Can You Leave the Country If You Have a Felony? (Or Probation, Warrant)

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Criminal Records | October 24, 2022

Police officer pointing to a man who has a question mark over his head wondering can you leave the country if you have a felony as he walks across a border and his felony record is behind him.

Anyone wishing to travel outside the US may wonder, can you leave the country if you have a felony or can you leave the country if you are on probation or have a warrant?

The truth of the matter is that a convicted felon is likely to face travel restrictions; however, this is not always the case. If a person has served their sentence, they are allowed into some specific countries as long as they have a valid passport.

A few countries out there explicitly prohibit anyone with a felony from entering.

This comprehensive guide answers the question, can you leave the country if you have a felony, and provides information about traveling internationally with a criminal record.

Can You Leave the Country on Felony Probation?

The concerned authorities consider several factors to determine if a convicted felon is allowed to leave the country. The three main factors include:

  • Has the felon served his sentence?
  • What is the type of crime on their record?
  • Does the government in question impose any travel restrictions?

In any case, convicted felons will have to serve their sentence before they are allowed to travel. If an offender receives a fine or is sentenced to a probation period, their movements will be restricted.1 These restrictions vary depending on the probation conditions set by the judge, which vary according to the nature of the crime.

For example, suppose one of the conditions of probation is that the felon needs to report to a probation officer after a certain period. In that case, the felon will not be allowed to travel to another state or abroad at the time of the meeting. The felon will require the permission of the probation officer to travel.

Restrictions will ease if the conditions of the probation period have been fulfilled.  Once the terms are met you can leave the country if you have a felony.

Felony Travel Restrictions (Can You Leave the Country if You Have a Felony?)

Can you leave the country if you have a felony? If a felon has completed their sentence, whether the court-imposed parole, imprisonment, probation or whatever, then they are allowed to travel freely. First, they will need to obtain a valid US passport which depends on the person’s current financial status and the conviction type they served.

It is easier to travel with a valid passport.8 A felon who has served their sentence will not encounter any problems moving around the country, but they may face a few issues when traveling internationally. A passport is an identification form that allows a person back into the US but does not guarantee entry to other countries.

Screenshot of US Department of State website page for passports with yellow arrow on travel restriction to North Korea.

The State Department offers travel restriction guidelines for certain countries, based on their current political, economical and natural threat level.

Some countries ban felons with serious criminal records.

Additionally, a few countries require visas alongside passports from US citizens before they are allowed to enter the country. Though it’s easy to obtain a passport, getting a visa with a felony can be pretty challenging.

Related Reading: Do Felonies Go Away After 7 Years?

What Felonies Disqualify You From Getting a Passport?

Generally, the state department will approve the passport of anyone who has fulfilled the terms of their statements.

However, certain things can disqualify a US citizen from getting a passport, not just a felon. These include:

Felony Drug Convictions

The main disqualifier from obtaining a passport in the US is an international drug trafficking charge. A person is ineligible for a passport if they commit a drug trafficking crime while crossing borders.2 However, getting caught with drug possession in the US is usually categorized as a felony arrest.

Once the felon has served their sentence, they will get their passport reinstated, especially if this was a first-time offense.

Felonies on Probation

The State Department may deny a passport application if a person is on probation or is currently under felony arrest. If the courts decide that the party is a flight risk, their application will be denied.

Moreover, the government will deny a passport application to anyone deemed a national security threat.

Owing Child Support Money

Though this is not a crime, child support debt may preclude an interested party from obtaining a passport.

The rule is very clear; the State Department prevents anyone who owes $2500 or more in child support.7

Unpaid Federal Taxes

Anyone with a high amount of delinquent tax debt may be prevented from obtaining a passport. The IRS could refer the party’s case to the State Department, which will revoke the current passport or deny a passport renewal.

In this case, delinquent tax debt refers to more than $55,000 in taxes.

Unpaid Federal Loans

A few types of delinquent federal loans may disqualify an applicant from obtaining a person (this does not include outstanding student debt). In most cases, federal assistance loans for medical emergencies, repatriation expenses when abroad, and many more will automatically disqualify an applicant.

Strict Age Requirements

Even though passport applications have restricted age requirements, specific guidelines apply to minors under 16, such as parental awareness.

What Countries Can You Travel To With a Felony?

Anyone preparing to immigrate or visit another country may have to apply for a visa. A visa refers to a document usually stamped on a passport, which allows a person into a particular sovereign country.

Visa application varies according to country, and some will not allow anyone with a felony on their records to get a visa. Additionally, each country has its own regulations on what constitutes a felony which affects the denial or granting of a visa.

Screenshot of US Embassy & Consulates in Japan website page for criminal convictions with yellow arrow pointing to rules on travelers with criminal convictions.

The US Embassy and Consulates in Japan explains that anyone with a criminal history must apply for a visa.

Countries that deny anyone with a felony on their record include:6

  • United Kingdom
  • Taiwan
  • South Africa
  • New Zealand
  • Macau
  • Kenya
  • Japan
  • Israel
  • Iran
  • India
  • Cuba
  • China
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Argentina

European Countries That Allow Felons

The US is among the few countries that have stringent policies against felony entry. On the other hand, Europe, especially the Schengen Area, has lax policies when granting permission to admit someone with a criminal record. Generally, convicted felons with more minor crimes are allowed entry to these countries, provided their crimes are not too serious.

The countries in the Schengen Area have abolished visas, passports, and other border control regulations within their mutual borders and function as a single jurisdiction for international travel. In short, they have a similar visa policy. These Countries include:

  • Poland
  • Norway
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Lithuania
  • Germany
  • France
  • Finland
  • Island
  • Italy
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Portugal
  • Liechtenstein
  • Estonia
  • Belgium
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Latvia
  • Slovakia
  • Spain
  • Slovenia
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Getting an International Background Check

An international background check is a very complex and challenging process. This is because each country has its own regulations, and some even prevent foreign agencies from getting these records. As such, some international background checks may take weeks to complete.

Most customs offices will request certificates of good conduct or a document indicating a lack of criminal history.

Screenshot of U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador website page for U.S. citizen services with yellow arrow pointing to guidelines on U.S. citizen background check and fingerprints in Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian consulate provides online access to a number of vital records and information on how to complete background checks and fingerprints for international background checks.

Even so, most international customs run standard international background checks to verify a person’s criminal history. Most countries have varying regulations on the types of criminal records available, and some have restricted access. The United States is not among these countries; criminal records are open to the public and, in general, are free of restrictions.

A person with a violent criminal record may not be allowed entry into another country.

Do Countries Share Criminal Records? (Can You Leave the Country if You Have a Felony?)

The short answer is no. There is no single standard system that shares individual criminal information among nations. Additionally, some countries restrict foreign entities from acquiring a person’s criminal information.

Each country has its regulation that handles criminal records.

That being said, several groups of countries have come together to share such information. For example, INTERPOL keeps track of international criminal records in its database,5 which all the participating countries can access. The European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) also shares criminal conviction information among member states.4

How Does Canada Know if You Have a Felony? (Can a Felon Travel to Canada?)

Canada is among the countries that have strict immigration laws. However, unlike the US, Canada does not have terms such as ‘misdemeanor’ or ‘felonies.’ The authorities categorize crime into three:

Summary Offenses

These are minor offenses or the least serious crimes. The maximum possible penalty they can carry is a $5000 fine or a jail time of 6 months. These offenses do not require a jury trial. They include but are not limited to

  • Disorderly conduct
  • Soliciting a prostitute
  • 30 grams or more of Marijuana possession
  • Indecent exposure
  • Contempt of court

Most states label these crimes as simple misdemeanors and will not prevent a US citizen from crossing the Canadian border. Anyone convicted of two or more summary offenses in the United States will be barred from entering Canada.

Indictable Offenses

In Canada, these are considered the most severe crimes. They have varying penalties, which range from 10 years to life imprisonment. Indictable offenses are categorized as class A or B felonies in most states in the US, such as Washington.

They carry a ten-year prison sentence to life imprisonment.

A few class C felonies that carry a maximum 5-year prison sentence in Washington are also categorized as indictable offenses in Canada. Anyone with a felony considered an indictable offense in Canada would be barred from entry. Indictable crimes include but are not limited to:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Robbery
  • Motor Vehicle Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Arson
  • Aggravated assault
  • Drug trafficking
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Perjury

Hybrid Offenses

These can either be indictable or summary offenses, depending on the nature of the crime. They have a penalty of between 2 to 14 years. Examples include

  • Hit and run
  • DUI
  • Drug possession
  • Assault offenses
  • Harassment
  • Theft crimes
  • Identity theft

Screenshot of Government of Canada website page for immigration with yellow arrows on how to overcome criminal conviction when traveling to Canada.

Criminally inadmissible in Canada applies to anyone who has been convicted of serious crimes.

According to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), anyone with a serious offense should be barred from entry or be criminally inadmissible. Canada has full access to US criminal records and can review a visitor’s record before entry.

How To Check if You Have a Felony for Free

To prevent any mishaps when traveling internationally, the first step a potential traveler should take is to conduct a free criminal background check on themselves to determine whether felonies, if any, are part of what shows up on a background check. If felonies appear on the person’s record, they can consider getting them sealed or expunged.

Anyone who has had contact with law enforcement officers or committed a crime or infraction may have a criminal record.3 This depends on the nature of the crime, state laws, and the age of the criminal. An interested party can obtain their criminal records by submitting a request to certain government agencies such as local law enforcement offices, FBI agencies, and court clerks.

Additionally, several third-party websites also offer criminal record searches for interested parties. This information can be obtained online, in-person or by mail.

Related Reading: How to Find Out If You Have a Warrant (The Easy Way in 3 Steps)

Can You Leave the Country With a Felony Warrant?

Can you leave the country if you have a felony warrant? Traveling with a warrant is a lot more complicated than traveling with a felony. Sometimes, a US citizen will not be allowed to travel across states with a warrant. It’s almost impossible to leave the country with a warrant.

This is because most security borders for international flights will check for any outstanding warrants.

Local law enforcement can access information on criminals using a national database which will allow them to obtain a person’s criminal record, including a warrant status. If a person has an active warrant for arrest, they will be taken into custody. Any of the following will not be allowed to leave the country:

  • International drug trafficking charges
  • Anyone subjected to a federal arrest
  • Anyone prohibited by parole, a court order or probation from leaving the country
  • Owning child support
  • Anyone yet to serve their prison sentence
  • Anyone under a supervised release program, especially if it pertains to drug-related charges

When anyone decides to travel internationally, most customs will check their databases, and anyone with a warrant may be denied a visa which is a requirement for entering a country. Besides the airline security database, some customs offices involve other additional security checks.

It’s advisable not to travel away from the country if a warrant issue is not resolved, especially if the party has an active warrant or is undergoing trial. Anyone with a valid passport will have it confiscated if they try to travel after a warrant has been issued. After an arrest and court appearance, judges may order that the person refrains from leaving the country or traveling out of state until the case is heard.

Will Criminal Record Affect Visa Application?

A criminal record will definitely affect a person’s visa application. Moreover, if a person commits a crime while holding a visa, their visa may get canceled, and the person may get deported. In most countries, a person will not be eligible for a visa if they have a substantial criminal record. You can leave the country if you have a felony as long as the country in question provides you with a visa.

Screenshot of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website page for Immigration and Nationality Act with yellow arrow pointing to Title III: Nationality and Naturalization of the U.S. Immigration law.

Most individuals who have extensive criminal records will be denied entry into the US.

All countries require a person to declare any criminal history when applying for a visa. Most immigration departments will require a police certificate and a statutory character declaration. Once a person commits a substantial crime and their visa gets canceled, they are considered unlawful non-citizens.

To summarize, anyone with a felony can leave the country if they have a passport and a visa (if necessary) for the country they wish to travel to, so the answer to the question, can you leave the country if you have a felony, is yes, if you can obtain the travel documents.

Frequently Asked Questions on Can You Leave a Country if You Have a Felony

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

The closed-loop cruise which starts and ends in the same port, while the other is an open-loop cruise which begins at one port and ends in another. A felon is more likely to obtain permission to go on a closed-loop cruise than an open one. A closed loop cruise only requires proof of citizenship, while an open one needs a passport though this varies according to the cruise line.

Can a Felon Get a Passport To Leave the Country?

A person with a felony on their record can get a passport provided they meet the required criteria: they have served their sentence, have not committed drug trafficking charges, and do not have outstanding federal tax debts.

Does Canada Do Background Check Border?

Yes. Canada conducts border background checks, and anyone with two summary offenses or an indictable offense record will be barred from entry.

Does Customs Check for Warrants?

Yes. Even though customs will not conduct a full background check for every person, they will check for warrants through the National Crime Information Database (NCIC). Anyone with an active warrant will be arrested and taken to the place where the warrant was issued.

Can a Class C Felony Get a Passport?

Class C felonies are considered violent or substantial felonies in most countries. Anyone who has served their sentence can get a passport according to the discretion of the State Department. However, some countries, such as Canada, bar entry for anyone with a Class C felony.

Can You Get a Passport if You Have a Felony From 20 Years Ago?

Yes, anyone with a criminal history is allowed to apply for a person, and they will most likely get it. In the US, criminal charges older than 7 to 10 years will not appear on a person’s record, so they are free to apply for a passport.

Does Passport Show Criminal Records?

Passports do not carry or reveal criminal records. The passport only provides the traveler’s information which will be run through the customs database.

What Are the Best Countries for Ex-Felons?

The best countries for ex-felons to visit or emigrate to are those that allow visitors with felons on their records. Some of the best places to visit are the European countries in the Schengen area.

Can I Travel to the Caribbean With a Criminal Record?

Most Caribbean countries allow anyone with a US passport to enter without issues.

Will I Get Stopped at the Airport if I Have a Warrant?

Yes, if you have a warrant out for your arrest, you will definitely be stopped at the airport.


References

1Casey, E. (2022) Can a Felon Travel to Europe? NCESC.COM. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from <https://www.ncesc.com/can-a-felon-travel-to-europe/>

2Synytska, M. (2022). Can Felons Leave the Country? Legal Blog, Criminal Law Blog. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from <https://lawrina.com/blog/can-felons-leave-the-country/>

3von Hindenburg, A. (2022). Oildale: Assimilation of Convicted Felons. OKH Journal: Anthropological Ethnography and Analysis Through the Eyes of Christian Faith, 6(2). <https://okhjournal.org/index.php/okhj/article/download/168/174>

4European Commission. (2022). European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). European Commission. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/cross-border-cases/judicial-cooperation/tools-judicial-cooperation/european-criminal-records-information-system-ecris_en>

5The International Criminal Police Organization. (2022). First INTERPOL-AFRIPOL counter terrorism operation. Interpol. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://www.interpol.int/en>

6US Courts Gov. (2022). Travel Restrictions for Convicted Felons. US Court. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://www.paep.uscourts.gov/sites/paep/files/Convicted_Felons.pdf>

7U.S. Department of State. (2022). Child Support Payments. Travel State Gov. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/legal-matters/child-support.html>

8U.S. Department of State. (2022). Replace a Limited Validity Passport. Travel State Gov. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/have-passport/limited-validity.html>

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