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Traveling Internationally as a Green Card Holder? Here’s What You Need to Know


Leaving and reentering the U.S. as a green card holder is relatively straightforward for short trips. If you plan to leave the U.S. for an extended time, there are a few things to consider.


Traveling internationally as a green card holder

The ability to travel internationally with ease is one of the benefits of having a green card. However, if you stay outside the U.S. for too long (more than a year), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will consider your permanent residence status ”abandoned.”

You can generally stay outside the U.S. for up to six months yearly without problems.

If you stay outside the U.S. between six months and a year, you will most likely be subject to questioning from CBP at the U.S. port of entry. However, you should still be able to reenter.

Reentering the U.S. becomes challenging if you stay outside the country for more than a year. You can reenter with a Re-entry Permit (more on below), but you can only apply for a Re-entry Permit from within the U.S.

Another option for reentering the U.S. if you have been gone for more than a year is to apply for a returning resident visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Also consider: staying outside the U.S. for more than a year as a green card holder can slow down the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. You can become a naturalized citizen after 3-5 years as a permanent resident.

However, if you are outside the U.S. for over a year, the 3-5 year timeline will restart. Under certain circumstances, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may approve a request to preserve residence for naturalization purposes.

Best practices for international travel for U.S. permanent residents

1. If possible, spend at least half of the year in the U.S.

Being physically present in the U.S. for at least six months per year is the best practice for green card holders.

2. Know the risks of long-term travel

Perhaps you need to care for family members in a foreign country, or you want to travel extensively for pleasure.

Regardless of your reasons for travel, there are risks you should understand when considering a lengthier trip.

The best practice is to limit your international travel to under six months, but you can travel for up to a year without needing a re-entry permit.

If you stay outside the U.S. for over a year and do not have a re-entry permit, CPB may consider your green card “abandoned”. In other words, your

Whether you have a re-entry permit or not, staying outside the U.S. for more than a year will also restart the clock for becoming a naturalized citizen.

3. If necessary, apply for a re-entry permit before you leave the U.S.

You cannot apply for a re-entry permit from outside the U.S.

If you know you will be traveling outside the U.S. for more than a year, apply for a re-entry permit before you leave.

To get a re-entry permit, you must file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

Upon approval, your re-entry permit will be valid for up to two years.

4. Pack the documents you need for re-entry

Before you leave the U.S., ensure you have all the documents you’ll need to reenter, including a valid passport, green card, and a re-entry permit (if necessary). If you came to the U.S. as a refugee, you will also need to bring your refugee travel document.

5. If you are unsure about your case, check with an immigration lawyer

If you have any doubts about your unique situation, consider speaking to a trusted immigration law firm for legal advice.

Traveling internationally with a pending green card application

If you don’t have an approved green card yet, you may still be able to travel internationally while your application is pending.

How to travel internationally on a dual intent visa with a pending green card

If you are in the U.S. on a valid dual intent nonimmigrant visa (such as H-1B or L-1), you can travel internationally throughout the green card application process.

How to travel internationally with a pending green card if you don’t have a dual intent visa

If you are in the U.S. on a single intent nonimmigrant visa (such as TN or E-3) or have a pending asylum case, you cannot travel internationally while your green card is processed unless you get an Advance Parole travel document.

To request Advance Parole, file Form I-131 when you file your green card application or after the application has been submitted.

It will likely take several months for your Advance Parole application to be approved. If you need it approved more quickly for emergency reasons, you can submit an expedite request.

Upon approval of your Advance Parole, you can leave the U.S. and reenter with the approved travel document.

Frequently asked questions about travel on a green card

Do lawful permanent resident and green card holder have the same meaning?

Yes. Lawful permanent resident (LPR) and green card holder both refer to foreign nationals who hold green cards (also called permanent resident cards).

What is the difference between Form I-485 and Form I-140?

Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, is the green card application.

Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, is a petition that qualifies a foreign national for a green card based on their employment.

Read more about the difference between Form I-1485 and Form I-140.

Do I need a travel document if I have a green card?

No. If you have an approved green card, you do not need a travel document (Advanced Parole) to leave and reenter the U.S.

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

Yes, you can travel from state to state with a green card.

How does the U.S. government determine whether you have abandoned your permanent resident status?

There are a few factors the U.S. government considers when determining green card abandonment:

  • How long you spent outside the U.S.
  • Your purpose for traveling outside the U.S.
  • Whether you intend to return to the U.S. as an LPR
  • Whether you have continued ties to the U.S. as your permanent home

What happens if you abandon your green card?

If the U.S. government determines that you have abandoned your green card, your green card will no longer be valid. To become a permanent resident again, you must restart the green card application process.

How do I achieve lawful permanent resident status through employment?

Permanent residency eligibility can be based on family, employment, or humanitarian reasons.

To become a permanent resident via employment, you’ll first need to file an immigrant visa application, such as an EB-1A or EB-2 PERM. Your immigrant visa application will include legal forms, a copy of your passport and any prior U.S. visa stamps, and other supporting documents.

Depending on your country of birth, you may be able to file your green card application right away, or you may need to wait until you become “current.”

After filing your green card application, USCIS will ask you to submit a medical exam and attend a biometrics appointment at a nearby USCIS office.

Customized support on your immigration journey

An experienced immigration attorney can simplify the complexities of immigration law and the green card process. Reach out to our team for customized support on your immigration journey. 

About the author:

Annie Blay

Content Marketing Specialist

Before joining the marketing team, Annie helped over 60 Legalpad clients navigate U.S. immigration on the client services team.