Traveling Outside the United States With a Green Card

So you’ve become a permanent resident of the United States - congratulations and welcome to this wonderful country! But you might be wondering what happens if you need to return home or otherwise travel outside the United States even when you possess a Green Card. Will you be allowed to reenter the United States? Is there a chance you could lose your Green Card?

The quick answer is that yes, you will be allowed to reenter the country and no, you won’t lose your Green Card (except in certain situations). Additionally, there several things to keep in mind before you leave the United States. The long answer is that before you consider leaving you may want to discuss your options and protocols with your immigration attorney.

Traveling Outside the United States as a Green Card Holder (Permanent Resident)

One of the benefits of having a Green Card is the ability to leave and reenter the United States whenever the permanent resident wishes. However, permanent residents must be sure to carry necessary documents with them. If the trip will last for a long period of time, such as over a year, additional steps should be taken before leaving the country. Your immigration lawyer can explain in greater detail what is required.

When traveling abroad, at a minimum, a permanent resident must bring his or her Green Card, as it will be required to reenter the United States. It’s also strongly recommended that the Green Card holder bring his or her home country’s passport. This may be needed to enter certain countries and can serve as proof of identification.

If the traveler intends to be outside the United States for six months or more, there are three things to keep in mind.

First, being outside the United States for more six months at a time can interfere with an individual’s continuous residency requirement for US citizenship.

Second, being outside the United States for more than one year can result in the presumption that the Green Card holder is making another country other than the United States a permanent home. Immigration officials are always on the lookout for individuals who want to have the benefits of being a permanent US resident but consider another country to be their permanent home. To avoid any problems when trying to reenter the United States, Green Card holders should obtain a reentry permit before leaving the United States. If they do not, the Green Card, on its own, will not be enough for reentry, since the Green Card will technically be invalid after one year. This reentry permit serves as evidence that there is no intention to give up the Green Card or make another country a permanent home.

Third, being outside the United States for more than two years can result in the individual being required to obtain a Returning Resident (SB-1) visa. This is necessary because in most cases, the reentry permit is only good for two years.

Obtaining a Reentry Permit

The Green Card holder must apply for the reentry permit before leaving the United States. The first step is to complete Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Besides completing Form I-131, the applicant must also:

  • Pay a form fee of $575
  • Pay a biometrics fee of $85
  • Provide proof of permanent residency (copy of the Green Card)
  • Provide biometric information at a USCIS Application Support Center

It may take in excess of 90 days for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process a request and grant the reentry permit. Given this, travelers need to plan well in advance and apply for the reentry permit at least 60 days before leaving the United States. However, the reentry permit may be mailed to an overseas address, so the applicant may make arrangements to leave the United States after applying for the reentry permit, but before it has been granted.

  • Form I-131: The Importance of Accurately Completing Immigration Forms
What Happens if I Lose my Green Card While Traveling Abroad?

If your Green Card is lost or stolen, contact the nearest US embassy or consulate as soon as possible. If it was stolen, a police report should also be filed.

The US embassy or consulate will most likely require you to file Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation) which will provide you with a boarding foil (formerly known as a transportation letter). This will allow you to use a transportation carrier without getting yourself or the transportation carrier into trouble (they’re not allowed to transport individuals who don’t have the proper travel documents). There is also a filing fee for Form I-131A in the amount of $575.

After you return to the United States, you’ll need complete Form I-90 and pay the associated fee, which is around $455, and pay a biometric services fee of $85.

A Failure to Prepare May Lead to an Inability to Return

Do not take your legal status and Green Card for granted. Yes, you can likely leave and do so with minimal or no issues. However, should you be the exception or fail to follow the law either intentionally or inadvertently, your reentry to the United States can be severely jeopardized. Be smart in the future you have invested so deeply in securing. Consult with and retain immigration counsel that has the experience and knowledge to best protect your status and future in the United States.

Call the New York immigration lawyers and former New York City prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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