Entering the United States

The Federal Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in conjunction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will inspect all internationals entering the U.S. Expect close examination of your documents by these officials. Answer all questions politely and briefly. You are not required to provide them more information beyond the scope of the questions asked.

When first approaching the officer, have your passport, visa, and signed I-20/DS-2019 ready for inspection. You should not give any other supporting documents unless requested. We recommend having supporting documents on hand to provide only if requested, such as Rensselaer ID, financial documentation, or a letter from your department detailing your course of study if you are majoring in a sensitive area.

CBP officials are required to record your arrival data into SEVIS at the time you enter, and return your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 to you, after they have stamped it. However, not all CBP officials will have access to SEVIS at their booths in the "primary lanes." Depending upon the port of entry, some students may be directed to a secondary inspection area or "student lanes" so that their data can be entered into SEVIS.


U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology, or US-VISIT, is a new entry/exit record-keeping system for all non-immigrants traveling to and from the United States.

In addition to the usual inspection procedure conducted by CBP officers when you enter the U.S., each non-immigrant will have their fingerprints taken by placing their index fingers on an inkless fingerprint scanner. A digital photograph will also be taken.

Be Careful Carrying Cash

It is a federal law that anyone carrying more than $10,000 in a monetary instrument of any form must declare that money, or risk having it seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

Search of Electronic Devices

Travelers should be aware that both CBP and ICE have the right to search any form of electronic media, which CBP and ICE define as any item that may contain information, including computers, floppy and compact disks, DVDs, drives, tapes, mobile phones, personal digital assistants or PDAs, BlackBerry smart phones, cameras, and music players (including iPods and MP3 players), without necessarily suspecting that the individual may be carrying unlawful information. If the computer or other electronic device is used by others, check the browser history and make sure that the contents will not cause problems if searched.

I-515a and Denied Admissions

If you are missing documents, or if your I-20/DS-2019 does not have a valid travel signature, the border official may issue you an I-515a form. This allows you temporary entrance into the United States. You will have 30 days to submit the documents requested on the I-515a to federal authorities. If you receive a 515-a, please contact the ISSS Office immediately.

Anyone who is denied admission at the port of entry should be cautious. Arguing with the custom official is at your own risk and may result in a “expedited removal” which will result in five-year bar on admission to the U.S.. If you are denied admission, first contact the ISSS Office for assistance, but also make let the immigration official know that you are willing to withdraw your application for admission to the country rather than be subject to expedited removal.

Last modified: Jul 22, 2015
International Services for Students and Scholars, Phone: (518) 276-4966, Fax: (518) 276-4839