I am in the US as a student. I came on a tourist visa and changed to F1 status. This means that I do not currently have a valid visa in my passport, although I do have a valid I20 and my SEVIS record is fine. According to this website I should be fine for traveling to Puerto Rico, but my school agent says this is risky. She told me that despite the fact that I should be able to go, immigration does spot checks in the Puerto Rico airport and that if an agent stops me, I shouldn't count on them knowing this. They might just look at my passport, see that I have no visa, and I would end up deported. I know that people in my situation sometimes go to Puerto Rico with no problems, but this would be a terrible thing if it happened and I don't want to risk it even in the chance is small. Is she right that there's a small chance this could happen?

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    Even if an ICE agent is unfamiliar with the difference between an expired visa and expired status, you will not be deported. For that to happen, an immigration judge would also need to be unfamiliar with the difference between visa and status, which is supremely unlikely. It is also unlikely that an ICE agent would make this mistake, but, to avoid any hassle, you should follow Michael Hampton's advice as well as the advice on the SEVIS site, and take your I-20 and I-94 with you.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 9:20

1 Answer 1


You only need a visa (or visa waiver) to enter the United States. Once you are admitted, you can legally remain in the US for as long as you remain "in status".

Since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, it is treated purely as domestic travel. So you do not need a visa to travel between the mainland and Puerto Rico, provided you are still in status.

However, you have heard one thing correctly. CBP officers do sometimes check departing passengers at San Juan Airport, as there are some people who illegally enter PR from neighboring islands, and this is their best chance to catch them before they reach the US mainland. When these checks occur, they are generally at the departure gate or even on the jetway.

Provided your immigration status is OK, though, you will have no problem, as you had not departed the US and are not seeking entry again. But it's a good idea to have your valid I-20 and a printout of your I-94 with you anyway, as it may help speed things up if you are checked.

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    If you changed status, you should also have the change of status approval notice.
    – krubo
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 20:58
  • The last time I flew out of SJU (2012), there was no immigration spot check, only the USDA agriculture check and the standard US security/ID/bags check (US driver's license acceptable as ID), but I would not count on it not being there in the future. In reality, you wouldn't be insta-deported just for not having the right documents on you, as plenty of US citizens pass through with just a driver's license. They would investigate and take whatever action they felt appropriate based on what they found, possibly leaving you with an unpleasant experience before being finally let through. Commented May 13, 2019 at 18:07

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