Many of my clients are under the impression that the renewal of their permanent resident cards (PR Card) are mandatory upon its expiry. This is wrong as you only need your PR Card when travelling outside of Canada. It is true however that sometimes it is convenient to have your card valid when you use it as your identification, but again, it is not mandatory to renew it for the purpose of keeping your permanent residence in Canada status. In fact, your permanent residence status is determined by the number of days you physically present in Canada after receiving a Confirmation of Permanent Residence letter (when you are “landed” in Canada as a permanent resident). You can still have your PR Card valid and permanent residence lost, if you were absent from Canada for certain amount of days.
Therefore, it is advised to renew your PR Card, if you are going abroad and your card is about to expire. In order to re-enter Canada, the immigration officials will ask about your card and, if it is expired, you could have serious problems.
If you departed from Canada for an urgent reason and did not renew your card, you will be required to obtain a Travel Document from the Canadian Embassy or Consulate in your country before returning to Canada.
The same applies in the situations where permanent residents left Canada for a long period of time and basically lost their PR status. If they want to return to Canada as visitors (because they are under presumption that their status in Canada was lost), they cannot do it. They are still considered as permanent residents until their status is officially confirmed by the Canadian authorities. For that, a formal application for a Travel Document is needed and, if the refusal is received, the applicant can formally apply for a visitor’s visa to come to Canada.
There are situations when a PR left Canada for the reasons which were beyond their control and they want to return to Canada after technically losing their status. In those situations it is recommended to speak to an immigration counsel to explore you options to restore your status under humanitarian and compassionate considerations’ grounds.