“It’s been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it’s not, it’s a visa, and it runs out fast.” 
Julie Burchill

How Long Can US Citizens Stay Legally Abroad?

This blog was written before the COVID Pandemic. The COVID epidemics played havoc on the travel business. In 2022, Fifty Plus Nomad decided to focus on traveling and living in Mexico and language learning posts. We will only update these long-term travel-related posts on a time-permitting basis. We would appreciate your comments and updates on these posts.

Most countries will allow you to stay on a tourist visa for the maximum legally permitted time. A tourist visa comes in a stamp in your passport that you get on entry in most countries. However, you must apply for a tourist visa to visit some countries in advance. Other countries require you to pay a fee for the visa on entry. (I have written a detailed post about this topic)

Occasionally immigration officials will change the maximum stay permitted on arrival. (95% of the time, they will not change this maximum period).

If the official changes the number of days, they will indicate the revised number of days in your passport or entry form. (Note that in some countries, like Mexico, you must keep a receipt of the entry form to exit the country. This receipt will indicate the maximum stay limit).

Most countries that do not require a tourist visa in advance will allow US and Canadian citizens a maximum tourist stay of three months or 90 days. (This is not true for all countries, Thailand and Indonesia only allow US and Canadian citizens a thirty-day visit. If you need more time, you will need a visa).

The most notable exceptions to this rule are Mexico and Canada. Mexico allows US and Canadian citizens to stay as tourists for 180 days. After 180 days, most of the time, travelers to Mexico can leave Mexico for three days and restart their tourist visas for another 180 days.

Note: However, Mexican officials can (and occasionally have) forbidden tourists to enter Mexico after a three-day stay in another country. In addition, in 2021, Mexican officials decided to discourage Americans from staying more than a short time unless they had pre-booked, long-term accommodations in Mexico.

The US and Canada allow citizens from each other’s countries to visit for a maximum of 180 days a year. If you stay more than 180 days, you violate the immigration laws. To comply with the regulations, you must leave the country for the rest of the year and return the following year.

Canadians can also lose certain services like Medicare if they stay abroad for more than 180 days.

Does Living Abroad Affect Your Status as a US Citizen?

The short answer to this question is NO. Living abroad or long-term travel abroad does not affect your rights or benefits as a US citizen. You can receive Medicare or Medicaid services in the US even if you live outside the US,

How Can You Stay Abroad Longer than Legally Permitted?

While it is rare for most travelers to care about how long US citizens can stay in a foreign country, many Fifty-Plus Nomads will sometimes think about a long-term visit or even living abroad. The requirements for legal residency outside the US are challenging for most US and Canadian citizens to meet in most countries. Some, such as Mexico and Costa Rica, are more lenient, and many Americans obtain residency in these countries. 

Marriage is the easiest way to become a resident or citizen of another country. Often you can obtain citizenship or residency right after marriage to a citizen of most third-world countries (sometimes it may take six months to a year). However, getting residency or citizenship through marriage in most developed countries (US, Canada, Europe, Australia, etc.) is not easy.

Some people also get citizenship in European countries through ancestry. Some countries like Britain, France, and Germany, grant citizenship to people with parents from their country. A few countries grant citizenship based on having grandparents or generations back ancestors from their country. Many Americans have Irish and Italian citizenship through these provisions. It is not easy to get citizenship this way; however, it is worth exploring.

If you are only thinking about staying in another country for a few months, you may want to consider being a perpetual tourist instead. A perpetual tourist stays in the country close to the maximum permitted and returns after staying in another country. (I recommend leaving the country at least one week before your tourist visa expires to avoid potential problems).

US and Canadian citizens staying in many Third World Countries can leave the country for a few days (usually three days) and reenter the country again as a tourist.

For example, until recently, many Americans lived in Mexico and Costa Rica as perpetual tourists. They’d stay in Mexico or Costa Rica for six or three months, respectively, and then leave for three days. Then they reenter Mexico or Costa Rica for another six or three months. Both countries are trying to make it more difficult for perpetual tourists to live in their countries. You should apply for temporary or permanent residency in Mexico and Costa Rica whenever possible.

Developed countries (and all member states in the Schengen, European Union community) will only allow you to reenter the country after leaving the country for THREE or six months (in the case of the US and Canada).

US and Canadian citizens can only be tourists in the ENTIRE Schengen community for three months. We must leave for three months before reentering the Schengen community as tourists. (In other words, we cannot stay for three months in Italy and three months in France because both countries are part of the Schengen community).

As a perpetual tourist, I spent two to four months in Canada (usually leaving and entering several times a year) for eight years. Usually, I was able to come and go relatively quickly.

However, one time the immigration officials asked me dozens of highly intrusive questions to ensure that I wasn’t spending more than six months a year in Canada. In my experience, the best thing to do is keep a list of when you entered and left the country and show it to officials if needed. (If you are a long-term, perpetual tourist, you should anticipate such interrogations in any country. It would help if you also were prepared to show immigration officials evidence of when you leave the country, like a bus or plane ticket).

How Long Can US Citizens Stay in a Foreign Country on Multi-Entry Visas?

Several countries (like India) will issue you a valid visa for more than one year from the issue date. These visas will allow you to visit the country multiple times without getting a new visa. The visa will indicate the days you are permitted to stay in the country. If you overstay the days shown on the visa, you may invalidate the visa.

One potential problem with some visas is that some are only valid for a limited period from the date of issuance, which can be a problem if you are planning a long trip, particularly if you have to apply by mail. For example, Vietnam used to issue visas in the applicant’s home country that were only valid for three months from the date of issuance, which caused problems for people who planned to travel outside of their home country for more than three months before their trip to Vietnam.

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Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

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