Can Felons Leave the Country?

Convicted felons may face travel restrictions that limit their ability to move freely. However, in most cases, felons that have served their sentence can enter other countries, assuming they have a valid passport. There are exceptions to this, with some countries explicitly prohibiting the ability of felons to enter. In this article, we provide more information on felons leaving the country, below you’ll find more detailed information on countries that don’t allow felons.

Can a Convicted Felon Leave the Country?

Whether or not a convicted felon can leave the country depends on several things:

  1. Whether or not the felon has completed their sentence.
  2. The nature of the crime on their criminal record.
  3. The travel restrictions imposed by the country in question.

Restrictions of Travel During Probation

In many cases, convicted felons will be sentenced to imprisonment. They have to complete their sentence before they are free to travel. In other cases, felons are sentenced to a probation period and fines rather than prison time. When a felon is still serving their probation, there will be restrictions on their movement. These limitations depend on the conditions of their probation, which is determined by the nature of the crime.

For example, felons on probation need to report to a probation officer regularly to check that they are sticking to the terms of their sentence. This would be impossible if the convict was abroad or in another state at the time of the meeting. If the felon does wish to travel, they can only do this with the permission of their probation officer. Again, whether or not this will be granted depends on the nature of the crime they committed. Once the probation period has been fulfilled, travel restrictions ease.

Restrictions of Travel After Serving Your Sentence

Once the felon has served their sentence, be that probation, imprisonment, or parole as determined by court order, most can travel freely. However, to do so, they must obtain a valid passport. Most felons can get a US passport without any issue, but this does depend on the conviction and current financial status of the individual. Under federal law, the State Department cannot issue a passport if any of the following apply:

  • The person was convicted of a felony drug charge that involved crossing international borders.
  • The felon committed a crime that plotted against the US government.
  • The individual owes over $2,500 in outstanding child support or government loans.
  • The felon has active warrants against them.

Once the felon has a valid passport, traveling becomes easier. However, whereas they will not run into any problems moving around the US, they may face issues trying to enter other countries. Their passport is a form of international identification and will always allow the person back into the United States, but it does not guarantee entry into another country. Few countries ban felons that have committed serious crimes.

Note, depending on where you want to travel, some countries require US citizens to acquire visas before entry, alongside their passports. While many US felons can get a passport, getting a visa can be more challenging. When applying for a visa, you must tell the truth about past convictions. Anyone found lying could get a permanent travel ban on their record.

Are There Countries That Don’t Allow Felons?

The answer to the question “Are felons allowed to leave the country?” largely depends on which country the felon wants to enter. To find out whether or not a country imposes restrictions on felons, the immigration policies of the country in question need to be looked at. For most countries, the acceptance or denial of entry depends on the crime in question, with certain offenses such as crimes of a violent nature causing the most limitations.

Below we look at the entry conditions of some countries many US residents want to visit.

The United Kingdom

Any US felon can enter the United Kingdom if their conviction is considered spent. Spent convictions refer to those that happened over 10 years ago if the prison sentence was between six and 30 months. In cases where the prison sentence was over 30 months, the conviction can never be spent. This means felons that have committed more serious crimes and thus received larger and harsher sentences might struggle to gain entry to the country.

The European Union

The majority of European countries are part of the European Union (EU). There is free movement between all EU countries, meaning if a felon can enter any one of them they will be granted access to all others as well. The EU is pretty lenient in allowing a person with a previous felony conviction into the country. As long as the prison sentence was less than three years, most felons will be allowed in. The exception is if the crime involved trafficking people or drugs, which have a  two-year prison sentence limitation.

Canada

Canada has strict entry requirements and is one of the only countries that ban the entry of almost all felons. Indeed, no felon can pass through the border without special permission and people will be stopped even for an old felony arrest on record. They are particularly strict on individuals with an arrest or conviction for driving under the influence (DUI), regardless of whether they were charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense.

If you wish to enter Canada, you need to submit a request for rehabilitation. This is true even if the crime and conviction happened 10 plus years ago. In Canada, a felony is never overlooked automatically after a designated period has passed. To be deemed rehabilitated, the felon must not be involved in any current criminal activity. However, it is solely down to the authorities to decide whether the felon is deemed safe. If not, travel is not permitted.

Australia

According to Australian legislation, a visa will only be granted to people that do not have any convictions that resulted in prison sentences of longer than 12 months. This means that felons with longer sentences will struggle to gain a visa and thus access to the country. They also won’t allow anyone to enter that has been convicted of two or more offenses whose combined sentences total more than 12 months or anyone with a suspended prison sentence of this length.

Conclusions

The rules on felons leaving the country depend on whether or not their sentence has been served. When it has, most convicted felons will be able to apply for a passport that allows them to leave the US. The exception is people with drug trafficking offenses or crimes that pose a security threat to the US, or those with outstanding debts for $2,500 or greater.

However, the ability to leave the US does not guarantee entry into the country of question. Always check the country’s immigration policies before traveling, and never lie on visa applications. This could result in a permanent travel ban to the county. 

Article by Mariia Synytska

Mariia Synytska is Content Lead at Lawrina, a legal portal that projects innovation in law. Mariia manages the content on the website, takes interviews with lawyers and law experts, and looks for the interesting topics for Lawrina's audience. If you would like to be a blogger for Lawrina, you can contact Mariia for all the details via email m.synytska@lawrina.com.

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