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How to renew or renew a green card if you are outside the United States

You are outside the United States and understand that your green card is about to expire or has already expired. You already know that having a valid, unexpired proof of permanent resident status is critical to re-entering the United States. What to do in such cases, informs CitizenPath.

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First, it's important to understand that renewing a green card from outside the US is not an option. To renew your green card, you need to be physically located in the United States.

However, there are ways to get you home. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not support green card renewals from outside the United States, but there are various ways to return to the United States after temporarily traveling abroad. Each one depends on your specific situation.

My green card is about to expire, but I am in another country

If you understand that your green card will expire while traveling outside the United States (and you will return within one year after leaving the United States and before the card expires), you should renew your green card when you return to the United States. It continues to be valid for entry through a US port of entry until its expiration date.

If you intend to maintain your permanent resident status in the United States, it is important to return to the United States before your trip is longer than one year. After one year of absence from the United States (even with a valid green card), you may be considered abandoning your green card.

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Back in the United States, you must file Form I-90, Application for Replacement Permanent Resident Card, to renew your green card. You can leave the country again, but you will also need to attend a USCIS biometrics interview in the United States. Completion of this meeting is mandatory to complete the renewal process.

My green card has expired and I am outside the United States on a temporary trip

If you have been outside the United States for less than one year and your green card has expired, you will most likely be able to return to the United States on schedule. But an expired green card can create some problems.


Transport carriers such as airlines and ships must screen passengers for passports and visas before taking them to the United States. As a permanent resident temporarily traveling abroad, you can use a green card or re-entry permit instead of a visa. The Customs and Border Protection Policy (CBP) permits a carrier bound for the United States to board a permanent resident with an expired green card if the passenger has:

  • expired green card, which is valid for 10 years;
  • expired green card, which is valid for 2 years;
  • Form I-797, Notice of Action, showing that they have filed Form I-751 or Form I-829 to waive the terms of their permanent resident status. An action notification extends the validity of the card for a specified period of time.

If you meet any of the above requirements, you will most likely be able to board. However, we recommend that you check with your airline or vessel first. In some cases, the carrier may require valid green cards that have not expired.

If your telecom operator does not accept an expired green card, you may need to fill out Form I-131A.

We also recommend that you contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Additional localized information may be available in that country.

US port of entry

While you can probably board your carrier with an expired green card, you should still expect complications when re-entering the US port of entry.

Re-entry into the United States is always at the discretion of the CBP officer. It is likely that the CBP will require you to pay a re-entry fee. In addition to the re-entry fee, you will need to complete an I-90 form to renew your card.

My green card has expired, and I am outside the United States for more than a year

In this situation, the real problem is absences from the United States for one year or more.

A permanent resident who has been outside the United States for one year or more has likely renounced his permanent resident status. Exceptions are possible for certain individuals who meet the requirements:

Re-entry permit

If you have previously applied for and received a re-entry permit, you can stay outside the United States for up to two years. If this document remains valid and has not yet expired, you can re-enter the United States with a re-entry permit.

Returning resident visa

If the reason for your stay outside the United States was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control, you may be eligible for a Returning Resident Visa (SB-1). Examples of causes could include health problems or travel disruption due to the pandemic. We recommend that you contact an immigration attorney if this is your situation.

Individuals who have been absent from the United States for more than a year, but cannot qualify for the above exceptions, will most likely need to reapply for a green card. If you have a US citizen who is a legal family member who resides in the country, he or she can apply for a green card for you. The process begins with the filing of the I-130 Petition for Foreign Relatives by a US citizen or US permanent resident.

My green card was lost or stolen outside the US

If your green card is lost, stolen, or destroyed while traveling abroad, you have a more serious problem. You need paperwork to board the carrier and confirm your admission to the US port of entry.

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Submit Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation), with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to resolve this situation. Once approved, applicants receive a travel document in the form of a boarding pass or transport letter. Passengers can present their travel document to the carrier and return to the United States. The document is usually valid for 30 days.

Generally, you should only use Form I-131A to request carrier documentation if you:
  • You returned from a temporary overseas trip lasting less than one year, and your green card was lost, stolen or destroyed;
  • If you return from a temporary overseas trip of less than two years and your re-entry permit is lost, stolen or destroyed.

Unlike most other USCIS forms, you must file Form I-131A at the nearest US embassy or consulate. The entire process can take about two weeks before you can return to the United States.

Renewal or replacement of a green card

As previously mentioned, USCIS does not authorize green card renewals outside of the United States. However, once you return to the United States, you will need to renew or replace your green card using Form I-90, Permanent Resident Card Replacement Application.

Replacing a green card can be a lengthy process, so get started right away.

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