A conviction of a crime makes it harder to travel, even after decades have passed. Obstacles for people with a criminal record range from restrictions from local authorities to difficulties go get a visa from another country. If you have a record, before making travel plans, you need to understand where you stand and what your chances are. Here are a few useful tips:
1. Run a background check on yourself. Having expunged or sealed records does not always mean they will not show on a search. Using a service like Check People, you can easily find out if there are any records available to the public, and you have the chance to correct mistakes. A background check can also let you know you have any warrants for arrest, in which case, even in-country travel is restricted. It is very important to understand that warrants can be the result of several factors, such as not showing up to a court hearing for a traffic ticket.
In some particular cases, people run background checks after a denial for a visa or passport, only to find out that there were serious mistakes such as a mixup in court records (particularly common for people with very similar names). If this is the case, you have the right to ask for clarification.
2. Verify your chances of getting a passport. Passports are denied for specific convictions, such as a drug felony that involved crossing borders. Other reasons for a passport denial include:
a. Owing over 5,000 in child support payments
c. If you are awaiting trial
3. Research visa eligibility for the country you are planning to visit. Some countries, like Canada, have serious visa restrictions for lesser crimes, such as driving under the influence. You can find information on visa requirements through the state department and embassy web pages. Australia and New Zealand will issue a visa if your conviction is more than ten years old. The European Union has fewer restrictions for traveling with a court record; however, having a conviction that resulted in more than three years of imprisonment means an automatic denial.
Some countries will give you a visa for humanitarian reasons; for example, if you have a sick relative who is a citizen, or if you have children living there. To get more information, you need to consult with their embassy.
How to Get a Record Expunged?
If you want to travel, but have a criminal record, you need to find out if you are eligible for expungement. Expungement means that your record gets sealed to everyone, even in the context of the criminal justice system. Some factors considered for record expungement are:
Jurisdiction (some states -like New York- don't allow expungement at all)
Nature of the crime
Amount of time passed since the conviction
Getting your record expunged also means that you are no longer legally obligated to disclose your conviction when asking for a visa.
It is important to understand that a sealed record is not expunged. While a sealed record is not publicly available and cannot be used for decisions such as employment or leasing, it remains accessible for law enforcement agencies and you will need to disclose information of the charge if requested in a visa application.
Expungement is not an easy process, and many factors play an important role in the decision. This is why the best way to proceed is to hire an attorney. Hire someone with experience in criminal law. Depending on the nature of the crimes and circumstances surrounding it, you may be eligible for help from a pro-bono organization.
If You are on Probation
If you are still on probation, you may have a travel ban even inside the country. Before making any plans, you need to check with your parole officer. They will let you know if you can travel, how far you can go without breaking your probation agreement, and how long you can stay there. Probation is a delicate process, and you should never take any risks. Remember that even an honest mistake can land you back in prison.
Restrictions vs. Discrimination
While people with criminal records may be banned from traveling, they also have rights. For example, most hotels cannot deny service to some convicted felons under the risk of breaking the law. This applies to restaurants and tourist attractions. If you are a victim of discrimination, ask your lawyer about your rights, as you may even have grounds for a lawsuit.