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I will be starting my PhD program in the US as an international student in the fall season. On my I20 it says

Start of classes: 21 August 2018

Earliest admission date: 22 July 2018

My program requires me to attend a "head start program" which begins on the 23rd July. If I am interpreting "Earliest admission date" correctly, this is the earliest date I can get into the US. This means I only have one day to get into the US and set up.

I erroneously thought I had 3 months before the start of classes (I think I confused this with when I can apply for the visa) so I booked my tickets to arrive in the US on July 13th. I am from Australia so I need to take two flights to get to the state I need to go to. Both of these flights are with different carriers. It appears both of these flights are non refundable.

I am not optimistic in recovering even half of my money, but I thought I might as well see what options I have in order to minimise the financial impact. I will be entering the US on an F1 visa.

Any answers are greatly appreciated.

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    Ask both carriers what it would cost to change your flight dates. Might be less than you think. Even if not, better to find out for sure. Be aware the price can change over time. – user16259 Jun 6 '18 at 10:46
  • "Getting set up" to the extent of being able to attend your first class doesn't take any time. Just think of how many people fly into a country and go to a business meeting the next day. – David Richerby Jun 6 '18 at 17:50
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    We don't need to close this question as off-topic. Sure, the asker wants to visit the US long-term to study but that's irrelevant to their actual question, which is what they can do about having bought the wrong ticket. The answer is surely exacly the same as it would be if they were visiting for tourism and booked flights that arrive before their visa validity. – David Richerby Jun 6 '18 at 17:52
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A bunch of options:

  1. You could try to get your F1 Visa time shifted. You need to call the consulate and ask if this is possible. Visa appointments for student Visas in Sydney only have a 1-2 day wait time, so that feels worth trying
  2. Change your flights. Call the airline and ask or try online. In most cases, you will have to pay a change fee plus/minus any difference in actual ticket prices. If this is a single booking with a single ticket number (even if it's two separate airlines), you have to pay change fee once. For two different tickets/bookings you have to pay it twice. Rough estimated would be US$300 for an international and US$200 for a domestic flight
  3. You can scrap the tickets and buy a new one. One way ticket from SYD to BOS (example) on Jul 22, will cost you about US$1000. DON'T do this if your original tickets are return tickets and you are planning to use the return legs. If you don't take the first flight, the remaining flights will be cancelled unless you pay a change fee.
  4. Talk to the school and see if there is a way around being physically present during the "head start" program. Attend remotely, make it up during some night shifts, waive it, do some substitute work, etc.
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In addition to Hilmar's suggestions, you could also consider coming to the US in mid-July, and entering as a tourist. On July 20 or 21, leave the US and cross the border into Canada or Mexico. Spend at least one night outside the US. On July 22, enter the US on your F1 student visa.

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Talk to the international students office at your school first. If you're required to be present on July 23, they may be able to update the program start date accordingly.

As explained in Understanding SEVIS Program and Session Dates, you're allowed to enter the US 30 days before your program start date ("Date orientation or required activities start"), and that can be up to 30 days before classes start (the "Initial Session Start" date). If they're able to set your program start date to July 23rd, the date your mandatory orientation begins, you could enter the US on July 13th as planned, which will give you a little bit of time to get settled first.

  • would that automatically amend the OP's i20 to reflect the new date? – David Jun 7 '18 at 3:35
  • @David This is getting pretty far outside my area of knowledge, but I think the office would have to then issue a new I-20 after changing the date. I'm not sure whether that would require a new visa, which would be an inconvenience, but perhaps less of an inconvenience than having to change their plane tickets and enter the US the day before their program starts. – Zach Lipton Jun 7 '18 at 3:46

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