Can I Stay More Than 6 Months Outside the U.S. with a Green Card?

Updated on January 5, 2024
At a Glance:
  • Green card holders can stay outside of the United States for as long as they want, as long as they avoid being seen as having abandoned their lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.

  • To re-enter the U.S. without trouble, they must have been outside the U.S. for less than 180 days and maintain the U.S. as their primary home.

  • Trips outside the U.S. must have a temporary purpose, and the definition of “temporary” depends on the purpose and intention of the travel.

  • There is no requirement to return every 6 months, but if staying abroad for an extended period, obtaining valid entry documents and applying for a re-entry permit is necessary.

  • Leaving the U.S. for more than one year may reset naturalization waiting periods, which can be preserved through Form N-470.
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    There are many reasons why you, as a lawful permanent resident (LPR), could need to travel outside of the U.S. for an extended time. You might also find yourself stuck outside of the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic, unable to return for whatever reasons. 

    Of course, you’re wondering, “can I stay more than 6 months outside the U.S. with a green card?”. The good news is, yes, you can. But you’ll need to plan well. Depending on your situation, there may also be consequences for your return or your pending naturalization application. We explore these in more detail below. 

    Can I Travel Outside the U.S. With a Green Card?

    Yes, you can travel outside of the United States with a green card (lawful permanent resident card). Green card holders are allowed to travel internationally, and they have the right to reenter the United States.

    How Long Can You Stay Out of the United States With a Green Card?

    If you hold a U.S. green card (lawful permanent resident status), you are allowed to stay outside of the United States for a certain period of time without losing your status. Generally, you can remain outside of the United States for up to 1 year (365 days) without jeopardizing your green card status.

    However, if you plan to stay outside of the United States for an extended period of time, you may need to take additional precautions to maintain your green card status. If you intend to be outside of the country for more than 1 year, but less than 2 years, you can apply for a reentry permit before departing the U.S. This reentry permit allows you to stay outside of the United States for up to 2 years without losing your green card status.

    If you plan to be outside of the United States for more than 2 years, you may need to obtain a returning resident visa (SB-1 visa) at a U.S. embassy or consulate to reenter the United States as a permanent resident.

    It’s essential to be aware of these rules and guidelines, as extended periods outside of the United States without proper documentation can lead to complications, including the possibility of losing your green card status. Additionally, always consult with an immigration attorney or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the most up-to-date information and advice regarding your specific situation. Immigration laws and regulations can change, so it’s crucial to stay informed.

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    What Happens if I Stay Outside of the U.S. Too Long?

    If you stay outside of the U.S. too long, the Customs and Border Protection Officer (CBP officer) at the port of entry (for example, the airport) could question whether you have abandoned (i.e., given up) your lawful permanent resident status. The CBP officer has access to records showing your previous entries and exits to the U.S. They might ask you questions such as where have you been, how long have you been gone, what did you do there, and what ties you kept in the U.S. while you were away. 

    Requirements for Re-entry

    When you arrive at the port of entry, there are two requirements you have to meet to avoid scrutiny from the CBP officer. If you meet both these requirements, then you will be allowed back into the U.S. without any trouble. If one of them is lacking, then you might come under the CBP officer’s scrutiny. These two requirements are:

    1. You must have been outside of the U.S. for under 180 days (6 months), and
    2. You must not have abandoned your LPR status by making a trip abroad that wasn’t temporary (i.e., all your visits outside of the U.S. must be temporary).

    The best way to avoid abandoning your LPR status is to make sure the U.S. is your primary home and leave the U.S. for temporary visits. Essentially you need to make sure you are in the U.S. for more days in a year than you are outside of the U.S. All your trips must also have a temporary purpose (for example visiting your family or going on a business trip). 

    Let’s take a look at these two requirements in more detail. 

    What is the 6-Month Rule? 

    As we explained above, the 6-month rule is one of the elements to show you have not abandoned your LPR status. If you are outside of the U.S. for more than 180 days (6 months) in a year, you could be regarded as having abandoned your LPR status. 

    It isn’t only consecutive days that count towards the 6-month rule. The 6-month rule counts the total days (consecutive or not) in which you were outside of the U.S. This total must be less than 180 days if you want to avoid scrutiny.

    But remember, just being outside of the U.S. for less than 180 days in a year doesn’t automatically mean the CBP official won’t scrutinize your travels. If the CBP official believes your stay outside of the U.S. was not temporary, they can still conclude that you’ve abandoned your LPR status. 

    How “Temporary” is Defined

    Now you know your visit outside of the U.S. must have been temporary. But how is “temporary” defined precisely, and how will you know when your trip will be regarded as not being temporary? 

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific time limit that the judicial courts regard as being temporary. Whether your trip was a temporary visit abroad has a lot to do with the purpose you traveled for and the intention you had when traveling, and not necessarily the actual time you were away. 

    You can read more about how the court has tried to define “temporary” here. Unfortunately, their definition is still very vague. 

    Basically, you need to show the purpose of your travels was temporary. Visiting your family, going on vacation, or traveling for work would be regarded as temporary. Showing your ties in the U.S. such as owning or renting a property, having a U.S. bank account, and filing taxes in the U.S. will also help show you intended to return to the U.S. permanently after your temporary travels. 

    Do You Have to Return Every 6 Months?

    The short answer is no, you don’t have to. If you will be traveling for an extended time, you just need to make sure you have the correct documents. Returning every 6 months will help your LPR status not coming under scrutiny or possibly being regarded as being abandoned. But there is no requirement that you have to return to the U.S. every 6 months. 

    How to Return to the U.S. After Travel

    If you know you will be traveling extensively or you will be outside of the U.S. for an extended amount of time, it is essential to plan ahead and get the right documents. This will help show you haven’t abandoned your LPR status and will prevent you from being denied entry back into the U.S.

    Gaining Re-entry is a two-step process:

    1. Having valid entry documents
    2. Applying for a Re-entry permit

    Read on to learn about each of these steps.

    Valid Entry Documents

    As a green card holder, you need to show certain documents before you will be allowed back into the U.S.

    If you are outside of the U.S. for less than 1 year, you will only need your green card (I-551) or a returning resident visa to re-enter the U.S.

    If you will, however, be outside of the U.S. for longer than 1 year, you will need to apply for a re-entry-entry permit. 

    Applying for a Re-entry Permit

    If you plan to stay outside of the U.S. for longer than 1 year, you will have to apply for a re-entry permit. Otherwise, you will not be allowed back in. You have to apply for the re-entry permit (also known as Form I-131, Application for Travel Document) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services before you leave on your trip. You can’t apply for one when you are outside of the U.S., so make sure to apply before you leave. 

    Remember that your re-entry permit will only be valid for 2 years from the date it was issued. This period cannot be extended. If you stay outside of the U.S. past your re-entry permit’s “expiration date”, you may be denied entry back into the U.S. Note if you are a conditional permanent resident, your re-entry permit will expire on the same day your conditional permanent residency expires. 

    You can find more information on applying for a re-entry permit here.

    Can Permanent Residents Leave the U.S. Multiple Times and Return?

    As an LPR, you can leave the U.S. any number of times you want and return as long as you don’t abandon your LPR status, and you have the correct documents to re-enter.

    Keep in mind that even though you will be able to come back to the U.S., staying outside of the U.S. for more than one year could mean your waiting periods for naturalization will have to start over from scratch. To prevent this from happening, you can file a Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence. You can read more about Form N-470 here.

    What Are the Other Green Card Holder Travel Restrictions?

    In addition to restrictions on length of absence, green card holders have certain other travel restrictions and responsibilities to maintain their status in the United States. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

    1. Reentry Permit – If you plan to be outside of the United States for more than 1 year but less than 2 years, you can apply for a reentry permit (Form I-131) before departing the U.S. This permit allows you to maintain your green card status while abroad for up to 2 years.
    2. Continuous Residence – To maintain your green card status, you should continue to maintain a primary residence in the United States and have strong ties to the country. Frequent or extended absences from the U.S. may raise questions about your intention to permanently reside in the United States.
    3. Taxes – As an LPR, you are generally required to report your worldwide income to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), even if you live abroad. Failing to do so could affect your immigration status.
    4. Returning Resident Visa (SB-1 Visa) – If you plan to be outside of the United States for more than 2 years, you may need to obtain a returning resident visa (SB-1 visa) at a U.S. embassy or consulate. This visa allows you to reenter the United States as a permanent resident.
    5. Customs and Immigration Inspection – When returning to the United States after international travel, you must go through customs and immigration inspection. Be prepared to present your green card (Form I-551) and any necessary travel documents.
    6. National and International Travel Restrictions – Green card holders should also be aware of any national or international travel restrictions or requirements, such as visa requirements for the countries they plan to visit.
    7. Abandonment of Residency – Extended or frequent absences from the United States without proper documentation, such as a reentry permit, can raise concerns about the abandonment of U.S. residency. This could lead to the loss of your green card status.

    It’s crucial to consult with an immigration attorney or USCIS for specific guidance on your travel plans and any potential impact on your green card status. Immigration laws and regulations can change, so staying informed and seeking professional advice is essential to ensure you maintain your green card status while traveling abroad.

    Read More

    Final Thoughts

    Now you know the answer to “can I stay more than 6 months outside the U.S. with a green card?”. Yes, you can, as long as you only travel for a temporary purpose. Otherwise, you might be regarded as having abandoned your LPR status. Don’t be caught off guard when returning from your travels. Plan well and know the facts. Remember, if you will be away for more than a year, make sure you apply for your re-entry permit before leaving.

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    Staying Outside the U.S. with a Green Card: Common FAQs

    Many green card holders often wonder about the implications of staying outside the United States for more than 6 months. Here are some common questions and answers to help clarify this issue.

    1. Can I stay outside the U.S. for more than 6 months with a green card?

    Yes, you can. However, staying outside the U.S. for more than 6 months consecutively may put your permanent resident status at risk. U.S. authorities may consider it as an abandonment of your residency.

    2. What are the consequences of staying outside the U.S. for more than 6 months?

    Staying outside of the U.S. for more than 6 months but less than one year may lead to scrutiny upon re-entry to the U.S. If you stay outside the U.S. for one year or more, you may require a Re-entry Permit to return to the U.S.

    3. How can I preserve my resident status if I need to stay outside the U.S. for more than 6 months?

    If you know in advance that you will be outside the U.S. for one year or more, applying for a Re-entry Permit before leaving can help preserve your resident status. It is proof that you did not intend to abandon status, and allows you to stay outside the U.S. for up to two years.

    4. What happens if I stay outside the U.S. for more than one year without a Re-entry Permit?

    If you stay outside the U.S. for more than a year without obtaining a Re-entry Permit, you may be considered as having abandoned your permanent resident status. In such a case, you may have to obtain a returning resident visa to re-enter the U.S.

    5. Does frequent travel affect my green card status?

    Frequent prolonged trips outside the U.S. may lead to questioning upon re-entry, as it might appear you are not maintaining permanent residence in the U.S. Continuous residence is also a key requirement for naturalization.


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    Frank Gogol

    I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.