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Question: I need to leave the U.S. and am wondering if there is anything I need to do. Can you help?

Answer: As the Holiday Season approaches, it is important for Permanent Residents to review the rules and regulations regarding travel outside of the United States and proper procedures for obtaining a Reentry Permit. A re-entry permit can help prevent two types of problems: (1) Your Permanent Resident Card becoming technically invalid for re-entry into the United States (U.S.), if you are absent from the U.S. for 1 year or more. (2) Your U.S. permanent residence being considered as abandoned for absences shorter than 1 year, if you take up residence in another country.

A re-entry permit establishes a presumption that you did not abandon status, and it allows you to apply for admission to the U.S. after traveling abroad for up to 2 years, without having to obtain a returning resident visa. Re-entry permits are normally valid for 2 years from the date of issuance.

You may also want to get a re-entry permit if you plan on traveling outside the U.S. and cannot, or do not wish to get a passport from your home country. Many countries throughout the world may allow you to use a re-entry permit much like you would use a passport–placing necessary visas, and entry and exit stamps in the permit–so you may use it as your main travel document. Be sure to check with the country(ies) you plan on visiting about their requirements before you travel.

Question: What will happen if I do not apply for a re-entry permit before I travel outside of the U.S.?

Answer: If you are a permanent resident who plans to travel outside of the U.S. for one year or more, it is important that you apply for a re-entry permit before you depart the U.S. If you stay outside of the U.S. for one year or more and did not apply for a re-entry permit before you left, then you may be considered to have abandoned your permanent resident status and may be refused entry into the U.S. if you try to return. If you are in this situation, you should try to apply for a returning resident visa.

Question: Can I apply for the re-entry permit and then leave, even though I don’t have the re-entry permit in my possession yet?

Answer: U.S. immigration law does not require that you have the re-entry document in your possession when you depart, but it does require that you apply for the permit before you leave the U.S. It is possible to send your re-entry permit to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in the country you plan on visiting, but you’ll need to specifically request this when you file your I-131. If you choose this option, you should contact the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in the country you plan on visiting when you arrive, to let them know how to contact you while you are in that country. The U.S. Consulate or Embassy may then contact you if your application is approved and your permit has arrived there.

If you are planning to use the re-entry permit as a passport, then you will need to wait for it before leaving the U.S. If you cannot wait, you may want to contact the consulate of the country you are planning to visit to find out if you can use other documents to enter.

Question: How do I get a re-entry permit?

Application: If you want to get a re-entry permit, file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. You should file this application well in advance of your planned trip.