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Permanent Resident vs. Citizen: What’s the Difference?

Learn the differences between lawful permanent residency and citizenship

Apr 9, 2024

New US Citizen Passport

When moving to a new country, people often encounter terms like “Permanent Resident” and “Citizen.” While both statuses allow you to reside in a country legally, they carry distinct rights, responsibilities, and implications.

Permanent Resident Status

Permanent Resident status (also known as a “Green Card” in the U.S.) is a legal designation granted to foreign nationals in many countries. It signifies a long-term right to reside in the host country, with certain limitations. Here are some key features of lawful Permanent Resident status:

  • Residency Rights: Permanent Residents are allowed to live and work in the host country indefinitely, as long as they comply with the laws and regulations. They have the right to reside in the country’s territory but may need to renew their residency status periodically. For example, U.S. green cards expire and must be renewed every 10 years. 
  • Work and Study: Permanent Residents typically have the freedom to work and study in the host country without requiring additional permits. Certain jobs, especially those with security clearance or government positions, may be restricted to citizens.
  • Access to Social Services: Permanent Residents are entitled to various social services such as healthcare, education, and social welfare programs, similar to citizens. However, there may be some differences in eligibility criteria or benefits provided between Permanent Residents and citizens. 
  • Travel: While Permanent Residents can travel freely within the host country, they may have restrictions on international travel. They usually need a valid passport (from their country of nationality) and a Permanent Resident card or equivalent documentation to re-enter the country after traveling abroad. For more information, Boundless put together a guide on traveling outside the U.S. as a green card holder. 
  • Pathway to Citizenship: In most countries, Permanent Residents have the option to apply for citizenship after meeting certain residency requirements, such as living in the country for a specified period and passing a citizenship test.

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Citizenship represents the highest legal status in a country, offering full rights, privileges, and responsibilities. Unlike Permanent Resident status, citizenship is typically acquired through birth, descent, or naturalization. Here are some key attributes that set citizenship apart from permanent residency:

  • Right to Vote: Citizens have the fundamental right to participate in the democratic process by voting in elections and referendums. This right is exclusive to citizens and is not extended to Permanent Residents or other non-citizen residents.
  • Passport and Consular Protection: Citizens are entitled to obtain a passport from their country of citizenship, which facilitates international travel and provides consular protection and assistance abroad.
  • Eligibility for Public Office: Citizens can run for elected office and hold positions in government. These positions are reserved exclusively for citizens due to their significance in shaping national policies and governance.
  • Permanent Residency for Family: Citizens often have the ability to sponsor family members for permanent residency or citizenship in their country. This provision facilitates family reunification and is one of the benefits of citizenship.
  • Allegiance and Obligations: Citizens owe allegiance to their country and are also subject to its laws, regulations, and duties. These duties could include military service (in countries with mandatory conscription), taxation, and jury duty. These obligations are intrinsic to citizenship and help to distinguish citizens from non-citizens.

The Bottom Line

While both Permanent Residents and Citizens have legal permission to reside in a country, they differ significantly in terms of rights, privileges, and obligations. 

Permanent Resident status offers long-term residency, but falls short of the full spectrum of benefits and responsibilities associated with citizenship. Citizenship, on the other hand, represents a deeper integration into a country, with rights such as voting and eligibility for public office, as well as obligations like allegiance and military service.

Boundless helps you build a tailored visa plan for every step of the process, from forms to your immigration interview.