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The complete guide to Form I-94

Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) indicates the length of time that you are permitted to remain in the U.S. and proves that you arrived legally in the country. In this article, we provide an overview and general guidelines on the Form I-94.

Traveling to the United States often involves either getting your passport stamped or receiving a white card, also known as Form I-194 or a “white card.” Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) indicates the length of time that you are permitted to remain in the U.S. and proves that you arrived legally in the country. In this article, we provide an overview and general guidelines on Form I-94.

What is Form I-94?

Generally, foreign nationals who enter the U.S. by air or by sea receive an admission stamp in their passport, as well as have their passport scanned to generate an electronic I-94 arrival record. This electronic record will contain the same information found on the paper version of Form I-94. Accessing the electronic form is as easy as visiting the Customs and Border Protection after you have been admitted to the country.

Foreign nationals who cross a land border to enter the United States will be issued an I-94 card upon their arrival. Therefore, if you enter the country from Canada or Mexico, for example, you should be issued an I-94 at the point of entry. As such, you will not be issued an electronic record of your Arrival/ Departure Record. This is because, generally, CPB is not aware that you will be arriving before you actually arrive.

As of September of 2016, however, CBP began offering foreign nationals who arrive by land the option to let CBP know of their arrival in advance. By doing so (and by paying a $6 fee), noncitizens who arrive by land can have an electronic Arrival/Departure Record issued at land ports of entry.

Form I-94 will also be issued to aliens who are adjusting their status while they are in the United States and who are extending their stay in the country.

Having a copy of your Form I-94 is important, as it proves your legal visa status in the United States. When you depart the United States, you will need to present your Arrival/Departure Record. 

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Issuance of Form I-94 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) use Form I-94 to keep track of the arrival and departure of foreign nationals who visit the U.S.

CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) processes the entry and departure of foreign nationals at land, air and sea. OFO agents also process entry and departure at deferred inspection sites. Note that the OFO is different from the U.S. Border Patrol. Border Patrol literally patrols U.S. borders to monitor and control unlawful border crossing.

Form I-94 can be issued at either a U.S. port of entry or at a deferred inspection site.

Ports of entry

At U.S. ports of entry, you will be screened by a CBP OFO officer. The officer will assess your documentation, such as your passport, your visa and any other pertinent information to determine whether or not you can be legally admitted into the United States.

If, after assessing your documentation, the CBP OFO officer concludes that you can be admitted into the country, you will be issued a Form I-94.

Deferred inspection site 

If, for any reason, an OFO officer cannot determine whether or not you should be admitted to the country at a port of entry, you will be asked to complete the process of being entered into the country at a deferred inspection site.

In this case, the officer will issue you a Form I-546 (Order to Appear for Deferred Inspection), as well as a temporary arrival record, which will be valid for 30 days at most. The process of gaining admission into the country and the issuance of a longer term Arrival/Departure record will need to be completed at a deferred inspection site. 

Electronic arrival/departure record

Your electronic Form I-94 will be issued based on (1) the information you provided when you applied for your visa or (2) the information you provided to your airline or ship carrier.

Upon entering the U.S., a CPB OFO officer will scan your passport and place an admission stamp on it. This stamp will indicate the date you were admitted into the country, the date you must depart and your visa status.

Since you will not be issued an electronic Form I-94 with the information you presented, you are not required to complete a paper version of this form.

Printing an electronic Form I-94

Even if your I-94 is issued electronically, there are many instances in which you may need a hard copy of your arrival record, such as applying for a driver’s license or a government benefit.

You can print a hard copy of your electronic form from the CBP website. To print the form, you will need to have the information found in your passport, on your visa and on other travel documents (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, for example). 

Paper arrival/departure record

Enter the U.S. at a land port of entry means you will be issued a paper Form I-94. You will need to acquire a paper version of the document before entering the country, complete the arrival portion of the document and present it to a CBP agent at a port of entry.

The CBP agent will assess your Form I-94 and will retain the arrival record. The departure record will be stamped with the necessary information, such as: 

  • Your departure number (the number that CBP will process when you depart the country)

  • Your visa class

  • The duration of stay, or the “date of entry” or the “admitted until” date, which indicates how long you are permitted to remain in the country. If your departure record is stamped with a “D/S” (Duration of Status), you can remain in the country as long as you continue to maintain a valid non-immigrant visa status. Typically, a D/S is issued on H, L, F,and J visas.

The takeaway

CBP will record the date that you departed the United States on the departure part of your Form I-94.

If you received an electronic Form I-94, you are not required to do anything when you leave the country, as CBP will automatically record your departure information.

If you received a paper Form I-94, you will need to surrender your departure record with an official at the airline carrier or ship you are taking. The official will then forward your Form I-94 to CBP.

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