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Traveling Outside the U.S. as a Green Card Holder

Requirements for traveling abroad as a U.S. permanent resident

Travel outside U.S. with a green card

Can I travel outside the U.S. with a green card?

Yes, you can travel abroad as a green card holder — that’s one of the many benefits of being a permanent resident. However, your trip must be temporary and you cannot remain outside the United States for more than 1 year. If the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer believes you do not intend to continue living permanently in the United States, they could revoke your status as a permanent resident.

In this guide, we’ll go over which documents you’ll need and provide tips for traveling outside the United States as a permanent resident.

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Required Documents

when you leave

You’ll want to be absolutely sure you have the necessary documents when leaving the country. Most green card holders will need to present the passport from the country where they’re a citizen, or in some cases, their refugee travel document.

You should also be sure to have your green card on you for the duration of the trip. And remember different countries have different requirements for entry. You may find that some countries require you to have a visa upon arrival. It’s a good idea to contact the embassy for the country you intend to visit.

Check out the U.S. Department of State’s “Before You Go” webpage for general information on traveling abroad.

when you come back

When returning to the United States, you’ll need your green card (officially called Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card) and your passport. You may also present other identifying documents such as a U.S. driver’s license or a foreign national I.D. The CBP officer will look over these documents to determine whether or not you can reenter the country.

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Applying for a Reentry Permit

If your trip will be longer than a year, it’s a good idea to submit Form I-131 (officially called “Application for Travel Document”) in order to apply for a reentry permit. With this permit, you can be admitted into the United States, and you won’t need to obtain a returning resident visa from the U.S. Embassy. While this document doesn’t guarantee successful admittance into the U.S., it can serve as evidence demonstrating your intent to live permanently in the United States.

It’s important to note that the reentry permit expires after 2 years. So if you think you might be out of the country for longer, you can apply for an SB-1 (officially called a “Returning Resident Visa”). To do this, you can go to the local U.S. Embassy or consulate. As a part of the application process, you’ll need to get a medical exam and demonstrate your eligibility to receive an immigrant visa.

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If this happens, you can file Form I-131A (officially called “Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation)”). With the carrier documentation you should be able to fly back to the United States without receiving any sort of penalty. Form I-131A may also be helpful if you’ve been away for more than 2 years and you’ve lost your reentry permit.

Traveling abroad will, in most cases, have little to no impact on your permanent resident status. That being said, your trip must be temporary, and you must have every intention of returning to the United States. If the CBP officer suspects you do not intend to live permanently in the U.S., they could revoke your status as a permanent resident. When making their decision, the officer may consider whether:

  • You’ve been gone for more than a year
  • You still have a job in the U.S.
  • You still have connections to friends and family in the United States
  • You’ve filed income taxes as a resident of the United States
  • You intended to take a temporary trip abroad
  • You’ve previously communicated your intention to continue living permanently in the United States
  • You have U.S. bank accounts
  • You own property or manage a business in the U.S.
  • You have a U.S. driver’s license
  • You have a U.S. mailing address

This list is not exhaustive. The CBP officer may consider other documentation when determining whether you truly intended to take a temporary trip abroad.

If you’re out of the country for 6 months or longer, you may have issues satisfying the continuous residency requirement. If you plan on leaving the country for more than a year, you can submit Form N-470 (officially called “Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes”).

As a reminder, as part of the naturalization process, you have to show one of the following:

  • That you have resided continuously in the United States for 5 years prior to submitting the application
  • That you have resided continuously in the United States for 3 years (for qualified spouses of U.S. citizens)

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