Can a Felon Get a Passport? What the Law Says in 2023 (Yes & No)

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Criminal Records | January 5, 2023

Convicted felon wearing a jail-striped shirt looks at an international airport and a passport and wonders can a felon get a passport in any state, and can you get a passport if you have a felony?

Can a felon get a passport?

Many people who have served their time consider leaving the country for one reason or the other. But, regarding the latest legal codes, the answer to can a felon get a passport is both yes and no.

Some crimes can prevent an individual from obtaining a United States passport after incarceration, but the good news is that the majority of crimes will not cause an individual to forfeit their rights to travel outside of the country.

The trick is knowing what will debar a person from international travel or cause a red flag on an international background check.

Other considerations include the destination country, how long it’s been since the crime was committed, and the reason for the travel.

This complete guide explains all the conditions.

Can a Felon Get a Passport?

So, can a felon get a passport? The simple answer is that yes, almost all felons will be eligible to obtain a United States passport as far as their criminal history is concerned.1

However, it should be mentioned that an individual’s criminal history is not the only thing that can prevent someone from obtaining a passport.

The fact that even a dozen felony convictions would not technically prevent someone from obtaining a passport comes as a surprise to many individuals.

Many people assume that when it comes time to get a passport there will be a vigorous background check process to determine if the individual is a high risk to commit a crime while traveling in a foreign nation. However, this is not the case and the background check investigation that is performed as part of the passport application process is fairly minimal.

Screenshot of U.S. Department of State website page for U.S. Passports with yellow arrow on passports and international Megan's Law.

Some criminal activity, such as sex offenses, is required to be included on a person’s passport, but does prevent them from obtaining one.

Essentially, what traveling Americans do in other countries is largely viewed as the destination country’s problem.

With that being said, there are countries that accept U.S. passports that will deny an individual entry to their country due to their criminal record, so individuals that have more serious convictions on their criminal history should always research their destination country’s entry requirements to minimize the risk of being turned away at the border.

Finally, the other thing that many individuals forget about is that U.S. citizens actually have a constitutional right to leave the country if they want to. This is covered in the 5th amendment which says that persons can not be held to answer for crimes they have already served their sentence for.2

There are a few exceptions to this, for example, individuals are not able to leave the country to avoid being drafted into the military and are also not able to leave if they are under indictment for a crime.

Although there are a few other things that individuals with criminal records, especially felony criminal records should consider, the vast majority of felons should not be denied a passport due to their criminal history records.

Can a Convicted Felon Get a Passport?

When it comes to can a convicted felon get a passport, the thing that individuals should remember is that simply having a felony on their record will not prevent the individual from obtaining a passport.

However, there are a few crimes that will cause an individual to be denied a passport.

Screenshot of U.S. Department of State website page for U.S. passports with yellow arrow on reasons law enforcement agencies sends requests for denying a passport to an individual.

Law enforcement agencies have the right to deny someone a passport based on criminal activity, but is usually reserved for people who have outstanding warrants or location restrictions, such as probation.

The exact crimes that cause disqualification vary slightly due to different state laws and how the crime is referred to in each state. In general, the only crimes that officially cause disqualification have to do with drug trafficking.3

As mentioned, each state will define this differently and it is up to the Department of State,4 the agency in charge of distributing passports and examining passport applications, to decide if the crime the individual was convicted of is related to drug trafficking and if it is a serious enough crime to deny them a passport.

Keep in mind that not all drug trafficking charges will be the reason for an automatic denial, however, those with any kind of drug trafficking charges on their record should be prepared to have their passport application denied.

In most cases, only serious drug trafficking convictions will cause someone to have their passport application denied, however, the State Department does not offer any specifics, mainly because state laws vary on the subject so it would be difficult to give a specific definition.

Convictions relating to international drug trafficking or those who are repeat offenders of these kinds of charges will almost certainly be denied a passport.

The reason for drug trafficking being the only charge that would prevent someone from obtaining a passport is quite simple. Individuals who have been convicted of drug trafficking are seen as a high risk of going to a foreign nation to acquire illegal substances with the intent of transporting them into the United States with the intent to distribute them.

How Can You Get a Passport as a Felon?

Those wondering how can you get a passport as a felon should know that there are no special requirements in regards to specific forms or information that is needed since the individual has a criminal record.

Instead, all individuals, regardless of their criminal history will be required to undergo the same passport application process.

Screenshot of U.S. Department of State website page for U.S. passports with yellow arrow on how to apply for a passport.

The Department of State provides instructions on obtaining a passport in the U.S.

Generally, this process begins by downloading and filling out the required forms.5 This will require some basic information about the individual such as their name, address, social security number, and birth certificate.

Essentially the individual will need to prove their identity and prove that they are a U.S. citizen. Everything else, such as the criminal history check, will be performed by the State Department once the application has been submitted.

In most cases, the passport process will involve the individual’s local post office.

As mentioned, those convicted of a crime will not need to do anything different and will fill out the form as normal. However, it is a good idea for anyone applying for a passport to first run a criminal history check on themselves before submitting any paperwork.

It will allow the individual to know exactly what shows up on a background check and in their criminal history record and most importantly, it will allow individuals to do the necessary steps on how to fix your background check.

Although not extremely common, mistakes do happen on criminal records and individuals will want to remedy these as soon as possible to avoid any delays to the already long passport application process. Individuals can learn how to get a criminal background check by using the search bar at the top of this page.

Simply enter the name of the person you wish to check to perform a public record search on the individual which will include information regarding criminal charges and convictions.

There is also the option to use a private background check service to perform the check, however, individuals should know that the majority of online background check companies will operate on a subscription service which will require individuals to pay for a full month of service even if they are only performing a single check. However, there are companies that offer a 7-day free trial background check so individuals can find their criminal history information at little to no cost.

Finally, individuals who want the most thorough check possible can run a federal background check on themselves by getting an FBI identity history summary check.6 This is a fingerprint-based background check and is likely the most complete and accurate criminal history check that is currently available to the average person.

Related Reading: How To Get a Federal Background Check on Yourself (Full Guide)

Can an Ex-Felon Get a Passport Expedited?

Understandably, individuals who have recently finished serving a lengthy sentence will be eager to go on vacation as soon as possible. After seeing how long the traditional passport application process can take, many individuals will be wondering, can an ex-felon get a passport expedited? And will be pleased to know that criminal history has no impact on an individual’s ability to get an expedited passport.

Screenshot of U.S. Department of State website page for U.S. passports with yellow arrows on link how to get passports fast.

Technology has increased the speed related to obtaining a passport using digital services.

While the traditional passport process takes 6-9 weeks to complete, the State Department offers several other applications that allow individuals to get their passports far sooner. For matters of life and death in which the individual needs to travel in the next 72 hours, individuals can pay to have an emergency passport appointment.7

For non-emergencies, the quickest an individual can obtain their passport is through an Urgent travel appointment,8 which generally takes less than two weeks to obtain a passport. For slightly less urgent issues that require an individual to get their passport in 3-5 weeks, there is the expedited passport option.9

Keep in mind that all of these will require additional fees as well as additional shipping fees to obtain the passport itself.

Can Felons Get a Passport if They Are on Probation?

One of the more important questions that individuals can forget to ask when they have completed their sentence and want to travel is, whether can felons get a passport if they are on probation, and the answer might be disappointing.

The main issue is that when an individual is on probation, they are still serving their sentence in a way. Because of this, the vast majority of probations will have a condition that the individual is not allowed to travel internationally.

In fact, the question that individuals should ask first when they are on probation and considering travel is, can felons travel out of state, since the conditions of most probations will not even allow this, making international travel out of the question.

Screenshot of U.S. Department of State website page for U.S. passports with yellow arrows on steps on how to get back surrendered unexpired passport from law enforcement agencies.

If a felon has had to surrender their passport as a result of incarceration, they must obtain written authorization from their probation officer to approve the release.

However, there are plenty of individuals whose probation conditions do not limit travel, but this is far more common with extremely low-level crimes. Individuals should always contact their probation officer to learn the conditions of their probation and find out when international travel will be possible again.

Can a Felon on Parole Get a Passport?

When it comes to can a felon on parole get a passport, individuals on parole will likely face the same issues facing individuals that are on probation. In most cases, just traveling outside of the state will be considered a parole violation, so very few individuals on parole will be able to travel at all, and traveling internationally is almost always a parole violation.

Since paroles can last forever in some cases, that effectively means that individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes will not be able to travel internationally. Although this is technically due to the conditions of their parole, rather than being denied a passport due to the crime itself.

Individuals should contact their parole officer before making any kind of travel arrangements to ensure they are legally allowed to travel outside of the state or outside of the country.

Can You Get a Passport if You Have a Felony for Drug Charge?

The question of whether can you get a passport if you have drug charges on your record is somewhat complicated.

As mentioned, the only crime that will cause a passport application to be denied automatically is those involving drug trafficking. This means that many individuals convicted of certain drug charges, such as possession or even manufacturing, will technically be able to obtain a passport, assuming they are not on probation or parole.

Screenshot of National Archives website page for Code of Federal Regulations with yellow arrow on laws regulating the denial of passports to certain convicted drug traffickers.

Federal regulations prohibit convicted drug traffickers from obtaining a legal U.S. passport.

It is somewhat difficult to say exactly since the department of state will make the final decision and drug-related convictions are examined on a case-by-case basis.

However regarding, can a drug felon get a passport, as long as the charge did not involve drug trafficking, individuals should not have a problem obtaining a passport.

Can a Non-Violent Felon Get a Passport?

Those wondering, can a non-violent felon get a passport, will be excited to know that almost all individuals with non-violent charges will not be denied a passport due to their criminal history record.

As mentioned, the only exception to this is individuals convicted of drug trafficking. Of course, individuals who are still on probation or parole will have other issues to deal with when it comes to getting their passports, but their criminal history record itself will not prevent this from happening.

How Long Before a Felon Can Get a Passport?

In regards to how long before a felon can get a passport, the answer is as soon as their sentence has been served in its entirety. As long as the sentence has been served and the individual is not on parole or probation, then their criminal record will have no impact on how long they have to wait before applying to get a passport.

Many people asking how long after a felony can you get a passport, will be under the impression there is a waiting period, similar to what many states do while individuals earn back certain rights. However, the federal government is in charge of issuing passports so state laws will not come into play in this case.

Can a Convicted Felon Get a Passport To Go on a Cruise?

A common question amongst individuals who have recently finished their criminal sentence is can a convicted felon get a passport to go on a cruise. As long as all the other conditions have been met such as the individual was not convicted of drug trafficking, and is not currently on parole or probation, then obtaining a passport should pose no serious difficulties.

When it comes to passports there are misconceptions about the way they are awarded which leads many people to ask questions like, Can a felon get a passport to Mexico? and can I travel to the Caribbean with a criminal record?

Basically, where a person intends to go with the passport is not considered at all when making the decision as to whether to award the individual a passport or not.

Passports are awarded based on the regulations in the United States, not those of foreign nations. However, individuals with passports will not automatically gain entry to any country they wish, instead, they must meet the entry requirements for the country of destination.

Can a Felon Get a Passport: What Felonies Disqualify You From Getting a Passport?

When it comes to what felonies disqualify you from getting a passport, the answer is very simple. Only felonies involving drug trafficking will disqualify an individual from getting a passport.

Technically, even serious crimes like homicide are not actually on the list of disqualifiers. So individuals wondering, can you get a passport if you have a felony from 20 years ago can be assured that as long as the crime was not for drug trafficking it will not matter how long ago the crime was committed.

What Disqualifies You From Getting a Passport?

Those who want a full list of what disqualifies you from getting a passport can find one on the State Department website’s travel page.10

In regards to what do they check for a passport, law enforcement will run national and local criminal history checks on the individual to search for the following disqualifiers:

  • If there are any crimes of drug trafficking on their record
  • If the individual is currently on parole or probation
  • If an individual has an active arrest warrant
  • If the individual is seeking extradition

There are a handful of other reasons that an individual can be denied a passport as well. Generally, this will involve major issues of national security, individuals that owe excessive fines or money to the IRS, as well as individuals who are behind on child support payments.

As far as how can you find out if you are on the passport denial list, is concerned, individuals will likely be notified by the state department if they are not eligible for a passport due to child support payments, tax records, etc. However, there is no database that can be checked to see if you are on the denial list.

What Countries Can a Convicted Felon Travel To?

So, what countries can a convicted felon travel to? Every single country will have its own unique entry requirements and felony travel restrictions.

Individuals can examine resources created by the state department such as their list of entry/exit requirements for the EU.11 However, individuals should find the tourist website of the country they are traveling to find out exactly, as there are plenty of countries you cannot visit with a criminal record.

There is a lot to consider besides the simple question of can a felon get a passport, although most can, there are other issues to consider such as can a misdemeanor stop you from getting a passport, as well as the conditions of your probation or parole.

Finishing up a lengthy sentence and going back to normal life can be extremely exciting and many people will want to celebrate their freedom. When asking can a felon get a passport, most people will be surprised at just how easy it is for individuals with criminal records to travel internationally.

Frequently Asked Questions About Can a Felon Get a Passport

Can You Get a Passport With a Criminal Record?

Yes, only drug trafficking charges are considered a disqualifier when it comes to criminal records.

Do Countries Share Criminal Records?

Some countries will share criminal records with each other, usually through the INTERPOL database.

Can You Get a Passport With a Felony?

As long as the felony is not for drug trafficking, then your criminal record should not impact your ability to obtain a passport.

Can Student Loans Prevent You From Getting a Passport?

Certain states consider student loan delinquency reason to deny a passport.

Can Ex Felon Get a Passport After Completing Their Sentence?

As long as the individual is not on probation or parole and the conviction was not for drug trafficking they will likely be eligible to obtain a passport.

Can a Class C Felony Get a Passport?

As long as the conviction is not for drug trafficking, individuals convicted of any other felony will be able to get a passport.

What Felonies Will Deny a Passport?

Only drug trafficking-related felonies will cause a passport application to be denied.


References

1U.S. Department of State. (2023). U.S. Passports. Travel.State.Gov. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html>

2Congress.Gov. (2023). Constitution of the United States 5th Amendment. Constitution Annotated. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-5/>

3U.S. Department of State. (2023). Drug Trafficking. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://www.state.gov/subjects/drug-trafficking/>

4U.S. Department of State. (2023, January 04). U.S. Department of State Homepage. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://www.state.gov/>

5U.S. Department of State. (2023). How to Apply for a Passport. Travel.State.Gov. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply.html>

6Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2022, October 26). Rap Sheets (Identity History Summary Checks). FBI. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/need-an-fbi-service-or-more-information/identity-history-summary-checks>

7U.S. Department of State. (2022, December 08). Life-or-Death Emergencies. Travel.State.Gov. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/get-fast/emergencies.html>

8U.S. Department of State. (2023). How To Get my U.S. Passport Fast. Travel.State.Gov. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/get-fast.html>

9U.S. Department of State. (2023). Passport Timeline [Image]. Travel.State.Gov. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/get-fast/_jcr_content/tsg-rwd-content-page-parsysxxx/timeline_container/additional_time_component/timelinewithphoto_1803081455.img.jpg/1666724821208.jpg>

10U.S. Department of State. (2022, December 08). Passport Information for Law Enforcement. Travel.State.Gov. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/legal-matters/law-enforcement.html>

11United States Probation Office. (2015, January 21). Travel Restrictions for Convicted Felons. United States Probation Office Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Retrieved January 04, 2023, from <https://www.paep.uscourts.gov/sites/paep/files/Convicted_Felons.pdf>

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