Can Green Card Holders Travel Outside the U.S.?

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As a green card holder, leaving the U.S. to travel abroad is a huge perk of being a permanent resident. However, unforeseen circumstances could arise, leaving you to travel outside the U.S. for extended periods of time or even leave you stuck outside the U.S., unable to return back for countless reasons.

This begs the question of how long can a green card holder stay outside the U.S. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. Luckily, this article will focus on everything a green card holder needs to know, before traveling outside of the U.S.

Determining Your Eligibility

The good news is that if you are a permanent resident by way of a green card, you are allowed to travel outside of the U.S. at any given time. Ultimately, a green card is just another document to help prove a legal residence in the U.S. and will also allow you to leave and re-enter the country easily, similar to any other U.S. resident.

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There are a few travel documents required for green card holders to fill out before a trip, which will be explained more in the sections below.

Steps to Be Followed Before Traveling

If you are traveling outside the U.S. briefly, your permanent resident status will not be affected. As a permanent resident, travel restrictions aren’t as strict. However, it’s important to note that as a green card holder, you can leave the country as many times as you wish, but are not allowed to stay abroad for more than a year.

If you do intend to stay outside the U.S. for longer periods of time, it’s mandatory for you to apply for a re-entry permit prior to your trip. To get reentry permit to the U.S., file I-131 Form, Application for Travel Document. In some cases, upon re-entry following many months abroad, it can be determined that you have abandoned your permanent residence or did not intend on making the U.S. your permanent home, leaving customs to revoke your green card.

How Long Can a Green Card Holder Stay Outside the U.S.?

A green card enables you to work legally in the country, live in the country as a permanent resident, and travel outside of the country, similar to any other U.S. citizen. However, if a green card holder stays outside of the country for any amount of time longer than one year, they will lose their green card.

This is likely the case in almost all scenarios. But as extenuating circumstances arise, new questions are brought to light. For example, can green card holders travel back to the U.S. during COVID if they have been abroad for over a year?

Unfortunately, there are no new rules outlined for situations such as this, and at the current time, there is no clause that will automatically allow re-entry if you are stuck abroad due to covid. However, the requirements for re-entering the U.S. after an extended time abroad are sometimes flexible.

Staying Outside of the U.S. for Too Long

When it comes to green card travel, it’s allowed, but regulations are apparent. Below, we will go over the requirements and documents needed to travel without any re-entry setbacks.

Requirements for Re-Entry

Upon re-entry into the country after time abroad, it is solely up to the customs officers if you are allowed back in or not. When re-entering the country, you will present all green card holder travel documents for a customs inspection.

Likely, you will be asked questions about your travels, and your life in the U.S. Ultimately, your ties to the U.S. will be tested. If you are someone who holds a job in the country, owns land and property, or has local bank accounts, you are viewed as someone who has strong ties, which will make your re-entry back into the country easy.

Note: If you hold an expired old reentry permit you need to apply for the new one. The reentry permit cannot be extended. If your reentry permit was lost, destroyed or stolen, intimate this information on your application while applying for new permit.

If the customs officer doesn’t believe that you are living in the country or that you don’t have strong enough ties, they may:

  1. Take your green card away. If this is the case, you will need to appear in an immigration court. From there, you must present your evidence and all ties you have to the U.S., in order to prove that you did not abandon your permanent residence while spending extended time aboard.
  2. Ask you to forfeit your green card. In this situation, the customs officer will urge you to give up your green card, and return back to your home country.
  3. Give you a serious warning for future travel, but allow re-entry. In some cases, the customs officer will allow your re-entry but make sure to emphasize the importance of remaining in the U.S. more frequently and limiting future travel.

180-Day Portability Rule

As stated above, there are certain documents that are required for green card holders to show to customs upon re-entry. But, you may be asking, what is considered a travel document for a green card holder?

Simply put, the documents that are typically required for green card holders to present while coming back into the U.S. include:

  • A re-entry permit
  • Your passport
  • A green card

Additionally, proving that you have strong ties to the U.S. will include showing bank account information, property ownership, and proof of a legal job. If in the case there is a recent career change, the 180-day portability rule will apply.

This rule states that if an individual has already submitted an application to adjust their residency status under one job, they are able to change careers within the same field, and not have to worry about losing their green card. Additionally, showing all necessary documentation that the 180-day portability rule mandates will ensure smooth re-entry into the U.S.

Do You Have to Return to the U.S. Every Six Months of Travel?

The short answer to this question is no. However, if you are traveling outside of the U.S. for extended periods of time, you must obtain the proper documentation for re-entry.

Only traveling outside the country for periods of time under six months will help your permanent residence status and reduce questioning at customs when re-entering. Additionally, it’s important to know your exact dates of travel.

If you’re wondering how to get travel history as a green card holder, you can access all the information needed online. All you need to provide will be:

  • Your full name
  • Your passport number
  • Your birth date
  • Your original country of citizenship

The Procedure to Return to the U.S. After Traveling Abroad

Even though, as a legal green card holder, you have the right to travel abroad freely, it does not mean that re-entry is automatically granted. Prior to traveling outside of the U.S. on a green card, there are the necessary travel documents to fill out in order to re-enter the U.S.

Valid Entry Documents

Here are the necessary documents for a green card holder to travel outside the U.S. and re-enter with ease.

  1. Your passport from your native country: Even though you are a permanent resident of the U.S., you will need to hand in your original passport to customs in order to re-enter.
  2. Your valid green card: You will be expected to show your valid, and unexpired green card to customs upon re-entry. In the case where you haven’t received your physical green card yet, you are allowed to present an I-551 stamp in your passport to customs in its place.
  3. A re-entry permit: This permit is only required for extended trips abroad. Generally, you will need to apply and prepare this pre-travel for all trips that are longer than a year.

Applying for a Re-entry Permit

Listed above are required documents to obtain if planning to travel outside the U.S. for extended periods of time. Even if you aren’t outside of the U.S. for as long as a year, you can still be denied entry if you don’t apply for a re-entry permit.

The question of how many months a green card holder can stay abroad varies, but in general, travel greater than a year and one day is grounds to have permanent residency taken away.

What to Do if Your Green Card Expires While Traveling

Holding an expired green card while traveling outside of the country will cause issues, and sometimes, even delay re-entry while arriving at customs. Additionally, re-entering with an expired green card might lead to significant fines and various immigration problems.

In order to re-enter the U.S. with an expired green card, there are a few ways to acquire proof of permanent residence without your physical green card:

  1. Completing and filing Form I-90: This form is known commonly as a simple application to replace a permanent resident card, and costs around $540. This is made payable to the USCIS and will be approved or denied depending on the case within two to four weeks.
  2. A receipt of acceptance from your I-90 form: If your form gets approved, you will receive a receipt in the mail. From here, you will need to schedule an appointment with the USCIS at your earliest convenience.
  3. Attending an appointment with USCIS: You will need to appear at your local USCIS office. Be sure to bring with your most recent green card, any required forms, and the evidence of urgent need. Some approved urgent need documents include airline tickets, doctors’ letters, or death certificates.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I Travel While Waiting for My Green Card Renewal?

Simply put, yes, you can travel while waiting for your green card renewal. The USCIS can give you temporary proof of status, which is a sticker placed in your passport that will extend your green card’s validity for as long as a year. This sticker will ensure swift entry back into the U.S.

2. What Happens if a Green Card Holder Stays Out of the Country for More Than One Year?

Living abroad, or traveling outside of the U.S. for more than a year, may result in the loss of your green card. Of course, each case will be different, but the longer you are outside of the U.S., the harder it will be to re-enter.

Currently, with the pandemic onsetting many travel issues for those abroad, re-entry to the U.S. due to COVID has been weighing on people’s minds. Even though there hasn’t been any new announcements regarding extended travel outside the U.S. on a green card due to COVID, an SB-1 Returning Resident Visa can sometimes be applied for to make re-entry a bit smoother.


When it comes to common questions like, “Can I travel while waiting for my green card renewal?” or, “What is traveling with a green card like?” speaking with a skilled immigration lawyer can be of great help.

With temporary green card travel restrictions and the global pandemic making things difficult for those traveling abroad, there are always updates and new regulations to abide by. Luckily, our team can provide you with the support you need and any paperwork that is required. Contact us today for more information.

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