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Can I travel abroad with a criminal conviction?

A criminal offence could jeopardise your chances of working, studying, or going on holiday abroad. 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.

A driver is tested for drink driving

 

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 any crime you commit could jeopardise your chances of working, studying, or even holidaying in certain countries.

So which country has the harshest policy for visitors with criminal records? 

 

Can you go to America with a criminal record?

UK travellers looking to travel to the US can usually avoid getting a visa and apply for 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 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 6 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 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 6 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 something like a drink-driving offence would 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.

There’s no official guidance as to what extent previous convictions might 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?

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 be able to apply for an ETIAS and have 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 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.

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 with 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 criminal record 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.

 

What happens if I’m refused entry to a country?

You’re highly unlikely to be denied entry to a country once you’ve arrived at the airport. This is because you should have had all your necessary documentation checked before you got on the plane. In these rare instances you’re likely to be sent home on the next flight - potentially at your own expense. But exactly what would happen depends on the nature of the situation.

You might not be allowed to board a plane if you don’t have the right documentation, including the necessary visas or evidence of Covid vaccination.

Sometimes your airline might be able to arrange fast electronic travel authorisation but this isn’t guaranteed.

 

Can I claim on my travel insurance if I’m refused entry to a country?

If you’re refused entry to a country, it’s often due to not having the necessary visas to enter. In these cases travel insurance can’t help because you should have made the necessary applications and organised the appropriate documentation before you left home.

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