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I am going to start a phd at the US with an F1 visa. University told me that I could enter the US only 30 days before the date on I-20. Since English is not my first language (and this would be a big change in my life) I would like to go there by June.

The thing is that I have an European passport with a valid ESTA. My plan would be to arrive with this passport, stay 4-6 weeks , go to Canada for a short vacation (maybe flight maybe by land) and come back to the USA with F1 visa.

I have two questions about this:

1) is this possible?

2) If yes, how could I justify knowing I will lose my come-back flight during my first entry? (I would purchase round trip because one-way are too expensive, probably with less than 90 days difference)

  • What is the purpose of your visit to the US? – Michael Hampton Mar 30 '16 at 0:28
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    Many, I would like to get a 24/7 english speaking experience (so that my head doesn't explode at september), I would like to get to know the place and near-by towns (I'm going to a college town and I want to figure out what would be the best place to live), I also was tempted by my future advisor to spend some time at the lab to get used to it. – Matias Andina Mar 30 '16 at 0:34
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Your university will strongly recommend that you do not attempt to do this.

It's technically possible to visit the US as a tourist while intending to leave and return on your student visa, and many people have done this. US embassies will even advise that this is allowed.

You may also make your initial entry on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) if you qualify. Those entering on the VWP must have return or an onward ticket out of the U.S. and you must make your intentions to enter only as a tourist clear to the inspector at the Port of Entry. Under either option, you must depart the United States prior to the start of your program and reenter on the student/exchange visa no more than 30 days before the start of your program.

What is not allowed in this circusmtance is to do something related to your studies when you enter under the VWP or B-2 visa. Spending time at the lab or looking for housing, for instance, are definitely not allowed. You are at a very high risk of being refused entry if you intend to do things of this nature, or if you are carrying evidence that suggests you may do these things (and on your proposed itinerary, you will be carrying such evidence).

Most all of the arrangements you will need to make with respect to living in the US while studying can be done remotely, or well within the 30 day window. Especially in university towns, it is possible to rent an apartment the same day you discover its availability.

If your advisor wants you to spend time at the lab prior to your current start date, you may wish to see if he can help you change your program start date to an earlier date. This will allow you to enter legally as a student earlier than you can do so now.

  • let me get this straight, yes visit, yes go to canada for holiday, yes come back. NO LAB (I was not going to actually work, needless to say work for money or study. Just visit, get to know the people and stuff I thought all scientific visitors are allowed to do using B2 visas like go to seminars and talks), NO RENTING (I wasn't going to rent anyway). I'm worried about "carrying evidence" what are you exactly talking about? – Matias Andina Mar 30 '16 at 3:17
  • Also, my university recommended me to use this strategy so I am a little bit confused. Again, I'm not planning to work/study. I want to spend time, visit people, yes I expect to pay a visit to campus and the labs of people who invite me but again, it would be an invitation, something more like a tour but longer. – Matias Andina Mar 30 '16 at 3:19
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    The evidence could be your I-20 and any other documents you will be carrying relative to your university program. If you really aren't planning to work or study, then you should be all right. But I wanted to make sure that you are aware of what could go wrong. – Michael Hampton Mar 30 '16 at 3:30
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    Is looking for somewhere to live for the future really forbidden under the VWP/B1/B2? – CMaster Mar 30 '16 at 9:43
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    @MatiasAndina If you said that to the CBP officer, he would probably let you in. Obviously I can't make any guarantees. – Michael Hampton Mar 30 '16 at 19:54

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