How to Travel Abroad Without a Green Card

Updated on May 26, 2023
At a Glance: A green card is not required for international travel. A green card serves as proof of permanent residency in the United States, allowing legal work and living. However, it is not necessary for travel abroad. When entering the U.S., the passport is stamped with the permanent resident status, which serves as proof of residency. It is important to check the expiration date of the stamp and ensure it is valid for travel. Other essential documents for travel include a valid passport and a temporary travel document called advanced parole. If a green card application is pending, a travel document can be obtained from USCIS. However, reentry is subject to the CBP officer’s decision.

USCIS was forced to take action due to a lack of funds. Thus, it announced that more than 13,000 employees will be furloughed in August. Despite contacting Congress and asking for help, USCIS didn’t hear back from them. Therefore, having fewer employees means they will work slower. If you were approved for permanent residency in the U.S., then you will have to wait at least 6 months to receive your green card.

Can you go outside the U.S. under these circumstances? How to travel abroad without a green card? Read all about it here.

Is a Green Card Needed to Travel Abroad?

A green card is not necessary to be able to travel abroad. Basically, a green card is a document that proves your permanent residency. In other words, it serves as proof that you can work and live in the United States legally. More than that, it shows your registration according to immigration laws. This is way different compared to a visa, which is known to allow someone to stay in the United States, but for a temporary period only, and with a certain purpose.

So, a green card is not necessary to travel abroad. You can still travel without it. If you applied for a green card and were approved, yet you haven’t received your document, traveling is possible as you’re already a permanent resident. Remember that when you entered the U.S., your passport was stamped by the border officer. The stamp included your permanent resident status. Having said that, you should check out the expiration date of the stamp. Usually, it should be six months from the time the stamp was applied. If you travel outside the U.S., you only need to make sure that you come back before the stamped expiration date.

Moreover, since you need your passport to travel, you must check the expiration date for it too. The passport has the permanent residence stamp on it, so you need it to be able to travel.

What Documents Are Needed to Travel Without a Green Card?

One thing is certain – you cannot travel without your documents. Traveling outside the United States without having the right documents may affect your ability to come back. So, if you want to reenter with no problems, you should ensure you have them. What’s even worse is that not having your documents may even cause USCIS to abandon your green card application, and you don’t want that to happen.

If that happens, you may have to re-file your paperwork. Not to mention that you even put yourself at risk of being deported if you don’t have the right documentation upon returning to the United States.

One of the documents you need to have with you is the temporary travel document, also known as advanced parole. This will serve as a travel document when you don’t have a green card. Obtaining this is possible by filling out Form I-131.

Another necessary document is, of course, your passport. Passports are crucial when traveling abroad. What’s more, the passport will contain your permanent residence and status stamp. The stamp contains an expiration date that is needed by the CBP officer when you re-enter the States. The passport itself needs to still be valid and, if it expires, you can apply for a renewal online on the Department of State website.

Even if you renew your passport, you should keep the old one and have it with you as the permanent residence stamp is on it too. A copy of the passport and stamp should also be left in the U.S. in case you lose your document, or it gets stolen. Make sure to leave it with a trustworthy person in the U.S. If something happens, then this person can just fax a copy of the document to an embassy or consulate that is closest to you. As such, the institution will allow you to travel even if you don’t have a green card at the moment.

Also, you need to fill out Form I-90 and once you do it, you should print your receipt. It has to be kept for your own record. Other than that, you will need a copy of your I-485 receipt number as well.

How to Travel Without a Green Card?

If you want to travel without a green card, you will have to make sure you do it before the permanent residency stamp in your passport expires, or else you may not be allowed to return. If you end up staying outside the country for too long, then the U.S. may think you want to live outside the United States – thus, you might not need a green card.

You have to be careful because a lot of people have lost their permanent residence status through abandonment due to this. With that in mind, your visit abroad should not be longer than 6 months.

On the other hand, if you have to be outside the U.S. for more than a year, you will have to apply for a Reentry Permit early on. USCIS has a page where you can do this easily.

Considering you spend so much time and effort preparing for the green card procedure, the last thing you want to do is lose your status. So, if you want to travel without a green card, it’s best to get some legal help. Consulting an immigration attorney may be the right move to make when you don’t want to mess up your situation. The attorney will make sure you comply with all immigration laws and have all the right documents before leaving the U.S. for a temporary period while your green card is in the making.

Can I Travel If My Application Has Been Submitted?

Even if you submitted an application that is still pending, you can travel outside the United States. This can happen if you contact the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and obtain a travel document from them.

Basically, they will be able to issue a document known as the “Emergency Advance Parole”. This document can be obtained if you submit Form I-131. But it’s important to keep in mind that you should only request this document if you have an emergency and really need to travel abroad. Once you obtain it, traveling outside the U.S. and coming back without issues will be possible.

At the same time, you should know that the document doesn’t guarantee you will be able to reenter the States. The CBP officer will be the one making the final decision on whether you can reenter the U.S. or not.

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Even though your green card has yet to be handed to you, you can still go outside the United States, as long as it’s only temporary. Staying abroad for too long would put you at risk of losing your permanent residency. You just need the proper documents and you can travel abroad. Moreover, make sure you consult an attorney before your trip if you want to make sure you don’t miss anything – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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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.