What Documents Do I Need to Travel Outside the United States?

Most citizens of the United States are allowed to leave this country freely.The restrictions on entering the destination country,however, are determined by that country. If a visa is required for travel, one must be obtained. If other documents are required, a traveler can find out by contacting the embassy of the destination country. Each country has its own unique requirements for entry with which all visitors must comply. Airlines may have their own requirements, so travelers should check with them as well.

A person’s right to return to the United States requires proper documentation. If a traveler is undocumented, he or she will be not be permitted entry into the United States. Lawful permanent residents should carry their green card for re-entry. They should also bring a foreign passport, national ID, or U.S. driver’s license to confirm their identity, and form I-131, with supporting documents and applicable fees. A customs official will speak with each traveler to determine whether or not his or her stay outside the country violated the terms of residency. If the customs official feels that the traveler has abandoned his or her residence in the United States, the traveler’s status as a permanent resident may be revoked. A customs official may ask questions concerning a traveler’s community and family ties in the United States, about the individual’s work, property ownership, filing of income taxes, or residence. If the stay abroad was for longer than one year, a re-entry permit, form I-131, may be required. Brief trips will not affect a person’s status, but trips of 6 months or more may affect a person’s ability to become a naturalized citizen and may require form N-470 to correct.

Those who do not hold a green card may still be permitted to travel outside of the United States, depending on the type of visa they hold. Those who have an F-1 or M-1 student visa will be able to travel if the trip is for fewer than 5 months, and if their SEVIS form I-20 is up to date and endorsed for travel by the student’s designated school official. Many non-permanent residents, such as K-1 visa holders, are not allowed to travel abroad. For some, the line is blurred. For those who are in the country on a U Visa, international travel is permitted, but should only be engaged in if absolutely necessary as a traveler might miss important USCIS mailings or attempts at communication from law enforcement agencies. If a traveler has previously overstayed a visa before leaving the United States, or if any other condition of residency has been violated, that individual may be denied re-entry. It is important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney before international travel to avoid problems at the border.