Yes you can travel in the US after your F-1 student visa expires – if you prepare carefully.
We recently received an inquiry from a young student finishing up her studies at a University of California campus who was from a European country. Her student status was about to expire. Although she knew she had a grace period of 60 days, she wanted more time to travel and visit friends across the U.S. She asked if she could leave the U.S. and re-enter the U.S. from Canada for up to 90 days on the visa waiver program. The answer is: YES provided she completes the ESTA registration process and provided she carries with her and presents the following documents:
- Valid passport
- Evidence of financial means to support herself while in the U.S. This could be accomplished by print-outs from her bank account at home; and
- Evidence of domicile abroad to which she intends to return. Domicile refers to one’s abode or ones normal place of residence. Since she was a young woman who did not own property I advised her to bring a letter of current employment from home as well as a letter from her parents confirming that she lived with them and that they owned their own home and that no close family member was in the U.S.
This type of evidence is specified in the federal regulation. We also suggested that she carry a copy of the regulation with her: 8 CFR Section 217.2(c)(2).
An alternative for her would be to apply for a change of status from F-1 to B-2 visitor status while in the U.S.