Arriving to the U.S.

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Please reference this page to prepare for your departure and arrival to the U.S.! 

Put your preparation into action!

  • Do not attempt to seek permission to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the program start date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019 form. You may be refused entry!
  • Keep in mind that sometimes luggage is temporarily misplaced. In order to avoid considerable problems if this happens to you, we recommend packing items you need for 2-3 days in your carry-on luggage (extra clothes, money, prescription medication, eyeglasses, contact lenses, personal toiletry items, etc.)
  • Review this list of prohibited and restricted items to bring to the U.S.
  • Review this list of prohibited items to bring into an airplane.
  • Know your legal rights at the airport and port of entry.

Hand carry the following items

  • Passport (Needs to be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected stay.) If your country has an agreement with the U.S., you may be allowed to enter on a current passport up to the actual date of expiration. To learn more, please visit the answer to the question "What if I have an expired passport or one that will expire in less than six months" on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement page. 
  • A valid F-1 student visa (a page on valid or expired passport)
  • SEVIS Form I-20/ DS-2019 - For new students, U.S. Consular Officer may put your I-20/DS-2019 in a sealed envelope, sometimes attached to your passport—Do NOT open the envelope! The CBP officer at the U.S. port of entry will open it.
  • Address of where you live in U.S. (on-campus room assignment info or off-campus address)
  • Contact information of our office:
    • International Student Services
      International Student Services
      University of Washington Tacoma
      Campus Box 358401
      1900 Commerce Street Tacoma, WA 98402-3100
      GWP 102
      Office Hours:
      Office Hours: Mondays - Fridays, 8AM-5PM except during holidays

UW Tacoma Campus Safety and Security Office is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year! Their phone number is: 253-692-4416.

  • In addition, it is strongly recommended that you hand carry the following documents:
    • Evidence of financial resources.
    • Evidence of student status, such as recent tuition receipts, transcripts, letter of acceptance and class schedule.
    • Paper receipt for the SEVIS fee, Form I-797.

What to expect at the Airport

  • Have the following documents available for presentation: a valid passport, a valid student visa, a valid SEVIS Form I-20/DS-2019 or DS, Customs Declaration Form CF-6059 and other recommended documents.
  • When you arrive you will proceed to the customs/inspection area. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will ask you, "what is your purpose in coming to the U.S.?" Inform him or her that you are a new or returning student in the United States. Always answer their questions honestly and directly, but do not provide extra information or documents they do not ask for.
    • If a CBP officer asks you for your social media identifiers, you have the option of listing your usernames. Do not offer your passwords unless you are explicitly asked for them.
    • In extremely rare instances, a CBP officer may ask to see your phone, tablet, laptop, or other device. If this happens, do not argue with him or her because the law currently does not protect travelers from having their belongings searched at borders. Know that anything that has been on your device is subject to search.
  • The CBP officer will process your I-20/DS-2019 form and return it to you, take a digital photo and your fingerprints.
    • If a CBP officer refers you to secondary inspection, this is simply because they need more time to review your documents or a database. Remain calm and be prepared.
    • If a CBP officer gives you an “Order to Appear – Deferred Inspection,” this means that you are missing an important document. It is mandatory that you go to this appointment.
    • If you have issues that the CBP officer describes as “grounds of inadmissibility,” please contact a qualified immigration lawyer.
  • Pick up your baggage at the baggage claim carousel.
  • Proceed through CBP checkpoint and show your Customs Declaration Form (CF-6059) to the CBP officer (your baggage may be examined).
  • If your first entry to the U.S. is at Sea-Tac International Airport, you may need to drop off your baggage once after inspection, take a shuttle train to the Main Terminal Baggage Claim area, and pick up your luggage again there before leaving the airport.


Students should arrange their own transportation from the Seattle Tacoma International Airport to UW Tacoma.

Capital Aeroporter: UW Tacoma student discount is $34 one-way for shared van service.

Capital Aeroporter’s shuttle leaves from the far end of the terminal building (arrival floor) near the baggage claim carousel #1. There are several desks for different shuttle companies. Capital Aeroporter's counter is located inside the building near Door #00. A person who works at the desk is not always there but he/she will always come out 5-10 minutes before the departure time of each shuttle. Just show them your reservation confirmation and they will take care of you. There are a lot of students who take this shuttle so they know what to do even if you don’t explain details. If you are late for your reservation, they will just put you on the next shuttle available with no additional fee so no need to panic. To learn more, please visit the CapitalAeroporter’s site.

Shuttle Express: Around $60 for one-way shared van service.

Taxi: Taxis are always available at the airport and a typical taxi fare from Sea-Tac airport to downtown Tacoma should be around $70. In addition, you will need to tip your driver for at least 10% of the charge.

Ride Share: app-based services like Lyft and Uber are available at the airport, but you must download their apps on your phone in advance and pay through the app. A shared ride from Sea-Tac airport to downtown Tacoma will cost between $45-90, depending on traffic. In addition, you should tip your driver for at least 10% of the charge. Both services offer a discount code you can apply for your first ride. Look for the Rideshare Pick-up Zone inside the third floor of the parking garage.

Public Bus: While the bus is much less expensive, it may be stressful with lots of luggage, so we don’t recommend this option for your first arrival. Bus 574 from Sea-Tac airport takes you to the Tacoma Dome Station, about 5 minutes from campus. Free transfer to an inner-city light rail brings you to campus. Check bus schedules and fees at:

Disclaimer: International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) does not endorse any off-campus entities. ISSS is not responsible for the contents of any linked sites nor services provided by off-campus entities.

Lodging for Family and Friends

If you, your family and friends are looking for a temporary lodging, here are some hotels that are walking distance from the UW Tacoma campus.

Disclaimer: International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) does not endorse any off-campus entities. ISSS is not responsible for the contents of any linked sites nor services provided by off-campus entities.