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Understanding Your Green Card: What It Looks Like and What It Means

A green card, otherwise known as a Permanent Resident Card, serves as official documentation of lawful permanent resident status in the United States. If you are interested in living in the United States permanently, obtaining this card is one of the most important things that you can do. Although the journey to securing this card can be somewhat complex and overwhelming, there are many avenues to pursue one and various green card options one can apply for and eventually receive. 

What Is a Green Card? 

A green card, or a Permanent Resident Card (PRC), allows non-U.S. residents to live and work permanently in the United States. Green cards are the result of the Alien Registration Act of 1940. This act was passed as a result of World War II, when registration became a key element of the immigration process. In the following decades, Green cards came to represent security and safety to those who held them. These cards demonstrate a lawful immigrant’s right to live and work in the United States, which is often the result of years of hard work and determination.

What Does a Green Card Look Like?

Although a green card is not actually completely green, it does have a predominantly green color scheme on both sides, which earned it the nickname “green card.” 

Green cards have enhanced security features on them to make them resistant to tampering and counterfeiting. They are also designed to be authenticated quickly. If you look at a green card, you will probably notice things like holographic images, optically variable ink, and tactile printing. Green cards are relatively straightforward to read, but there are a few numbers to be aware of, and they are important for you to understand and be able to comprehend. 

Front of the Green Card

There are several features on the front of a green card you should be aware of when trying to read one and examining how a green card looks like. They are:

  • Secure biographical information. This includes your legal name, your country of birth, your birth date, and your biological sex.

  • Alien registration number (A-number). Your A-number is also known as your USCIS number. This is a unique eight- or nine-digit number that helps officials recognize you. 

  • Card expiration date. It is important to be aware of when your card is going to expire, so that you can undergo the necessary steps for renewal.

  • A photograph of the cardholder. There will be a picture of you on your green card for identification purposes. A picture also helps to prevent counterfeiting activities and confirm that you are the legal holder of the green card.

  • Extra security features. USCIS uses other security features as well such as microprinting and holographic elements to limit the likelihood of counterfeiting. 

Back of the Green Card

Much like the front of a green card, there is also important information on the back of your card that you should know about. 

Do not get stressed if the back of a green card is confusing for you. The back of the card is somewhat cryptic and includes lots of security measures, some so small they can barely be seen with the naked eye. Things that the back of the green card does include are:

  • An optical stripe. At the top of the card, there is a stripe much like a barcode that government agencies and officials can quickly scan to get all of the necessary information about your green card. 

  • A designation of Form I-551. In the top left-hand corner of your green card, there is a written designation of Form I-551. This form is synonymous with a green card and serves as the government’s internal form number for the modern permanent residence document. 

  • Your green card number. On the bottom of the card, you will find a string of characters with a specific meaning that also serves as an identifier. It is different from your A-number (or USCIS number).

Green Card Number (back of the Green Card)

A green card number is the unique number on the back of your green card that identifies the specific green card itself. At first, this number can seem confusing to read, but if you have the right context, you will be able to tell what each character stands for. This number is one of the most important features you will find on your green card. 

First Line of Characters
  • Characters 1–2: C1 or C2 some text
    • C1 = Resident within the United States 
    • C2= Permanent Resident commuter living in Canada or Mexico
  • Characters 3–5: Issuing country (USA)
  • Characters 6–14: 9-digit number, which is your A-number (also found on the front)
  • Character 15: Application receipt number
  • Characters 16–30: Immigrant case number some text
    • The first three letters represent service center code
    • The “<” symbol represents a blank space
Second Line of Characters
  • Characters 1-6: Birth date (YY/MM/DD format)
  • Character 7: Not documented, possible check digit
  • Character 8: Gender
  • Characters 9-14: Expiration date (YY/MM/DD format)
  • Character 15: Not documented, possible check digit
  • Characters 16-29: Country of birth
  • Character 30: Not documented, possible check digit
Third Line of Characters

This is the line that is associated with your name. You’ll find your last name, first name, middle name, the first initial of your father, and the first initial of your mother (this line is spaced with "<<" between the last name and first name). Depending on the length of the name, the father's and mother's initials may be omitted. For additional information about the newest version of the green card, see this USCIS press release.

Alien Registration Number (A-Number)

An Alien Registration number, or A-Number, is a unique number that identifies the cardholder as a lawful permanent resident and appears on both the green card and other immigration documents. You need this number to be able to live and work legally in the United States of America. This number is also listed on the front of your green card. 

What is the difference between the green card number at the alien registration number (A-number)?

Although they may seem similar, there are several important differences between a green card number and alien number, but both will be found on your permanent resident ID. 

Your U.S. green card number, which is also known as your receipt number, is an individualized number that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) used to track your case prior to issuing the card. This is a 90-character number on the back of your green card. It is a three-line number, with each line having 30 characters (see the list above for specifics about what each character means). Green card numbers contain useful information like whether or not you are a long-term permanent resident, your service center code, and your name. 

Alien numbers, or A-numbers, are identification numbers for non-citizens. This is a number you will keep for life. It helps the U.S. government keep track of you for immigration purposes. This number also makes up one part of your green card number. 

Why Is It Called a Green Card?

There's no definitive explanation for why a green card is called a “green card,” but there are some theories about where the nickname comes from. The most common explanation is simply because of the color of the card itself. The cards were green from 1950 to 1964. In 2010, they became green again, but in the meantime, the cards were also multiple other colors, such as blue, pink, and yellow. 

Some also suggest that the green agricultural fields new immigrants would work in could be a reason for the name “green card.” Either way, it is colloquially very well known as a crucial citizenship document and the piece of information that gives non-U.S. citizens who have legally immigrated the right to live and work in the United States. 

Looking Up Green Card Information Online

You should be very careful when searching for permanent resident card number lookup online due to privacy concerns and the potential for encountering scams. There are a lot of people who target those searching for green card information on the internet, as they know there are many individuals out there who are desperate to reunite with their families and procure green cards for themselves and their loved ones.

Even if you are just curious and want to see an example green card, the best thing you can do if you want information on green cards is to talk to a team of immigration professionals. Contact Consulta Immigration for additional help on green card procurement and security. With extra help, you can avoid scammers and get the assistance you deserve. Our team at Consulta will take care of permanent resident card number lookup for you. 


Green cards serve as some of the most valuable identification you can have as a non-U.S. citizen. The process of receiving a green card can be frustrating and arduous, but it is ultimately worth it if your dream is to live and work in the United States. And with the right team helping you out, the process can be a lot easier!

A green card gives you proof of lawful permanent resident status in the United States. With a green card, you are free to live and work in the United States and have the life you have always dreamed of. Just be careful to keep your green card safe, and if you have any questions about its validity or green card replacement, contact USCIS as soon as possible. 

Additionally, if you want help with the immigration process from experts who know how to get you the immigration results you deserve, contact Consulta Immigration. We’re here to help.

Green Card FAQs

What does a Green Card look like?

You might be wondering, “What do green cards look like?” A green card look like any other driver’s license or ID card one would have in their possession. You will find multiple words and numbers on both sides of the card, all of which contain information that is important in terms of your identification. 

You will also find a great deal of security measures on your permanent resident ID. Green card features include holographic images, optically variable ink, and tactile printing. Some of the security measures are so small that you can barely see them, but rest assured that they are all working to keep your identity safe and protected from those who might wish to steal it. Green cards are also designed so that government officials can easily recognize their legitimacy and save you time. 

How do you read a green card?

If you’re curious about how does a green card look, this information should be helpful. On the front of your permanent resident ID, find all of your biographical information, including name, birthday, country of origin, and your A-number. Your alien registration number is an identification number assigned to you that you will have for the rest of your life. 

On the back of your green card, you’ll find the designation Form I-551, which serves as a synonym with the green card itself existing. Beneath that, you’ll find a three-line number with a total of 90 characters. This is your US green card number. Each character in the number has a meaning (though some meanings are not released or discussed). Character meanings include things like your permanent resident status, your A-number, and your name. 

What information do you find on a Green Card?

To put it simply, on a green card, you find USCIS green card information. A green card is a small card that looks much like any other driver’s license, credit card, or form of identification. On the front, you will find basic biographical information such as your name, birth date, country of birth, A-number, card expiration date, biological sex, and a picture of you. On the back of a green card, you will find a barcode for government officials and agencies to scan, your green card number, and the designation of Form I-551. When you see these things, you’ll know the answer to, “What do permanent resident cards look like?”

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