If you have a Green Card and will travel outside the US, be ready to demonstrate to the Customs and Border Protection officers that you have not abandoned your status in the US. This is important especially in situations where you may be absent for a long time or will travel often. If you will be absent for more than 1 year, you must apply for a Travel Document (Re-Entry Permit) and take extra precautions.
As a precaution, even if traveling for a period of less than one year, you should be ready to demonstrate that you intended to continue to reside in the US. For anyone who will be absent for more than 3 months, and especially more than 6 months: be prepared to show continued ties to the US, such as
real estate ownership,
continued payments for automobile loans,
continued rent payments and continued family relationships in the US, etc.
For extended stays, it is also a good idea to be ready to explain why the trip abroad was intended to be temporary. For example, you can show that you had to travel abroad to visit family members temporarily or resolve property or business issues.
There are many people who come back to the US after short trips without any problems, but there are also some exceptions. Much depends on the officer, as well as the length of your stay abroad and your answers to a customs officer’s questions. Do not be one of the exceptions.
In addition to being prepared to explain that you have not abandoned your US residence, you should also apply for a Travel Document (Reentry Permit) prior to leaving the US, regardless of the length of stay abroad. This is also helpful if you suddenly end up staying abroad for more than 1 year due to unexpected circumstances.
Green Cards automatically expire after one year of absence from the US. In order to come back to the US after one year of absence, you must apply for a Reentry Permit prior to leaving the US.
If you have already let your Green Card lapse by staying abroad for more than 1 year, you can still try to come back and ask the customs officers to let you in. While they do have the discretion to let you in. It is best if you formally request the exercise of discretion (Form I-193 Application for Waiver of Passport or Visa). Sometimes, you may also try to for a Re-Entry Permit through an American Embassy with an explanation of why you are filing late.
This publication covers general issues and does not constitute a legal consultation. It is important that you consult with a licensed attorney about your specific circumstances.