review your documents more closely without holding up the line of others waiting to enter the US.  You might need to wait, and will eventually speak with a CBP officer in person to address their questions.  If you are missing any documents, you would need to go through secondary inspection.


I-515 Temporary Entry

If you are missing documents when you try to enter the US, the CBP Officer can choose to refuse you entry to the US, or give you an I-515 document allowing you a temporary stay in the US, during which time you will need to provide the missing documents.  The I-515 form will indicate exactly what information you need to provide, what the deadline is to provide it, and how to submit it.  You are only allowed in the US for 30 days with an I-515, so will need to address the issue quickly.   After you submit the required documents, you will receive a new I–94 that will grant you the typical length of time in the US.


Step 3 – Complete Check-In with the ISSS office

After you arrive in the US, students must complete the New Student Arrival Documentation Check-In in the ISSS Portal. Students will need to upload a copy of their passport, I-94 record, and visa. Students must also update their address in their myUMBC account. This process is mandatory for all new, incoming students. Students who do not complete the New Student Arrival Documentation Check-In will not be registered as active students in SEVIS.