Restrictions International Students Should Be Aware Of


Ed Zaleck | Jan 30, 2024 Student Life

As international students, coming to the U.S. provides countless opportunities as you continue your academic journey. Though you’ll have a multitude of resources offered through your program and have many special experiences to take advantage of across the U.S., international students will have some restrictions to be wary of during their time abroad.

From visa limitations to employment challenges, international students navigate a regulatory maze that influences their ability to work, travel, and build a future in the United States. To make sure you’re aware of these restrictions, we’ve prepared a list of things to note below.

F1 Visa Limitations

The first limitation to note is the most obvious – it takes a lot of regulatory hurdles to get a visa or change your status in the U.S. If you’re currently an F1 student, you’ll understand how difficult it is to get a college acceptance and then have to go through an interview process on top of that. The same goes for a majority of other visa and immigrant statuses in the U.S.

If something happens during your studies and you withdraw/are removed from your program prematurely, you will only have 15 days to leave the US – which leaves little to no option but to return home and apply for a visa again.

To maintain your status, attend classes on a full-time basis (12+ credits) for the duration of your F1 period. You can only attend part-time for your last semester if you only need part-time enrollment to complete your degree program. Needless to say - make sure you are not breaking any laws or violating your school’s code of conduct as it can result in automatic termination of your visa.

It should be noted there is a 60 day “grace period” after your F1 visa ends where you are allowed to stay in the U.S. You must update your status before the end of this if you want to stay any longer.

Finding Employment During Your Studies

One of the biggest restrictions international students tend to struggle with is the issue of finding a job during their studies. Unless you apply for CPT or pre-completion OPT, you are not authorized to work a paid job off-campus.

To add to the restrictions - you must complete at least one year of full-time studies to apply for CPT or pre-completion OPT. Plus, applying to either of these statuses can affect your ability to apply for post-completion OPT.

With this, the only reliable option students have to make money is to work on-campus. Any on-campus job you accept must meet the following restrictions:

  • Your job must not displace a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR).
  • You can only work 20 hours per week maximum while school is in session. Full-time work (40 hours/week) is allowed during summer/when school is not in session.
  • You will be expected to pay taxes on your income and will generally be expected to apply for a Social Security number through your DSO (though this is not always required)

Students do have the option to work unpaid internships without applying for a new status, but there are certain restrictions on this too which can be referenced here.

Employment Challenges After Graduation

Though changing status generally takes a lot of time and effort, the transition to apply for F1 OPT after graduation is not as difficult. However, there are still restrictions to note - mainly being:

  • You must work a job in the area of your field of study
  • You can only work and receive payment for the period listed on your EAD card (though you can work unpaid prior)
  • F1 OPT is only offered for 12 months, though those in STEM can apply for an additional 24 months
  • You can only be unemployed for 90 days during your OPT period

The best way to avoid any issues with these is to stay in constant contact with your school’s DSO and let them know of any changes to your employment status or address.

Travel Limitations

With an F1 visa, there are few restrictions when it comes to leaving and re-entering the US. Typically, if you leave the US for less than 5 months, you will just be asked to show a valid passport, your I-20 and F1 visa.

If you travel for longer than 5 months, it is considered a break in your status, so you would need to get issued a new I-20 (which includes paying a new SEVIS fee) even if your F1 visa is still valid according to the effective dates.

Once your F1 visa expires, you cannot re-enter the US unless you return from Canada, Mexico or the US adjacent islands (assuming you were gone for less than 30 days). Outside of this, you would be expected to be re-issued a new F1 visa by your home country embassy to re-enter.

Healthcare Access

Getting medical services can sometimes be tricky as an international student. If you do not have insurance, non-emergency medical providers are allowed to deny you from making an appointment.

This is why it’s important to have health insurance for your full stay in the US, even if your school does not require it. ISO plans provide plans meant to meet your school’s waiver requirements and have plans for F1 OPT as well.

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About ISO Student Health Insurance

Founded in 1958, ISO prides itself on being the leader in providing international students with affordable insurance plans. Administered by former and current international students, we are able to assist our member with multilingual customer service in Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, and more. ISO serves over 3,200 schools/colleges and more than 150,000 insured students every year.

For more information, please visit and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn.

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