How a drink driving ban could affect you travelling abroad

A drink driving conviction could jeopardise your chances of working, studying, or going on holiday abroad.

A driver is tested for drink driving

The implications vary from country to country, but there are lots of popular locations that might not let you get a visa if you’ve got a criminal record.

Here’s everything you need to know.

 

Is drink driving a criminal offence?

Yes, drinking driving is a criminal offence in the UK. If you’re convicted of a drink-driving offence, you face a minimum 12-month driving ban and an unlimited fine. You could also be put in prison.

The exact penalty you’ll get depends on the precise nature of the offense and the magistrates who hear your case.

Here are the main offences and the penalties you could face.

 

In charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

You could get:

  • Three months’ imprisonment
  • A fine up to £2,500
  • A driving ban.

 

Driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

You could get:

  • Six months’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A driving ban for at least one year (three years if convicted twice in 10 years).

 

Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis

You could get:

  • Six months’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A ban from driving for at least one year.

 

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink

You could get:

  • 14 years’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A ban from driving for at least two years
  • An extended driving test before your licence is returned.

You won’t automatically get your licence back if you’re a high-risk offender.

Drink driving is likely to go on your driving record. There are several different driving offence codes, starting with a DR10 for driving or attempting to drive with an alcohol level above the legal limit. Different codes count for a different number of points on your driving licence, and they’ll stay there for four or 11 years.

Here are the different drink driving codes explained:

  • DR10 - Driving or attempting to drive with alcohol level above limit
  • DR20 - Driving or attempting to drive while unfit through drink
  • DR30 - Driving or attempting to drive then failing to supply a specimen for analysis
  • DR31 - Driving or attempting to drive then refusing to give permission for analysis of a blood sample that was taken without consent due to incapacity

Codes DR10 to DR31 must stay on a driving record for 11 years from the date of the conviction. They leave you with between three and 11 points on your licence.

DR61 - Refusing to give permission for analysis of a blood sample that was taken without consent due to incapacity in circumstances other than driving or attempting to drive.

A DR61 automatically gives you 10 points on your licence. It also stays on your record for 11 years from the date of the conviction.

  • DR40 - In charge of a vehicle while alcohol level above limit
  • DR50 - In charge of a vehicle while unfit through drink
  • DR60 - Failure to provide a specimen for analysis in circumstances other than driving or attempting to drive

These three codes mean an automatic 10-point penalty on your driving licence. But they only need to stay on the record for four years from the date of the offence or four years from date of conviction where you’ve also been disqualified.

A DR70 is failing to co-operate with a preliminary test and means four points on your licence. 

On top of the punishments outlined above, a drink driving offence might also mean that your car insurance costs go up significantly. If you have to drive for work, your employer might see your conviction on your licence, and you could have trouble travelling to countries like the USA.

 

How long does drink driving stay on a criminal record?

Offences typically stay on a criminal record and in police databases until you reach 100 years old. However, after a certain period of time the record is considered to be spent.

While the offence is unspent, it appears on a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. This could affect your ability to get certain jobs or to get a visa when travelling abroad.

Once it’s spent it’s treated as forgotten for various purposes such as visa applications, job applications and getting car insurance.

A DR10 drink driving conviction usually becomes spent five years from the date of conviction.

 

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Can you travel abroad with a criminal record?

It’s possible to travel abroad with a criminal record, but you might find there are some countries you’re not allowed to visit. That means getting behind the wheel when drunk could jeopardise your chances of working, studying, or even holidaying in certain countries.

So which country has the harshest immigration policy?

 

Can you go to America with a criminal record?

UK travellers looking to head to US can usually avoid getting a Visa and apply for something called an ESTA instead. But if you’ve got a conviction or caution on your criminal record, that could prevent you from using the visa waiver scheme.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 doesn’t apply to US visa law. Even spent convictions might have an impact on whether you’re allowed to enter into the United States. If you don’t declare your convictions – you might be barred from travelling to the states.

When you apply for a visa, a consular officer should determine whether you’re qualified.

Applicants are required to get an Association of Chief Police Officers Police Certificate issued within six months of the date of the visa interview.

Information on getting the police certificate is available from the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Criminal Records Office website. You’re also required to complete the personal data form VCU1 and you should provide as much detail as possible concerning your arrests/cautions/convictions.

You'll then have a face-to-face meeting with the US Embassy in London to seek eligibility for a visa. It could take between 90 days and six months for the visa to be approved. If you’re not qualified, you might be able to get a waiver of ineligibility.

 

Can you go to Australia with a criminal record?

If you wish to visit Australia, either as a tourist or on business, you usually need to get an electronic visitor visa. But if you have a criminal conviction that resulted in a prison sentence, you might need to apply for a full tourist visa.

While these are usually granted automatically, there could be delays if you have a criminal record, such as being convicted for drink-driving.

In certain cases, your application might be referred to the Australian High Commission – the Australian Embassy in London. If you’ve got a criminal record, you might also have to apply for a police certificate. This could take up to 49 days. 

All Australian visa applicants have to satisfy the ‘character test’, which is set out in Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958. You might not pass the character test if you’ve got a substantial criminal record.

However, while it might delay your application, it's unlikely that a conviction for a drink-driving offence will prevent you from getting a visa to enter Australia.

 

Can you go to China with a criminal record?

The Chinese visa service online application asks you to give details of any criminal record in China or any other country.

Unfortunately, there’s no official guidance as to what extent previous convictions would be taken into account. But charity Unlock says that disclosure of a conviction shouldn’t automatically stop you from getting a visa. 

 

Can you go to Europe with a criminal record?

While you should be able to travel to Europe if you’ve got a drink-driving conviction, precise policies vary from country to country.

Generally speaking, travellers who don’t need visas usually aren’t asked about criminal records, and criminal conviction checks aren’t typically carried out at borders.

From 2023, UK travellers visiting participating EU countries have to get a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) waiver.

If you’ve got a criminal record, you should still be able to apply for an ETIAS and be given the opportunity to discuss the circumstances around your conviction. If you’re denied an ETIAS, you might be able to appeal to the country that has made the decision.

 

Countries you can’t go to with a criminal record

Any country that requires a visa for entry might ask you whether you’ve got a criminal conviction, so a drink-driving record could impact your eligibility.

For instance, Canada sets out all kinds of criteria to demonstrate an offender has been rehabilitated before they may enter the country.

Russia asks about criminal convictions and you could end up being denied a visa. Charity Unlock says that there’s little information on what types of offence would lead to an application being refused. However, it adds that the majority of visas are approved and people are typically only declined in exceptional cases.

India is another country that asks about criminal records on its e-vistor applications. If you answer yes, you might be asked to provide further details about your conviction. You might have to provide a police certificate more information. The visa officer should then decide whether to give you a visa.

 

What countries can I travel to with a criminal record?

While you might be able to travel to lots of countries as long as you get the appropriate visa, there are several that don’t ask about criminal convictions at all.

Unlock says that based on feedback, the following countries either don’t require a visa at all, or don’t ask about criminal convictions on their entry forms.

  • Andorra
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Cambodia
  • Chile
  • Dubai
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • The Philippines
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
 

Always check before you travel

If you’re travelling abroad and worried that your motoring conviction could result in being refused entry, always check the country’s policy.

If you need to get a visa or use a visa waiver scheme, make sure you’ve checked to see what will be asked. Leave yourself plenty of time, as you might need to provide extra information and police reports.

Declare any criminal convictions you may have in your application and before travelling, regardless of how minor they are.