Intealth ECFMG

Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates


Travel Overview

As of November 2021, an international air travel policy for foreign national travelers replaces previous country-by-country restrictions that were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

J-1 physicians should continue to exercise caution and flexibility when planning international travel, as it comes with some inherent risk. International travel restrictions, security and background checks, along with other security-based initiatives can result in delays in visa issuance at U.S. consulates. These delays can compromise a physician’s timely return to the United States. If travel is absolutely necessary, it is important that 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 prior to departing the United States.

The following travel information is intended for those physicians who have already entered the United States under ECFMG sponsorship and whose U.S. presence has been validated by ECFMG in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

Download the Preparation for International Travel information sheet for quick reference.

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Preparation for International Travel

Required Documents

The following documents are required for reentry to the United States after international travel:

  • Passport, valid for at least six months beyond the program end date on the most recent Form DS-2019, unless otherwise exempt
  • Valid J-1 visa (except for Canadian citizens)
  • Original Form DS-2019 containing travel signature in “Travel Validation by Responsible Officer” box on lower right side of Form DS-2019

NOTE: Do not place the above 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 reentry to the United States and prior to securing your baggage.


  • 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.
  • Only Regional Advisors from ECFMG are authorized to sign Form DS-2019 for travel validation.

How to Request a Travel-Validated Form DS-2019 from ECFMG

If a J-1 physician or J-2 dependents have travel plans outside the United States and they are not in possession of a travel-validated DS-2019, they must submit a Request for Duplicate Form DS-2019. ECFMG will process the request within seven to ten business days. All duplicate Forms DS-2019 are mailed through the United States Postal Service (USPS) using first-class mail. If faster and trackable delivery is preferred, a pre-paid, pre-addressed shipping label can be generated on-line through an express shipping courier and uploaded at the time of duplicate request. It is important to note that only shipping labels from USPS, UPS, or DHL will be accepted; shipping labels for other couriers will not be used for mailing Form DS-2019. The pre-addressed, pre-paid shipping label must be uploaded to the physician’s record in the On-line Applicant Status and Information System (OASIS) as a separate document at the same time that the completed and fully signed Request for Duplicate Form DS-2019 is submitted. Review Expedited Shipping of Form DS-2019 for additional information and shipping label formatting requirements.

It is your responsibility to ensure that your request for a travel-validated DS-2019 is received by ECFMG well before your departure from the United States. In addition to the seven to ten business day processing time, you should also allow ample time for ECFMG to mail or express courier ship the travel-validated Form DS-2019 back to you. If you will be applying for a new J visa at a U.S. consulate, it is vital that you request and receive the travel-validated Form DS-2019 from ECFMG prior to scheduling your appointment at the U.S. consulate.

“Visa” and “Visa Status”

It is important to understand that “visa” and “visa status” are two separate things. A “visa” is the physical stamp affixed to a passport page that permits a foreign national to enter the United States in a specific visa classification. Visas may only be obtained at U.S. consulates outside of the United States. “Visa status” is the legal condition or manner under which a foreign national is present in the United States. Specifically, visa status determines an individual’s purpose for being in the United States and the objectives she/he is authorized to pursue while in the United States, such as training, studying, or working. Upon entry to the United States, a foreign national’s “visa status” is reflected on Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, which is issued at the U.S. port-of-entry to every entering nonimmigrant. In the case of physicians sponsored by ECFMG, Form I-94 should always reflect “J-1” status with the notation of “D/S,” which stands for “Duration of Status.” The expiration of the “visa” in a passport will not affect a physician if she/he is maintaining J-1 visa status in the United States. The only time a person requires a valid J-1 “visa” is if she/he is physically outside of the United States and wishes to enter the United States in J-1 status.

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Applying for a Visa at a U.S. Consulate

J-1 physicians and/or their J-2 dependents physically present outside the United States require a valid J visa stamp in their passports to reenter the United States in J visa classification. ECFMG encourages all J-1 physicians to apply for their visas as early as possible during their trip abroad and allow ample time for the visa approval process to return to the United States. The U.S. Department of State website provides general information pertaining to the J visa and travel issues.

Scheduling an Appointment at a U.S. Consulate

Generally, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas are required to schedule an appointment with the consulate so that the consular post can interview the applicant personally. Consular posts in some countries have drop-off or mail-in visa application procedures for applicants renewing visas if they have already been fingerprinted during a prior application. Additionally, some consular posts have implemented new visa processing systems which impact fee payment and appointment scheduling. For further information, and to view a list of countries that have implemented the new system, please refer to ECFMG recommends that J-1 physicians contact the U.S. embassy or consulate where they intend to apply for the visa to inquire about the consulate’s specific application procedures.

The U.S. Department of State website allows you to view the estimated wait times to schedule a visa appointment and for a visa to be processed at a specific consulate or embassy. Keep in mind that this time period does not include a security check, if required by the U.S. consulate. If you will be applying for a J visa at a U.S. consulate, it is vital that you request and receive the travel-validated Form DS-2019 from ECFMG prior to scheduling a visa appointment at the U.S. consulate.

Note: Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a consular officer. See the U.S. Department of State’s Administrative Processing Information webpage for more information.

Visa Application Documents

To renew a J-1 or J-2 visa, J-1 physicians and their J-2 dependents will need to submit the following documents to a U.S. embassy or consulate (forms can be downloaded, or obtained from any U.S. consulate):

  1. Form I-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application
  2. Application and Reciprocity fees (check with the U.S. consulate for the current fee amounts and how they must be paid)
  3. Photograph(s) (Contact U.S. consulate for specific requirements)
  4. Valid Passport
  5. Your current DS-2019 validated for travel by a Regional Advisor at ECFMG
  6. Documents that demonstrate your nonimmigrant intent (i.e., proof that you will return home after your U.S. training)

For more information on Form I-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, refer to the U.S. Department of State website.

Security Clearances

In recent years, the U.S. Department of State has been performing security checks at all U.S. embassies and consulates. Security checks can take anywhere from five business days to three months or more. A security clearance is based on a number of different factors including, but not limited to, information in your application forms and biographic information. Therefore, if you need a new visa, please consider seriously your travel plans and factor in the potential for delay associated with security clearances. If visa applicants apply for a visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate in a third country (a country other than their country of citizenship or permanent residence), they must remain in that third country while they wait for visa approval and possible security clearance.

Nonimmigrant Intent

U.S. regulations require the consular officer who considers your visa application to assume that you want to immigrate to or remain permanently in the United States. In order to qualify for a J-1 or J-2 visa, you must prove that your visit to the United States will be temporary in nature and that you will return to your country after completion of your medical training in the United States. Consular officers refer to this as “nonimmigrant intent.” You can try to prove your nonimmigrant intent by giving the consular officer documents that indicate that you have strong ties to your country. The stronger your financial, employment, or family ties to your home country, the more likely it is that the consular officer will believe that you intend to return home.

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Travel to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands of the United States

Automatic Revalidation

ECFMG-sponsored physicians and their J-2 dependents who are traveling to Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands of the United States (except Cuba; see note below) for less than 30 days are not required to have a valid J visa in their passport upon reentry to the United States, as long as they previously entered the United States in a nonimmigrant visa category and have been maintaining valid nonimmigrant status. (See exceptions to this rule below.) To qualify for Automatic Visa Revalidation, physicians must present the following to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer upon reentry to the United States:

  • Travel-validated Form DS-2019 (validated by ECFMG Regional Advisor)
  • Valid passport
  • A previously issued visa, which may be expired or in a category other than J
  • Form I-94 reflecting J-1 visa status (NOTE: Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, should not be turned over to airline or immigration officials upon departure from the United States if it is your intent to reenter the United States based on Automatic Visa Revalidation.)

Exceptions to the automatic revalidation rule:

1. Citizens of certain countries are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation.
Citizens of certain countries (at the time of this writing, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria) are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation and require a valid J visa each time they reenter the United States. Please be advised that the countries included on this list are subject to change.

2. Individuals who apply for a new visa stamp are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation while their application is pending at a U.S. consulate or if they are denied a visa.
A J-1 physician who chooses to apply for a nonimmigrant visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate in a contiguous territory (Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands, except Cuba) is not eligible to return to the United States under Automatic Visa Revalidation while the application is pending or if the application is denied at the U.S. embassy or consulate.

If the visa application is denied, the J-1 applicant will be required to travel directly elsewhere (most likely to his/her home country) to apply again for a U.S. visa stamp before she/he may return to the United States. Please note that this restriction applies to citizens of all countries, not just the four countries noted above.

Note: Adjacent Islands of the United States – Saint Pierre, Miquelon, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, The Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, Other British, French, and Netherlands territory or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.

Applying for a Visa at a U.S. Consulate in Canada or Mexico

Applying for a visa at a U.S. Consulate in Canada or Mexico when not a citizen or permanent resident of that country is a courtesy that is not extended to all applicants. J-1 physicians and J-2 dependents should contact the U.S. consulate before making any travel arrangements. Be sure to inform the consular officer of the circumstances of your potential application (country of birth, legal permanent residence) to ensure that you receive complete and correct information. Visa appointments in Canada and Mexico may be scheduled on-line through the U.S. Visa Information Service website.

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Reentry to the United States

What to Expect

When reentering the United States, you must apply for admission via U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). A CBP immigration officer will inspect your documents. Present your passport, visa, and Form DS-2019 to the immigration officer. If all of your documentation is found to be in order, you will be admitted to the United States in J-1 status. You will be issued Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. Form I-94 serves to document the date/place of admission to the United States as well as your status. As a J-1 physician, your Form I-94 should be notated with J-1 “Duration of Status (D/S).” If your Form I-94 is marked to reflect a visa status other than J-1 (or J-2) or contains a specific end date instead of “D/S” for Duration of Status, politely ask the officer to correct the card to reflect “J-1 D/S” (or “J-2 D/S” for dependents). If you are not able to have your Form I-94 corrected by the officer, notify ECFMG immediately for further information on how to correct Form I-94.

Interviews are generally required for visa applicants. The U.S. Department of State (DoS) provides detailed information on the documentation required by consular officials at the time of interview from those seeking J-1 visas on its website. Additional information available on DoS webpages includes:

  • How to apply for a visa
  • Scheduling visa interviews, including appointment wait times
  • What to expect in a visa interview
  • Arrival procedures for J-1 exchange visitors

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[Last update: November 2, 2023]

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