A Green Card Holder’s Guide to the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

Does the digital nomad lifestyle put your green card at risk? Before you embark on your next adventure, understand travel can impact your green card.

Published on
February 23, 2023
Does the digital nomad lifestyle put your green card at risk? Before you embark on your next adventure abroad, make sure you understand how travel might impact your status as a permanent resident.

This is a guest post from our friends at Legalpad!

Digital nomading within the U.S. vs. international travel

As a green card holder, you can live and work anywhere in the United States. Depending on your employment situation, you may be able to travel through the U.S. while working remotely as a digital nomad.

You can also travel internationally to explore places like Portugal or Bali while working remotely. However, you may risk losing your green card if you stay outside the U.S. for too long.

Explore outside the U.S. for up to a year

As a green card holder, you can spend up to six months outside the U.S. each year without any issues. You can also spend up to a year at a time outside the U.S., but after the six-month mark, you'll likely be faced with questioning from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when you attempt to re-enter the U.S.

If you want to avoid being pulled aside and questioned by CBP, make sure you return to the U.S. every six months.

Six months is ample time to try out the digital nomad lifestyle and explore life in different countries. For example, you can travel south and work remotely for 180 days on a tourist visa in Mexico. Indulge in vibrant Mexican cuisine and culture in Oaxaca, live along the Mayan Riviera in Tulum, and see what Mexico City is all about. Alternatively, explore one of the 46 countries now offering digital nomad visas.

Consider tax implications and company policies

You'll need to consider several other factors if you plan to travel while working remotely. For instance, what are the income tax implications of working from a different state or country? Be sure to consult with a CPA or tax attorney to ensure you're compliant and aware of how travel will affect your taxes.

If you're working for a U.S. employer, you'll need permission to travel, even if you're already a remote worker. Your company needs to know where you are for tax and compliance purposes. Some companies may allow you to travel while working remotely, while others may not. Be sure to have the conversation with your employer ahead of time. 

If your employer does not allow you to travel, consider leaving your job for something more flexible. Many digital nomads are startup founders and freelancers, for instance. You can launch a location-independent business and work from anywhere. 

Understand visas for digital nomads

Some countries allow visitors to work remotely on a tourist visa, whereas others have long-term visas for remote workers and nomad residence permits. Most digital nomad visas require applicants to pay an application fee, get travel insurance and have a minimum monthly income of a specific amount. Before you plan your trip, research the locations you want to visit to ensure you qualify for the visas they offer. 

Check out our guide on the 46 best visas for digital nomads.

Risks of long-term international travel as a green card holder

After you've been outside the U.S. for one year, CBP will consider permanent residence status" abandoned." If the U.S. government determines that you have abandoned your permanent residence status, your green card will no longer be valid. To become a permanent resident again, you must restart the green card application process.

If you know you'll be outside the U.S. for more than a year, you can prepare by applying for a Re-entry Permit before you leave. You cannot apply for one from outside the U.S. To obtain a re-entry permit, you must file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Your re-entry permit will be valid for up to two years. Alternatively, you can apply for a returning resident visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

Beyond the difficulty of returning to the U.S. and the risk of abandoning your green card, time spent outside the U.S. can delay citizenship. If you are outside the U.S. for over a year, the 3-5 year citizenship timeline will restart. Under certain circumstances, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may approve a request to preserve residence for naturalization purposes.

Although it is technically possible to travel for longer, best practice is to limit your time outside the U.S. to six months at a time. 

If you do have the ability to travel and work remotely now, take advantage of it! There are endless places to visit and endless people to meet. It's also easier than ever to live the digital nomad lifestyle with plenty of coliving spaces around the world. 

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