Traveling Outside the USA as a Green Card Holder: How Long Is Allowed?

by Admin on September 15, 2023

When many individuals finally obtain their coveted green card, they often breathe a sigh of relief, believing their status in the United States is now secure. However, this assumption can prove costly. Permanent residents can potentially lose their green card if certain precautions are not taken, particularly concerning extended travel outside of the country. In this article, we will delve into essential information to help you safeguard and shield your status should you need to travel abroad for an extended duration.

Maintaining Your Status as a Lawful Permanent Resident

According to US visa and immigration lawyers in Thailand, US permanent residents, or “green card holders”,  are authorized to travel in and out of the United States, provided that the time spent outside the US is not too long.  However, if your travel exceeds a certain duration, it can trigger issues related to maintaining your status. Generally, if your travel period is 180 days or less, there should be no significant issues upon seeking readmission to the United States. Nevertheless, there are exceptions and scenarios where even shorter trips can present challenges, like if you take up residence in another country. It’s important to note that as a lawful permanent resident, you must demonstrate an intent to reside in the United States. Therefore, if you spend over 180 days outside the country, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may inquire about your efforts to maintain your status upon reentry.

Extended Travel and Green Card Validity

If you spend a year or more outside the United States without a reentry permit or beyond the validity period of a reentry permit, your green card alone is no longer sufficient to seek reentry into the country. In such cases, you would need to apply for an SB-1 Returning Resident visa. The SB-1 visa is intended for individuals who initially planned to leave the United States for a limited period but, due to circumstances beyond their control like the death or illness of a loved one or work obligations, were forced to stay abroad longer. By obtaining the SB-1 visa, these individuals can demonstrate their intention to return to the United States despite the extended absence.

The Importance of a Reentry Permit

Of course, there are times when one has a good indication that work or family responsibilities may require a prolonged period of time outside the U.S. To mitigate the risks associated with prolonged travel, green card holders who anticipate spending considerable time outside the United States should consider applying for a reentry permit prior to leaving the U.S. via Form I-131. A reentry permit is a travel document resembling a passport booklet. Its primary purpose is to protect the lawful permanent resident’s status when traveling for extended periods. The validity of a reentry permit can extend up to two years, depending on recent travel history. With a reentry permit in hand, you are legally presumed to have maintained your status as a lawful permanent resident, regardless of the duration spent outside the United States.

Reentry Permits and Protecting Your Green Card

The following examples demonstrate how a reentry permit can safeguard your status under different travel scenarios.

  • If you leave the United States for over 180 days and have a valid reentry permit, it helps establish a legal presumption that you did not intend to abandon your green card. This presumption can significantly improve your chances of reentering the United States without complications like being placed into secondary inspection.
  • Similarly, if you spend a year or more abroad but possess a valid reentry permit, you can use it in conjunction with your green card to reenter the United States, eliminating the need for an SB-1 Returning Resident visa. Although a reentry permit provides added protection, it’s important to note that it does not guarantee absolute security. The legal presumption it creates can be challenged with evidence presented by opposing parties, such as public information found on social media sites.


Protecting your green card and maintaining your status as a lawful permanent resident is crucial. Prolonged travel outside of the United States can pose risks, potentially leading to the unintentional abandonment of your green card.

By proactively understanding the rules and taking necessary precautions, such as applying for a reentry permit, you can enhance the security of your status. Remember, a reentry permit serves as an additional layer of protection but is not foolproof. If you found this information valuable, please share it with other green card holders who may benefit from these insights. Stay informed and empowered. Thank you for reading!

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