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Form I-94, Explained

How the I-94 arrival/departure record keeps track of your travel history — and why it matters

What is the Form I-94?

Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record Card) is a crucial document U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issues to track people entering and exiting the United States.  Here’s why it’s important:

  • It serves as proof that you entered the country legally as a non-citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • It specifies the date by which you must depart the U.S. This is especially important for non-immigrants, such as students or scholars, whose stay is limited to a specific period.
  • The I-94 document also indicates the authorized duration of your stay in the U.S., which can be helpful for employers who are verifying your employment eligibility.
Image of a computer with I-94 Record on the screen

Historically, the I-94 was a small white paper card that visitors surrendered upon leaving the country. Currently, most visitors arriving by air or sea have electronic I-94 records. If you arrive by land, you may still receive a paper version. In this article, we’ll explain how it works.

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Who Needs an I-94 Form?

Here’s a breakdown of who needs an I-94 form:

  • Most people traveling to the U.S. who aren’t citizens: This includes tourists, students, temporary workers, exchange visitors, etc
  • Individuals who are adjusting their status while in the U.S.
  • Individuals planning to extend their current non-immigrant stay in the U.S.
  • Non-citizens returning to the U.S.

You do not need an I-94 travel record if you are:

  • A U.S. Citizen
  • A Lawful permanent resident (green card holder)
  • An individual with an immigrant visa
  • A Canadian citizen visiting or in transit
  • Travelers under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP); they get an I-94W instead, which is usually processed online

Most people entering the United States who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents get an I-94 travel record form automatically issued to them upon arrival.

Exceptions are made for those entering on the Visa Waiver Program or Compact of Free Association, using Border Crossing Cards, re-entering using automatic visa revalidation (a system used by some visa-holders who briefly visit Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean), or entering temporarily as part of an airline flight crew.

Immigration Glossary

  • Visa Waiver Program: A program that lets citizens of certain countries visit the U.S. for tourism or business for up to 90 days without needing a traditional visa.
  • Border Crossing Cards: These cards function like visas for some Mexican citizens, allowing them to visit the U.S. for short periods.
  • Automatic Visa Revalidation: A special rule that lets people with certain visas make quick trips to Canada, Mexico, or some Caribbean islands without needing a new visa to re-enter the U.S.

IMPORTANT: Some people who aren’t required to have an I-94 travel record must instead fill out Form I-94W (for visitors using visa waivers) or Form I-95 (for flight crew members). These forms have a similar purpose to a regular I-94. Upon arrival, check with the CBP Officer if you think this might apply to you.

The U.S. immigration system can seem complicated, but Boundless can guide you through the whole process from start to finish. Get started today!


How Do I Get an I-94 Card?

How you get an I-94, depends on how you enter the U.S. If you enter by land, you’ll receive a paper I-94 card. If you enter by sea or air, you won’t receive a paper I-94 but will instead receive an electronic I-94 record.

Arriving by air or sea

Most visitors entering the U.S. by air or sea will have an electronic I-94 record automatically created for them when they go through customs. When you arrive in the United States, you’ll show your passport and visa to a CBP agent, who will enter your information into an electronic tracking system. They will then stamp your passport, to show you entered the U.S. lawfully.

You’ll probably receive printed instructions about how to access your electronic I-94, but using the CBP’s online system, you can easily view your travel record and download or print a copy for your records.

Arriving by land

If you arrive at a land border crossing, you’ll likely receive a small, white paper I-94 card. A CBP officer will fill it out and usually staple it into your passport. To save time at the border, you can apply for an I-94 before you come to the U.S. through CBP’s online system. Note, there is a $6 fee for this.

Important:

Whether electronic or paper, be sure to keep your I-94 safe. You will need to hand in the paper version when leaving the U.S., so the U.S. government can track your departure and know that you left the country before your visa expired. Also, you may need this form for things like applying for a driver’s license, getting a job, or changing your immigration status.


Understanding the I-94 travel history

I-94 travel history is essentially a log of your past entries and exits when coming and going from the U.S. It’s tracked through your I-94 records. It includes details around the dates you arrived and departed from the U.S., the ports of entry and exit, your class of admission (e.g., your reason for visiting) such as tourism, student visa, etc. It also includes how long you were authorized to stay on each visit.

Both your stamped passport and your electronic or paper I-94 record will show your “Admit Until Date,” which shows how long you are allowed to remain in the United States. The CBP agent who stamps your passport may simply write “Duration of Status” or “D/S,” which indicates that you’re allowed to remain in the United States as long as your current visa remains valid.

Why it’s important

Your I-94 travel history can be important for several reasons:

  • It shows that you have entered the country legally in the past.
  • If you’re applying to change or adjust your immigration status, you may need to provide your I-94 travel history as supporting documentation.
  • If there are any errors or issues with your immigration record, the travel history can help clarify them.

Where to find your I-94 travel history

You can access your I-94 travel history on the CBP website. You’ll usually see your last 5 years of travel history, but you can request a full history if needed.

If you extend your stay or adjust your status after arriving in the United States — such as by gaining a green card — then U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will issue a new I-94 or other documentation to reflect your new situation. In such cases, the new documentation will be your primary way of showing your lawful status.

I-94 arrival-departure record number

Once CBP approves your lawful entry and issues the I-94 form, a unique code will be assigned to your record. This number is linked to a specific entrance and reason for visiting the United States, so you’ll receive a different I-94 number each time you arrive in the country. The number, which you can find on your paper I-94 card or on your electronic record, may sometimes be required by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or your employer may need it for their records.

If you need to replace a Form I-94, you can do it on the CBP website or by calling CBP at 1-877-CBP-5511 (1-877-227-5511) Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time. 

Until May 2019, I-94 numbers were an 11-digit string of numbers. Now, though, CBP has switched to using an 11-character alphanumeric code — a mix of numbers and letters. You won’t need to worry about this, since unexpired I-94 forms based on the old numeric system will remain valid until their “Admit Until Date” has passed.


How Much Does the I-94 Form Cost?

There is no fee for the I-94 form. That’s true whether you’re arriving by land, air, or sea, and regardless of whether you get a paper or electronic record.

If you’re arriving at a land border port of entry, you can optionally apply online for a provisional I-94 one week or less before your arrival date. Applying for a provisional I-94 costs $6, but can streamline the arrival process and minimize the time you spend waiting in line at the border.

Obtaining a copy of your I-94 travel record is also free if you entered the United States after April 2013. For earlier records, you can request a copy by submitting Form I-102 (officially called the “Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document”) and paying a $560 filing fee.

While an I-94 travel record is free, immigrating can be expensive. Learn the costs for common USCIS forms and fees here.


Where to Get a Copy of Your I-94

How to Replace a Lost I-94 Form
If you cannot locate either your passport containing your admission stamp and visa or your I-94 travel record, you may request these records from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but the method you must follow depends on when you arrived in the United States:

  • If you entered the United States before April 2013, you may request a replacement of your I-94 by submitting Form I-102 (officially called the “Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document”). You must mail your completed form to USCIS and pay a filing fee of $560.
  • If you entered the United States after April 2013, you may request a copy of your most recent I-94 and travel history from the past five years from CBP. There is no cost for this service.

Although the above options are the fastest ways to obtain your records, you may instead request the release of your records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Processing this request, however, can take up to one year.

There are three ways to submit a FOIA request:

  • Complete an online form. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides an online submission form that it will forward to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) once completed. Alternatively, you can make the same request to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but CBP generally processes such requests much faster.
  • Complete a paper form. USCIS also provides a paper form (G-639) for this procedure, but it is generally not required and takes much longer than an online request through CBP. If you choose this option, you must follow the specific instructions on the form.
  • Write to USCIS. If you prefer, you can also write your request and mail or fax it to the National Records Center of USCIS.

If you choose the third option, you must submit your request with the following:

  • Your full name, address, and phone number
  • A detailed description of the records you seek (be as specific as possible)
  • A statement of your willingness to pay any fees associated with the request
  • Your signature witnessed by a notary public

Alternative Documents

If you cannot produce your travel records through one of the above options, DHS will presume that you entered the United States unlawfully (officially termed “without inspection”). In such cases, you must instead submit both of the following:

  • A notarized personal affidavit (written statement) in which you fully explain why the documents are not available
  • Any other evidence that supports your claim that you entered the United States lawfully (for example, an airline receipt of your plane ticket, your boarding pass from the day you traveled to the United States, or a copy of one of your parents’ passports showing an admission stamp and visa if you arrived with them)

If other evidence is also not available, you must submit at least two additional notarized personal affidavits (written statements) from other people who have personal knowledge of your lawful entry to the United States.

All affidavits, including those from you and other people, should explain the following in detail:

  • When and where you entered the United States
  • What travel documents you had, if any
  • Whether you showed your travel documents to the U.S. immigration officer who inspected you
  • Any questions the immigration officer asked you
  • Any other details you can provide about your entry to the United States

Form I-94 FAQs

It’s easy to access your I-94 form using CBP’s online portal. You’ll need to make sure you enter your information — such as your name and passport details — correctly in order to log on.

If you can’t find your I-94 travel record using the online system, check here for official guidance on how to make sure you’re entering your information correctly, and to get further assistance if necessary.

If there’s an error in your I-94 travel record, you’ll need to contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to make the correction. You can schedule an in-person interview at a local USCIS office, or call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283 for more information.

Note that if the error was made when you first entered the United States, you’ll need to visit a local CBP deferred inspection site or port of entry to have it changed.

It’s worth keeping a hard copy of your I-94 travel record in a safe place. To download or print out a copy of your I-94 card, simply log onto the CBP’s I-94 website and follow the on-screen instructions.

Electronic travel records are convenient in most cases, but things can get complicated if you receive an electronic record after arriving in the United States by sea or by air, but then leave the country at a land border crossing. At land borders, departures are still primarily tracked using paper I-94 travel records, so if you have an electronic record your departure may not be automatically recorded.

In such cases, you’ll want to make sure you have another way to prove that you left the country before your visa expired. One option is to request an entrance stamp in your passport from the Canadian or Mexican authorities. You can also keep transport tickets, receipts, or pay stubs to show that you left the United States before your visa expired.

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