Traveling Abroad as a Lawful Permanent Resident

Background on Re-Entry Permits


Lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who depart from the U.S. must reapply for admission to the U.S. upon return from a temporary visit abroad in the same manner as any other foreign citizen. Lawful permanent residents bypass the general requirements for admission, but still must present a valid re-entry document to gain admission to the U.S. The Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551, the physical “green card”), may be used to re-enter the U.S. if seeking readmission after a temporary absence of less than 1 year.

If a permanent resident does not return to the U.S. within 1 year, she must obtain other documentation to re-enter the country. For absences beyond 1 year, a permanent resident may apply for a re-entry permit, which provides the ability to re-enter the U.S. for a period of 2 years from the date of departure. An applicant who obtains a re-entry permit does not need to file for a returning resident visa.

If a permanent resident does not obtain a re-entry permit and remains outside the U.S. for 1 year or more, U.S. immigration may determine that the individual has abandoned lawful permanent resident status.

Filing Process for Re-Entry Permits

  1. File Form I-131 with USCIS.
    • The applicant must be physically present in the U.S. in order to file the Re-entry Permit application (Form I-131).
    • Must file by mail; cannot currently file electronically.
    • Must submit a copy the front and back of Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card.
    • May include signed statement providing that the applicant does not intend to abandon residence in the U.S. and intends to return to the U.S. after her temporary absence from the country.
    • Filing fee for the I-131 is currently $305. An additional $80 biometric fee may also apply.
  1. Attend Biometrics Appointment.
    • As of March 5, 2008, USCIS requires re-entry permit applicants (ages 14 through 79) to provide biometrics (e.g., fingerprints and photographs) at a local Application Support Centers (ASC) for background and security checks.
    • After filing Form I-131, USCIS will inform the applicant in writing of the date and time of the biometrics appointment. USCIS anticipates that the biometrics appointment will be scheduled within 3 weeks of filing the I-131.
    • Biometrics must be completed in the U.S. (unlike the refugee travel document application, where biometrics may be completed abroad).
    • USCIS recommends that applicants not leave the U.S. until after the biometrics appointment. After attending the biometrics appointment, an applicant may depart the U.S. and pick up her re-entry permit at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad.

Expedited Processing

Applicants may request expedited processing of the biometrics appointment and the processing of the I-131 application for bona fide business or other reasons.

  • When requesting expedited processing, notate the outside of the envelope with the word EXPEDITE.
  • Include two pre-paid, self-addressed express mailers, e-mail addresses, and a fax number.
  • Provide a signed statement evidencing the bona fide business or other reason for the expedited processing request.

If the expedite request is granted, USCIS will use the pre-paid mailers to send the biometric appointment notice and travel document upon completion.

Approval of Re-Entry Permit Application

If approved, USCIS may mail the permit to the applicant’s U.S. address or to a U.S. consulate or embassy for the applicant to pick up.

The re-entry permit is generally valid for a period of 2 years. If the applicant has remained outside the U.S. for a total period of 4 years within the last 5 years, USCIS may issue the permit with only a 1 year validity period. An applicant may not extend a re-entry permit, but may file for a new one once the permit has expired. USCIS will deny an application for a re-entry permit denied if the applicant was previously issued a reentry permit which is still valid, unless it was returned to the Service or it is demonstrated that it was lost.

Issuance of the permit constitutes an initial finding by the USCIS that an individual’s trip abroad is a good faith temporary visit. While it is evidence that the permanent resident possessed the intention to reside permanently in the United States at the time of his or her departure, obtaining the reentry permit does not relieve the permanent resident from being inspected upon return from abroad.

If a permanent resident does not obtain a re-entry permit, or if she does not return to the U.S. within the two-year validity period of the permit, the permanent resident must apply for a special immigrant (resident) visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.


Revised July 8, 2008.