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Visas and Passports

How Visas are Used

A visa is a document showing that a person is authorized to enter or leave the area for which it was issued and is subject to an immigration official's permission at the time of actual entry. The authorization is commonly a stamp endorsed in the applicant's passport, but it may also be a document to accompany a passport. A visa generally gives non-citizens clearance to enter a country and remain there within specified constraints, such as a time frame for entry, a limit on time spent in the country, and a prohibition against employment. A visa application in advance of arrival allows the country to consider the applicant's circumstances, such as the reason for applying, details of previous visits to the country, and financial security. Some countries also require a Letter of Introduction.

Visa and U.S. Passport Processing Services

Preferred Vendor: Travel Document Systems

Members of the Cornell community traveling for business or personal reasons are encouraged to take advantage of Cornell's preferred visa and U.S. passport processing services vendor, Travel Document Systems (TDS). Cornell travelers receive a 25% discount on processing fees.

First-time users will need to create an account on the new order page on Cornell's TDS website.

  • Faculty or staff on Cornell business have the option to pay online or send a check. If you select "by check," TDS will send you an invoice, which you can submit for payment via an I Want Doc. You will need to request payment *immediately* upon receiving the invoice.
  • Faculty or staff on personal business should pay by credit card at the time the ordered is placed.
  • Students need to pay via credit card at the time the order is placed.

Support services offered by TDS:

  • Provide detailed information regarding what is required for visa application
  • Answer any questions
  • Receive visa applications, passports, photos, etc.
  • Ensure accuracy and completeness; this avoids delays
  • (In most cases) hand deliver to the visa-granting agency
  • Follow up as necessary to receive the visas
  • Return all documents to Cornell
  • Expedited and urgent services are available

Support services offered by Cornell staff:

  • Complete and sign an application (all applicants must sign their own)
  • Request and gather all of the information, by a “third party,” such as an administrative assistant or trip organizer, or the applicant directly
  • Submit the application materials (application form(s), passport, photos, etc.), multiple applications may be submitted together

Note: a third party may fill in most of the information if the general information is the same for everyone. Nevertheless, the applicants themselves must sign the application and provide their passport.

Users may track their order through the "Check Order Status" link.

Travel Preparation

  • Entry and exit requirements for all countries can be found in the country-specific information provided by the United States State Department.
  • Apply early for a passport, or renew your old one. It should be valid for at least six months after your anticipated return date and needs a minimum of two or more blank pages. Otherwise, some countries may not let you enter. 
  • Make sure to obtain the proper visa prior to traveling. Conducting research or teaching under a tourist visa could jeopardize your ability to return to your destination in the future.
  • Consider the nature of your activity to assess the type of immigration documentation needed.
  • Each country's visa and passport requirements are different and depend on your citizenship, the reason for travel, length of stay, and the number of entries required. 
  • Apply for a visa early to avoid delays or disruptions in your travel. 

Proof of Evacuation and Repatriation Coverage  

If you're required to show proof of evacuation and repatriation coverage in order to obtain a visa or other travel document, you may print a Certificate of Assistance from Cornell's International SOS online portal.

International Students and Scholars Traveling Abroad

International students and scholars should always consult international service advisors at the Office of Global Learning before leaving the U.S. to ensure you can return to the country without incident. For example, if you have a single-entry U.S. visa and you plan to return to the U.S., you will need to obtain a new U.S. visa while you are abroad. 

For the latest information and resources to support those with questions and concerns about recent U.S. executive actions visit U.S. Immigration News and Travel Bans.

Traveling to Cuba? Visit our Cuba resource page.