Lost Green Card Abroad and Returning to the U.S.

Replace/Renew Green Card Travel Documents

Traveler in despair with lost green card abroad while traveling

A lost green card abroad can be a travel headache. A permanent resident must have valid proof of status to board an airline or other transportation carrier which is bound for the United States. But if you’ve lost your green card or reentry permit while traveling abroad, there is a process to obtain temporary travel documentation and get you back to the United States.

U.S. laws require transportation carriers such as airlines to check passengers for passports and visa before bringing them to the United States. In fact, these laws impose penalties if passengers are not in possession of the required documents.

As a permanent resident traveling overseas temporarily, you can generally use your permanent resident card (green card) or reentry permit to reenter the United States. You can use either document to board a transportation carrier and return to a U.S. port of entry. Either are proof that you have an immigrant visa. But you will most likely experience problems if you attempt to return to the U.S after the document is lost, stolen, destroyed or mutilated.

What to Do After Losing Your Green Card Abroad

Permanent residents who have lost a green card or reentry permit while traveling abroad must file Form I-131A, Application for Carrier Documentation. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) publishes the application, but you'll need to submit the form at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The form allows permanent residents to apply for a temporary travel document (carrier documentation). You're likely eligible if you:

  • Are returning from temporary overseas travel of less than one year, and their green card has been lost, stolen or destroyed; or
  • Are returning from temporary overseas travel of less than two years, and their reentry permit has been lost, stolen or destroyed.

If you need help preparing this application quickly and accurately, CitizenPath can help. Our online service is an extremely affordable option designed by immigration attorneys. Prepare the form in just a few minutes with a guarantee of USCIS approval. You'll also receive a checklist of supporting documents necessary for your specific situation. Learn more about Carrier Documentation Package.

Do not file Form I-131A if:

  • You were issued a green card and have been abroad for a period of one year or more; or
  • You were issued a reentry permit and have been abroad for a period of two years or more.

The length of the absence will be measured from the time you departed the U.S. to the time you pay the Form I-131A fee. If you exceed these limits, you may have abandoned your permanent resident status. A Returning Resident (SB-1) visa may be an appropriate solution in these situations. Please consult with an immigration attorney if this applies to you.

Form I-131A, Application for Carrier Documentation, allows eligible individuals to apply for a travel document. The travel document may be a foil placed in the applicant’s passport (known as a boarding foil) or a transportation letter. Passengers can present the travel document to the transportation carrier. It’s generally valid for 30 days.

How to Handle an Expired Green Card While Abroad

If you have an expired green card, you likely do not need to file Form I-131A. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) policy permits a transportation carrier bound for the United States to board a permanent resident without carrier documentation if the passenger has:

  • An expired green card with a 10-year expiration date; or
  • An expired green card with a 2-year expiration date AND a Form I-797C, Notice of Action, showing that they have filed a Form I-751 or Form I-829 to remove the conditions on their permanent resident status. The Notice of Action extends the validity of the card for a specified length of time, currently 48 months.

If you have an expired green card (with a 10-year expiration date) or a green card (with a two-year expiration date) and valid Form I-797C, Notice of Action, indicating that status is extended, you may use these documents to return to the United States in most cases. However, USCIS encourages you to check with your airline or vessel before determining whether to file Form I-131A. In some cases, despite the CBP waiver, a transportation carrier may choose to enforce the requirement.

Pay the Form I-131A Filing Fee

Before submitting an application for the carrier documentation, you must pay the Form I-131A filing fee on the USCIS website. Pay the filing fee via the USCIS online filing system. You can also reach the USCIS online filing system by going to:

  1. www.uscis.gov/i-131a
  2. Click the "Pay Online" link to the online payment system
  3. Follow the prompts

You (or anyone in the world) can pay the fee via credit card, debit card or a U.S. bank account via the Automated Clearing House (ACH) payment system. Access the USCIS online payment system from virtually any desktop or mobile device with Internet access.

You will need proof of payment when submitting your application. Upon making payment, you will be presented with a confirmation page. Print this page immediately; you will not be able to return to the confirmation page. You should also receive an email with your payment confirmation. Print either the confirmation page or confirmation email.

Where to Submit Form I-131A

Unlike most other USCIS forms, you must file Form I-131A at a U.S. embassy or consulate. There is no reason to file Form I-131A, nor can it be filed, from within the United States. First, we recommend that you contact the office to see if an appointment is necessary. Locate the nearest U.S. embassy or consular office and check their website.

Don't Forget Required Evidence for Form I-131A

When you appear at the U.S. embassy or consulate, you will submit several supporting documents with your application. Your complete Form I-131A application package should generally include the following items:

  • Form I-131A with an original signature
  • Your original passport and one copy of your passport’s biographic page. (USCIS may need to keep the original passport for a few days, but they will return it upon completion.)
  • A copy of your tickets, itinerary, or any other evidence indicating your last date of departure from the United States and your intended date of return travel to the U.S. Examples of acceptable evidence include e-tickets and boarding passes.
  • One passport-style color photograph (2″ x 2″) of yourself taken within 30 days of filing this application.
  • Evidence that you have paid the Form I-131A filing fee. Examples of acceptable documents include: printed payment confirmation page from the USCIS website or a printed copy of the email confirming payment of Form I-131A.
  • Evidence of your Lawful Permanent Residence or Conditional Residence (if available). Examples of acceptable documents include: a copy of your green card, your immigrant visa, I-551 stamp in your passport, or CBP admission stamp in your passport. Again, submit this evidence if it is available.

The embassy or consulate will generally issue the carrier documentation within two weeks. If your travel needs are more urgent, attend your embassy meeting with evidence in hand. Examples of evidence may be a doctor’s note indicating that your relative is ill in the United States or a letter from an employer indicating your necessary attendance at a business function. USCIS will review these situations on a case-by-case status and may expedite your case at their discretion.

Reentry to the United States

The carrier documentation provided through an approved Form I-131A application will enable you to prove to a transportation carrier only that you are authorized to travel to a United States port of entry to apply for admission to the United States. Be advised, it is not a guarantee of admission or parole into the United States. A CBP officer will conduct all required inspections when you arrive at a U.S. port of entry and will make the final determination of whether to admit or parole you to the United States.

my green card was lost with traveling

Replacing Your Lost Green Card Abroad

Filing a Form I-131A does not give you a new green card. Upon returning to the United States, you must replace your green card by filing Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, and pay the filing fee. Likewise, if your green card is expired, you’ll need to file the same application to renew your green card.

Replacing Your Reentry Permit

Generally, it’s not necessary to replace your reentry permit unless you plan to leave the United States for another trip of one year (but less than two years). To replace a lost, stolen, destroyed, or mutilated reentry permit, file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, and pay the filing fee.

Other Considerations

If you have a child who was born outside the United States and is coming to the U.S. for the first time, you likely need to request carrier documentation if the following three conditions are true:

  • You are a permanent resident or have an immigrant visa;
  • Your child is under 2 years old; and
  • Your child is traveling with you to come to the United States for the first time.

Check with your airline or transportation carrier first to ensure they will board your child in these circumstances without documentation. If the airline or transportation carrier refuses to board your child without carrier documentation, you will need to pay for and submit a separate Form I-131A for your child.

As always, do not file Form I-131A if you have ever abandoned your permanent resident status, have an arrest history, or have been in any type of removal or deportation proceedings. Your situation requires additional attention from an experienced immigration attorney.

Upon determining that you have a lost green card abroad and an intended return date to the U.S., it’s important to prepare and file the Form I-131A application in a timely manner. It will take approximately two weeks to receive the carrier documentation, and the documentation will generally be valid for a period of 30 days.

About CitizenPath

CitizenPath makes preparing Form I-131A easy. Our online service will guide you through the application in just a few minutes.

Our online service provides simple, affordable, step-by-step guidance through USCIS immigration applications. Individuals, attorneys and non-profits use the service on desktop or mobile device to prepare immigration forms accurately, avoiding costly delays. CitizenPath allows users to try the service for free and provides a 100% money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the application. In addition to your temporary carrier documentation, we provide support for Green Card Renewal/Replacement Package (Form I-90), Reentry Permit Replacement (Form I-131), and several other popular forms.

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