Can a Felon Leave the Country? Everything You Need to Know

If you have been convicted of a crime, you are well aware that the consequences are long reaching. Even after the term of imprisonment, probation, or other punishment has been satisfactorily completed, other ramifications continue.

Some restrictions, such as voting rights and background disclosures are governed by individual states.

Other limitations, such as passport issuance and travel permissions, are solely at the discretion of the federal government.

Certain countries also have restrictions on accepting felons into their country, even on a temporary or travel basis.

So when can a felon leave the country? There is not a single answer because there are many variables in place. 

Here we will answer many of the questions you have about leaving the country and discuss some of the obstacles you may encounter.

Permission From The Court

permission from the court

One of the first considerations you will need to take into account is the sentencing Court.

If you served time in jail or prison, your conditions of release may limit foreign travel for a specific period of time. You may not be able to travel during:

  • Pre-Trial Release
  • Awaiting Sentencing
  • Post-Release Probation
  • Repaying Restitution
  • Parole or Probation Officer Denies
  • Other Conditions

If you are currently on pre-trial release or post-sentencing probation, you should consult with an officer of the Court to determine if specific travel restrictions exist

These conditions may change over time and based on your behavior as well as new guidelines enforceable by law.

Obtaining a Passport

Assuming you do not have travel restrictions or have otherwise gained permission from the Court to leave the country, you will need to get a passport.

There are a few basic ways to obtain a US passport, but there are major restrictions for individuals with a criminal record.

Is Your Passport Valid?

is your passport valid

If you have a current passport, it is imperative that you discuss this with an officer of the Court.

The sentencing judge is likely aware of your passport status, but in case this detail was overlooked during the criminal proceedings, there could be unpleasant ramifications.

When a felon wants to obtain a passport for the first time, or to renew an existing process, there are a few extra steps.

Bottom Line: a new passport issue for adults is $145 when ordered directly through the US State Department.

 This standard fee does not change for felons, however there could be additional fees for those with a criminal record. 

Identification Requirements

Background checks are conducted on every individual who request a US passport. If you have been convicted of a felony that has not been fully expunged, you should allow additional time for the processing of your passport application.

The US federal government requires each state's participation in the REAL ID program

This has been in effect since 2018, but states are gradually complying. Every passport issued since the law became effective is automatically ID compliant.

State Issued Identification

If you do not have a valid state issued identification card, you must obtain one before you can apply for a US passport.

In addition, you must provide identification that indicates your current residence, place of birth, and Social Security verification.

Current passport holders who have been charged with a felony may not automatically lose their passport. However, you may be required to pay a fee to update or correct your passport information.

Bottom Line: standard processing times for these corrections vary, but you should allow at least an extra two weeks for processing.

Felon Friendly Countries

felon friendly countries

Rather than focusing on the limitations, it may be helpful for you to discover foreign countries that welcome individuals despite a criminal background. Here are a few nations that typically offer flexible visitation policies for felons:

  • India
  • Peru
  • Guatemala
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Russia
  • United Kingdom
  • Venezuela

These countries are historically felon friendly, but some restrictions may still apply.

Certain crimes such as espionage and drug or human trafficking crimes may not be permitted to travel. Keep in mind that these policies are subject to change without notice.

Bottom Line: volatile political climates, international relations upsets, and other circumstances may cause a foreign nation to change their policies.

In most cases, these restrictions are temporary. Always check the US State Department updates before traveling.

Processing and Travel Times

In some cases, there is a waiting period before a felon is permitted to travel to a foreign country.

Most countries will allow felons to visit if they are still on Court ordered probation. The responsibility to confirm specific rules falls on the traveler.

Always carry documentation with you that confirms your legal status and provides contact information for your probation officer.

Bottom Line: whenever possible, have written permission from the Court that specifies the approval of your travel location and duration.

Foreign Travel Restrictions

Some countries have placed additional restrictions on US travelers who have been convicted of a felony offense.

There are many rumors surrounding these countries as well as the processes for determining admissibility. Most US citizens are not familiar with these conditions.

Does Canada Accept Felons?

go to canada

One common misconception is that felons from the US are not permitted to visit Canada. While there are certain requirements, if you want to go to Canada, you actually have a pretty good chance of getting your visa approved.

Applicants who have been convicted of a felony offense can request a Police Certificate from Canada. Many other countries follow a similar process.

Approved Clearance

A Police Certificate is a form of permission granted by a foreign nation. The purpose of issuance is to allow an individual with a criminal background to gain admission for a specified time period

Research the country you would like to visit to determine if this is an option. 

Different countries may refer to this official document by a number of different names, but they do exist and can help you gain access to travel to a particular country if you have been convicted of a felony in the past.

Six Month Rule

six month rule

Most countries, including the United States, have adopted a six-month validity rule before they grant a visitor's visa

You should renew your passport before you travel if you have less than six months remaining before the expiration date of your US passport.

Ultimately, can a felon leave the country? The short answer is yes, but with restrictions. 

There is no reason that felons must stay in the country and deprive themselves the ability to visit the world. A little advance planning is usually all it takes to travel freely.

Planning a Trip?

If you are ready to travel and still have questions, use reliable resources. The US State Department, foreign embassies, and attorneys are helpful places to start your research. These agencies are able to answer your questions with certainty.

Protect yourself by gathering information before your travel. A letter from the Court, your parole or probation officer, or even a reputable attorney may help you pass the background checks conducted by foreign nations. 

Countries will be impressed with your due diligence and be inclined to grant your visa application.

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