Call Today to Get Started With Your Visa!
15+ Years of High Success Rates

What is the difference between residence and domicile and why does it matter

U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who seek to sponsor a relative or spouse in the United States must understand the subtle but important distinction between their “domicile” and their “residence” when filing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

This article discusses the difference between domicile and residence in this context, and how sponsors can establish and prove their domicile for Form I-864.

What is the Affidavit of Support (Form I-864)?

Affidavit of Support

The Affidavit of Support, known as Form I-864, is a United States immigration form that a sponsor must sign when agreeing to take financial responsibility for an applicant immigrating to the United States. Usually, the sponsor is the same person who petitions for an immigrant visa on behalf of the applicant seeking to immigrate to the United States.  

For Form I-864 to be approved, the sponsor must show that they meet certain requirements, including the age of at least 18, income equal to or higher than 125% of the U.S. poverty level for the sponsor’s household size, and domicile in the United States.

Form I-864 must be accompanied by required documentation, including proof of the sponsor’s current employment and his or her most recent U.S. federal income tax return.  This information is necessary to show the sponsor meets all age, income, and domicile requirements and so that the immigrant visa application can be approved. 

What Does “Domicile” and “Residence” Mean? 

“How Domicile is Defined”

When the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) talks about a person’s “domicile,” they are referring to the place where someone has their true, permanent home base. This is the main place they consider their home, where they plan to stay for the long term, even if they are living somewhere else for the time being.

This shows that a person can have their residence (where they live at the moment) and their domicile (their permanent home) in two different locations. A person can have residences in multiple places but typically has one domicile. Often, where a person resides and where they are domiciled are the same, but not always.

Understanding the difference between domicile and residence becomes crucial when it comes to sponsoring a relative or spouse for immigration to the United States.

The sponsor needs to prove that their domicile is in the U.S. to meet the sponsorship requirements. This is because the concept of domicile revolves around the idea of having a principal place of living, a permanent home where the sponsor intends to keep living indefinitely into the future. Thus, grasping what “residence” means helps clarify the notion of domicile, especially in the context of sponsoring someone to come to the U.S.

“How Residence is Defined”

The USCIS defines residence as the person’s principal actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent.  Thus, a person may be a resident of more than one country — there is no requirement that they live in a particular place for a specific period for that place to be considered his or her “residence.”  

It is important to note that residence in the United States is not the same as being physically present there. Physical presence refers to the actual time a person spends in the United States, regardless of whether or not they are a resident there.  However, the longer a person stays in a particular place, the more likely it is that they can establish that place as their residence.

General Requirements for Sponsoring a Relative or Spouse

For an immediate relative or spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder) to come to the United States, they must have a sponsor who attests that they will financially support/sponsor their immediate relative or spouse. 

Besides having the financial means to sponsor their relative or spouse, a sponsor must be at least 18 years of age and be domiciled in the United States.  An individual who fails to establish their domicile in the United States when applying to be a sponsor for his or her relative or spouse will have their Form I-864 denied. 

What is the Domicile Requirement?

To fulfill the role of a financial sponsor for a spouse or relative’s immigration to the United States, an individual must meet the specific domicile requirement.

This stipulation mandates that the sponsor’s domicile, or principal and permanent home, is located within any state, territory, or possession of the United States, or in the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.). It’s essential for sponsors who are lawful permanent residents to not only meet this domicile requirement but also to maintain their lawful permanent resident status throughout the sponsorship process.

This requirement ensures that sponsors have a solid and stable connection to the U.S., demonstrating their capacity to support the immigrant they are sponsoring.

How to Prove the Domicile Requirement?

A sponsor can prove they are domiciled in the United States by submitting documentation with Form I-864, including: 

  • Federal income tax returns; 
  • Pay stubs or tax documents from United States employers; 
  • Homeownership or current lease, plus evidence of maintaining residence; 
  • U.S. bank account information or other investments; 
  • Children’s registration in school; 
  • U.S. citizen sponsors who have registered to vote. 

Sponsors Who Currently Live Outside the United States

Sponsors do not necessarily have to be currently living in the United States to establish that the United States is where they are domiciled.  If the sponsor is not currently living in the United States (e.g. due to employment) the domicile requirement must be proven through the submission of evidence that establishes: 

  • The sponsor is living abroad temporarily while maintaining a domicile in the United States; 
  • The sponsor intends to establish in good faith his or her domicile in the United States no later than the date of the intending immigrant’s admission to the United States; 
  • The sponsor is living temporarily abroad and employed by: 
    • The U.S. government and stationed abroad; 
    • A U.S. institution of research recognized by the Secretary of Homeland Security; 
    • A U.S. firm or corporation or its subsidiary engaged in whole or in part in the development of foreign trade and commerce;
    • A public international organization in which the United States participates by treaty or statute;
    • A religious denomination or group having a genuine organization within the United States; 
    • A religious denomination or group or interdenominational mission organization within the United States as a missionary.

Sponsors who live abroad temporarily can prove they still maintain domicile in the United States by providing documentary evidence, including:

  • Proof the sponsor has property in the United States; 
  • Records of the sponsor paying taxes in the United States; 
  • Records of the sponsor’s U.S. bank or investment accounts; 
  • Proof of a permanent mailing address in the United States; 
  • Records of the sponsor voting in the United States; 
  • Proof that a temporary stay is authorized by a foreign government; 
  • Proof that the sponsor is a student studying abroad temporarily. 

Sponsors Who Travel

Because domicile is defined as a person’s “true, fixed, principal, and permanent home,” temporary travel outside of the U.S. does not change a person’s domicile.  This is particularly true for sponsors who are U.S. citizens traveling abroad. 

Sponsors who are lawful permanent residents may run into trouble when traveling abroad because absence from the United States for a long time, such as over a year, may be deemed by the USCIS as evidence that they did not intend to make the United States their permanent home and thus have abandoned their permanent resident status.  

Lawful permanent residents who plan to travel outside of the U.S. for longer than one year should file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document before exiting the United States.  Doing so helps establish their intent to return to the U.S. and permanently reside there. 


What is the difference between domicile and residence for Form I-864 affidavit of support?

Domicile refers to your fixed, permanent home where you intend to remain, while residence simply means where you live regardless of plans. For Form I-864, sponsors must prove domicile not just residence. You can be a resident of multiple places but have domicile in only one fixed home location.

How can U.S. citizens abroad prove domicile in America when sponsoring relatives? 

Citizens living abroad temporarily can still prove U.S. domicile for sponsoring relatives by showing it’s a short-term stay, they intend to return to America, have property/assets/ties in the U.S., pay U.S. taxes, vote in the U.S., etc. This evidence establishes you still maintain a domicile despite currently residing abroad.

Do lawful permanent residents lose domicile if they travel outside the U.S. for over a year?

Yes, long absences can be seen as abandoning your permanent resident status and U.S. domicile. To maintain domicile, file Form I-131 before trips longer than a year to show you intend to return and keep the U.S. as your permanent home.


Understanding the distinct meanings of domicile versus residence is crucial when filing Form I-864 to sponsor a relative’s green card. U.S. citizens and permanent residents must prove their fixed, permanent American home despite temporarily residing abroad. Documenting strong ties to the U.S. establishes the required domicile.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Recent Posts

J1 Visa

J-1 Visa Waiver : Application, Process & Eligibity

Embarking on a journey with the J-1 Visa? This guide provides a brief yet comprehensive overview of the J-1 Visa application, process, and eligibility criteria. Whether you’re a prospective participant or a sponsor, unravel the key steps and requirements to


How to Choose an Immigration Attorney? Easy Guide

The United States immigration system is complicated, confusing, and often frustrating.  That is why choosing the right immigration attorney is crucial to achieving a successful outcome for your case.   Selecting an immigration attorney to help you can be overwhelming and

Marriage green card interview

Preparing For Marriage Green Card Interview

Preparing for your Marriage Green Card interview? We’ve got your back! In this quick guide, we’ll help you get ready smoothly. Let’s make sure you’re well-prepared for a successful interview. Dive in for essential questions and tips to ease your


Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sweta is also a chartered accountant — the equivalent of a CPA. This makes her uniquely positioned to understand the immigration needs of her business clients in the broader context of their corporate objectives.

Sweta is actively involved with immigration issues and immigrant communities in various capacities. She has assumed key roles at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), both at the local and national level. She has been a past chair at the Santa Clara Valley Chapter at AILA and has also been involved in various practice area committees at AILA National. Sweta has addressed multiple conferences/forums in the United States and worldwide on immigration and business issues.

San Jose Office

95 South Market Street, Suite 410, San Jose, CA 95113
Phone: (408) 542-0499

San Francisco Office

404 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 Phone: (408) 317-4662

San Jose Office

2225 East Bayshore Road, Suite 200 Palo Alto, CA 94303
Phone: (408) 317-4662

Contact Us