ECFMG strongly discourages international travel unless absolutely necessary.
As a J-1 visa holder, it is your responsibility to ensure that all documents are obtained prior to travel, that you inform your program and GME about your travel plans, and that you make the appropriate embassy appointments while abroad to ensure you can return to the U.S. in a timely fashion.
World events of the last few years have introduced changes that have a direct effect on international travel for foreign nationals. Security and background checks, along with other security-based initiatives have, in some cases, caused delays in visa issuance at U.S. consulates. These delays have in turn compromised physicians’ return to the United States in a timely fashion. If travel is absolutely necessary, it is important that, prior to any departure from the United States, ECFMG-sponsored physicians are aware of the documents they and their dependents must have in order to reenter the United States in J-1 or J-2 status.
The following sections provide basic information on some of the more popular travel-related questions asked by J-1 holders and program coordinators. View more detailed information on international travel on the ECFMC website.
You must notify your program director, program coordinator, and the UMN TPL that you intend to travel outside of the US. Notice must be given at least 60 days prior to your scheduled departure, including:
- Dates of travel
- Location of travel
- Contact information during travel
Notify the UMN TPL by emailing the above information to email@example.com. Consult with your program director and program coordinator about their preferred method of notification.
Re-entry into the United States
Prior to travel, review these websites for the most up-to-date information on what to expect when you arrive at your port of entry:
Documents required for travel
J visa holders must have the following documents with them for re-entry into the U.S. Do NOT place these documents in your checked baggage. Carry them with you, as you will need to present them to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer upon your entry to the United States, prior to collecting your checked baggage.
- Passport, valid for at least six months beyond the date of your reentry to the United States
- Original Form DS-2019 containing travel authorization signature
- Valid J-1 visa stamp (except for Canadian citizens)
- Optional: Proof of health insurance (recommended by ISSS that this is carried)
To travel outside the US, J-1 visa holders must have an original travel-authorized DS-2019. Space for travel authorization is in the bottom right corner of the DS-2019 form. If you are authorized for travel, in this space you will see an expiration date and a signature in blue ink from the representative at ECFMG responsible for issuing your DS-2019. Continuing J-1 visa holders are automatically travel authorized for one year from the date the DS-2019 was signed. Initial J-1 visa holders do not receive automatic authorization, so must apply for it if they wish to travel abroad during their first year of training.
Expiration dates: Travel authorization vs training authorization
Continuing J-1 visa holders may have an expired travel authorization signature, yet still have a valid DS-2019 for work authorization. This occurs if the DS-2019 is issued early during the renewal season. (Example: You submit your J-1 renewal application in December 2016 for the 2017-2018 academic year, and it is issued January 15, 2017. The DS-2019 will be valid from July 2017 to June 2018 for training purposes, but the travel authorization is only valid through January 14, 2018 -- the maximum one-year duration for travel authorization.) You must pay attention to the travel authorization date in the bottom right corner before you travel abroad!
Obtaining travel authorization
If you do not have a travel authorization signature on your DS-2019, or the travel authorization signature is expired, request a new form by following these steps:
- Download the Request for Duplicate Form DS-2019 for Travel
- Fill out all information except for:
- The return address (TPL will fill that out)
- The TPL or Program Director signature line (the TPL will sign)
- Email the completed form to the TPL at firstname.lastname@example.org
- ECFMG will send the duplicate DS-2019 to the TPL, who will contact you when it is available for pick-up.
- Only regional advisors from ECFMG are authorized to sign the DS-2019 for travel validation. It is the J-1 trainee's responsibility to plan far enough in advance to receive their travel-validated DS-2019 prior to leaving the U.S.
- ECFMG signatures for Form DS-2019 travel validation located in the box on the lower right side of Form DS-2019 are valid for one year or until the expiration date of Form DS-2019 as indicated in Box 3, whichever comes first. As long as you possess a travel-validated DS-2019 that has not yet expired, a new travel-validated DS-2019 is not required for each trip abroad. Only one ECFMG signature is required in the travel validation box, even though there are two spaces for signatures.
J-1 visa stamp
In order to return to the U.S., you must have an unexpired J-1 visa stamp in your passport. If you do not, you must make an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in the country where you are traveling to renew this stamp. You CANNOT enter the U.S. on an expired J-1 visa stamp. You may experience delays when attempting to get your visa stamp at the U.S. Embassy. There is nothing UMN nor ECFMG can do to help expedite your visa request. Further, ECFMG is not obligated to extend your DS-2019 due to travel delays, which can have implications on your ability to graduate from your program and obtain board eligibility. For this reason, ECFMG and UMN strongly discourage non-essential international travel during your training program.
See J-1 visa status vs J-1 visa stamp for more information on the stamp in your passport versus your authorization to work. Remember a valid visa stamp is only required when entering the U.S. You do NOT need to renew your visa stamp annually in order to remain in your training program. Refer also to the final section on this ECFMG webpage for clarification on "visa" versus "visa status."
Travel within the U.S.
There are no documents required to be carried by J visa holders for travel within the U.S., just photo identification. However, it is strongly recommended by ECFMG, GME Administration, and ISSS that J visa holders carry the following documents required for international travel should they be asked by law enforcement for evidence of status:
- Passport, valid for at least six months beyond the date of travel
- I-94 card
- Original Form DS-2019
- Optional: Proof of health insurance (recommended by ISSS)