Everything You Need to Know About Residency & Citizenship for Your Real Estate License

Searching for a career that lets you set your own hours and earn a good income — without having to get an expensive post-secondary degree? Look no further than becoming a real estate agent. For self-starters with good people skills, real estate is a career that, with enough hard work and ingenuity, you can use to build your own personal empire.

In fact, there are very few formal requirements to get a real estate license. In most U.S. states, you just need to be 18 years old, have the equivalent of a high school diploma, and be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. This is good news for immigrants eligible for green cards. You can build a successful business buying and selling real estate without needing to become a U.S. citizen.

In the following post, you'll learn exactly what you need to know about residency and citizenship for your real estate license.

Citizenship and Legal Residency: What's the Difference?

There are two main ways to become a U.S. citizen. You can be born here, or you can become a naturalized citizen

Before anyone can apply to become a naturalized citizen, though, they must first be legal permanent residents

Legal permanent residency is a status that allows you to live in the United States indefinitely. You'll also be awarded a coveted "alien registration card" — commonly known as a green card — that allows you to prove employment eligibility and apply for a Social Security card. 

Legal permanent residents can be deported from the United States. And though they are able to leave the country, each time they reenter they are subject to being denied reentry. Individuals who leave the U.S. for a year or more essentially give up their legal permanent resident status, and it can be hard to get it back.

Legal Permanent Residents: Who Qualifies?

To become a legal permanent resident, you generally need to have a work visa. You can also be the spouse, or unmarried child, of a legal resident who petitions for you to immigrate to the U.S.

This puts would-be real estate agents in a bit of a Catch-22. They may not already have a job. Nor are they deemed priority workers or professionals, who have an easier time becoming permanent residents.

There are some ways to get around this conundrum. One option is to apply for your real estate license while employed in another capacity. Spouses and unmarried children of legal residents, who have obtained residency status through their family, would also be eligible to get their real estate sales license, provided they are eligible for a green card.

A third option for foreign nationals is to claim that getting a real estate license is essential to a new commercial enterprise. Such individuals may be able to qualify for permanent residency status under the category of "employment creation" if they seek to establish a real estate brokerage in the United States.

Do All States Have the Same Citizenship Requirements for Real Estate Agents?

When it comes to citizenship and residency status, U.S. states operate by the same rules. One reason for that is many U.S. states have reciprocity agreements with other states. These agreements allow a real estate agent from one state to buy, sell, and broker real estate in another state, using the license from the place where they legally reside.  

The bottom line? If you want to become a real estate agent, you don't have to be a U.S. citizen. You must be a legal permanent resident, though, and it can be tough to establish permanent residency in the United States strictly as a real estate agent.

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Leanna Petronella

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