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How to Travel with a Green Card

A green card comes with several distinct benefits and rights as you settle into the United States as your long-term home. After all, your permanent legal resident status allows you to live and work in the US, not to mention enjoy full protection under the laws of the nation.

But while these benefits are clear, something that remains unclear to many is whether or not you can travel with a green card and if so, what kinds of green card rules and limitations apply to travel. And if you’ve been wondering the same thing, you’ve landed on the right article.

At SimpleCitizen, our mission is to simplify every aspect of the green card process, including how to use your green card once you have it. In this article, we’ll discuss traveling outside the US with a green card, the documentation you will need, and how traveling abroad will affect your chances at naturalization. Let’s get started!

Can I Travel With a Green Card?

Of course you can! However, traveling with a green card requires certain documents and steps you must take to ensure you can return once your travels are complete.

There are two primary documents you will need to travel abroad:

1. Your Green Card and;

2. A passport from your country of citizenship or your refugee travel document permitting travel to the foreign country. Sometimes, countries require visas and as such, you must have this in hand as well for entry/exit purposes.

When you’re ready to return to the United States, you only need to present your valid green card, Form I-551, at the port of entry. Sometimes, officials will request to see your passport or other identifying documentation to grant you reentry into the country.

3. With COVID-19 still in full swing certain countries may have travel restrictions and COVID-19 vaccination requirements or require a negative COVID-19 test result. Be sure that you check the travel rules as you plan your trips to ensure you don’t run into any issues getting in or out of the country. 

What Steps Do I Need to Take Before Traveling?

If you’re planning on traveling abroad for less than one year, there are no additional steps you must take in preparation for your trip. In fact, all you need are the documents mentioned above to ensure you can leave and return to the US.

If you’re planning on traveling for more than one year, there are additional steps you must take before leaving the country. This is because you must demonstrate that you aren’t abandoning your permanent resident status and are planning to return to reside in the United States once again.

For Trips More Than One Year in Length

Should your trip be more than one year, it’s beneficial to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, prior to leaving. This Form allows a permanent resident to apply for a Reentry Permit for admission to the United States after returning from abroad. Doing so eliminates the need for a returning resident visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate and clarifies your intention to return to America after your travels.

Obtaining a Reentry Permit costs $360 plus a biometrics service fee of $85 if you are between the ages of 14 and 79, making the total fee $445. Please note that the Reentry Permit doesn’t guarantee your admittance to the country. While it will help, officials will also consider factors such as:

  • Have you maintained family and community ties in the U.S. while abroad?
  • Have you filed your U.S. income taxes as a resident?
  • Have you maintained a U.S. mailing address?
  • Do you have a valid driver’s license in the U.S.?
  • Do you own property or run your own business in the U.S.?
  • Have you applied for U.S. Citizenship?

Questions like these directly affect your chances of being allowed back into the country after a year abroad. Immigration officials are simply looking to see whether or not you still have the intention of living in the United States permanently.

For Trips More Than Two Years in Length

If you’re planning on remaining outside of the United States for more than two years, a Reentry Permit granted before your departure will no longer be valid when you return (these Permits are only valid for two years). As such, you should apply for a Returning Resident Visa, SB-1, at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

You should apply for this Visa at least three months in advance of your travel (or as soon as possible) to ensure it can be processed in time. To apply for the Visa, you will need:

  • A completed Form DS-117, Application to Determine Returning Resident Status;
  • Form I-551, Your Permanent Resident Card (green card);
  • Your Reentry Permit (if you have obtained one);
  • Dates of travel outside the US (airline tickets, passport stamps, etc.);
  • Proof of ties to the United States (like those indicated in the section above); and
  • Proof that your stay outside of the United States is for reasons beyond your control (medical reasons, employment with a U.S. company, etc.).

Obtaining this Visa will ensure that you can return to the United States after an extended stay abroad. While it is optional, you should consider it a necessity if you’re going to travel for more than two years.

Please note that there are exceptions for Visas and other documentation needs if you’re moving abroad with a spouse for a government job or military involvement.

Does Traveling Affect the Naturalization Process?

If you’re going to be outside of the United States for more than six months, you may affect requirements necessary for naturalization. In fact, there are green card rules for travel abroad. For example, you may not be allowed to travel abroad if you haven’t been physically present in the country for at least 30 months out of the previous five years. This is an example of continuous residency requirements.

Should you not meet requirements like this, you may still be eligible for naturalization. You will need to take additional steps to prove that abandonment wasn’t an abandonment of your resident status to ensure you can remain on the path to citizenship.

If your trip must be more than six months, you may choose to file Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes. This is only available to legal permanent residents looking to leave the United States for employment purposes. The Form costs $330 to file. If you’re unable to pay this fee, you may submit Form I-912 with your application for a fee waiver request.

Simplify Your Travel Abroad With SimpleCitizen

The team at SimpleCitizen believes that your experience living in the United States shouldn’t be complicated. Likewise, you should be able to travel abroad while retaining your legal permanent status. For that reason, we hope you find this article helpful with the information you need to travel with peace of mind.

Want to Learn More About Traveling Abroad?

If you’re looking to learn more about international travel with a green card, check out the links below!

USCIS: International Travel as a Permanent Resident

USCIS: Maintaining Permanent Residency

Form I-131, Application for Travel Document

Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes

Updated on October 19, 2021

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