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Can a Person with a Green Card Travel Outside the United States?

If you are living in the United States as a legal permanent resident (LPR), meaning you have a green card, travel outside of the U.S. comes with certain restrictions. The duration of an LPR's absence from the U.S. often depends on his or her intentions of becoming a naturalized citizen. Further, while travel abroad generally is limited to one year for green card holders, there is no one-size-fits-all rule.

LPRs will need a passport from their country of citizenship or a refugee travel document to travel abroad, and a green card (Form I-551) to reenter the U.S.

This article covers the basic rules and requirements for LPRs wishing to travel outside the U.S. See FindLaw's Green Card subsection for more information. Also see FindLaw's Citizenship subsection for additional information.

Residency Requirements for Green Card Holders

An LPR is a foreign national who has decided to make the United States their permanent home, which means they can lose their LPR status by demonstrating a different intention (see How to Keep Your Green Card). Border officials are trained to identify signs that LPRs might be making another country their permanent home, while enjoying the benefits of LPR status.

There is no single rule for how long a green card holder may remain outside of the country, but absences that are greater than one year tend to raise suspicions among U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials. A person's intent is difficult to prove, but immigration officials might look for additional signs that an LPR does not intend to live in the U.S. permanently if he or she is gone for more than one year.

Others factors the USCIS might consider when determining your intentions as an LPR include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Did you maintain family and community ties in the U.S.?
  • Did you file U.S. income taxes as a resident?
  • Did you maintain a U.S. mailing address?
  • Do you have a valid U.S. driver's license?
  • Do you own property or run a business in the U.S.?
  • Have you applied for U.S. citizenship?

If your trip will last longer than one year, you should apply for a reentry permit on Form I-131 prior to leaving the U.S. (and pay the filing fee). It is no guarantee that you will be permitted to enter, but it helps you establish your intention to permanently reside in the United States. If you will be outside of the U.S. for more than two years, the USCIS advises that you apply for a Returning Resident Visa (Form SB-1) at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. As an SB-1 applicant, you will need to establish eligibility for a visa and submit yourself to a medical exam.

Green Card Travel Rules for Prospective Citizens

If you are an LPR who wants to become a naturalized citizen, any travel outside of the U.S. may be limited by continuous residency requirements. Generally, you must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the previous five years to establish continuous residency. If you fail to meet this threshold, you may still be eligible for naturalization if you can prove that the absence was not an abandonment of resident status.

Therefore, it's advisable to limit trips abroad to six months or less. If you wish to become a citizen, but plan to be absent for more than one year for certain employment purposes, you may file an Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes (Form N-470) and pay the filing fee.

Get Legal Help with Traveling Outside the U.S. on a Green Card

Don't let legal issues like reentry, resident visas, and other confusing language scare you from traveling outside the U.S. Contact a qualified immigration attorney to learn about green card travel rules, residency requirements, and how they apply to your particular situation.

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Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with visa procedures.

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