Can Felons Leave the Country?

If you have been convicted of a felony, you’re probably painfully aware of interstate travel restrictions along with other limitations on your activities and movements while you are on parole or probation.

Perhaps you were an avid traveler before the conviction or had always dreamed of traveling internationally. Enjoying those experiences doesn’t go away just because you have a conviction. Be that as it may, you’re probably wondering if you can travel internationally after a felony conviction. And if so, what does that process look like?

Completed Probation

Here’s a bit of good news. Unless your terms of parole/probation strictly prohibit it, you are eligible to apply for a U.S. Passport and travel outside of the U.S. Generally, the only prohibition would be if your crime was of a treasonous nature.

On Probation

If you are currently serving probation, you can still apply for a U.S. Passport unless your offense was of a treasonous nature, as mentioned above, or if international travel was central to the crime or facilitated the crime you’ve been convicted of. For example, drug trafficking or sex trafficking across borders. And of course, if the terms of your case prohibit you from leaving the country, that’s a no-go.

If none of those restrictions apply to you, then you have a chance of being granted a request for international travel. The process is similar to the interstate-travel request you would submit to you Probation Officer (PO).

Travel Request

As with most things related to probation, you will need to talk to your PO. Without their approval it will be nearly impossible to get permission to travel.

Make an appointment with your PO. This isn’t something you want to just spring on them. Bring all of your documentation with you and make sure it is neat and orderly. Your PO will need to submit the request, and it will make their job easier if you have everything completed and in order for them.

You will need to explain where you are asking permission to travel and have a very good reason for going. Probation Officers aren’t keen on sending their parolees to another country where they have no jurisdiction and there is no guarantee you will ever return.

You’re more likely to be approved if your reason for travel is very pressing, such as a funeral, medical necessity or other emergency. As with any request, being in compliance with the terms of your probation is a must, including being current on court payments.

Logistics of Travel

If you’ve done a cursory web search, I’m sure you have noticed that there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there regarding whether someone with a felony conviction is able to be approved for a visa or travel outside of the United States.

You may come across guidelines that seem inconsistent or personal stories that can seem contradictory. Some travelers with a felony conviction find they breeze through customs without a snag, while others are grilled for hours or held in an airport cell in a foreign country before being sent home.

It’s obvious that you would want to make sure you will have as smooth a process as possible if you are investing the time and expense to travel internationally.

So, what should you do if you don’t want to end up being shipped back home after a transatlantic flight or turned away at the Canadian border?


First things first. Regardless of your criminal status, you need a U.S. Passport before you can travel to another country, even Canada or Mexico. A passport is a form of identification issued to a country’s citizens for international travel. It usually takes around six-to-eight weeks for a passport application to be processed. If there is a government shutdown or austerity measures put in place, it can take even longer, so plan accordingly. If you are over the age of 16, your passport will be valid for 10 years from the date of issue. Because your passport will be valid for such a long period of time, you should get one as soon as you first even think about international travel.

Travel Visa

Second, you must research and familiarize yourself with the policies of the country you intend to visit. Many countries require a visa for entry. A visa is a document that is inserted into your passport and gives you permission to enter, leave or stay in the issuing country.

Most visas have a time period attached to the authorized stay which largely depends on the type of visa. Some types of visa’s include student, work, tourist and transit (passing through while traveling between countries).

And because nothing is easy, each country can have their own requirements and policies for issuing a visa. Some are issued upon arrival. Others require an application in advance, while still others require an interview and medical screening.

It’s very important to check the requirements for every country you will be in, even if it is just for a layover or connection. You may even want to tailor your air travel to be compatible with airports in countries with less stringent restrictions on travelers with felonies.

Many other countries prohibit convicted felons from entering their country, while others are more lenient. Some don’t have any additional restrictions for felons verses other travelers to their country. Some countries, such as Australia, China and Japan, are so strict, they often deny visa’s for famous entertainers with criminal records, wishing to perform in their country.

Not all felonies are created equal

If your offense was of a violent nature, drug related or a DUI, you will find many countries will refuse entry. Other offenses may be less of a deal-breaker, and the issuing country will weigh the seriousness of the offense as well as the length of your criminal history.

For example, Canada’s requirements state that a previous conviction of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence of alcohol or cannabis (DUI) is grounds for refusal of entry to Canada, regardless of how old the conviction is. However, there is a possible process to gain special approval.

If you visit the Canadian Border Services Agency website here, you can learn more about Canada’s specific restrictions. You can also find resources about overcoming criminal convictions and the process of applying for rehabilitation status here.


The best place to start researching your destination country  and their restrictions for U.S. citizens is by visiting the U.S. Government travel page here.

You can search the country you intend to visit and view any restrictions, such as the required minimum number of pages remaining in your passport, visa requirements, travel advisories and what to do if you encounter an emergency while visiting that country.

Many countries have an embassy located here in the U.S. It’s a good idea to contact them directly far in advance of travel to ensure your visa is approved in plenty of time, and you can remedy any problems that arise.

Another resource would be to hire a reputable passport and visa agency. These agencies specialize in travel to specific countries and have contacts they can utilize to make sure the paperwork goes through seamlessly and without delay. They are also familiar enough with the process to catch any mistakes or omissions in a visa application. Although this option will be more expensive, the efficiency and confidence it provides can be well worth it. Especially when you consider the cost of time and investment if you find yourself unexpectedly delayed during your travels due to visa issues.

These agencies can also expedite the U.S. Passport process if you find yourself in an emergency and cannot wait the standard six-to-eight weeks for a passport.

As you can see, there are many hurdles when you have a felony on your record, but with some patience, research and yes, money, it is possible to enjoy international travel post-conviction. If you have a desire or necessity to travel internationally, don’t get discouraged. After your first trip or two you will gain confidence and the system will seem less daunting once you have some experience under your belt.

And lastly, always dress and act appropriately and politely when traveling, as much discretion is given to individual customs and border agents. The decision to let you pass without incident or to hassle you during travel can lie in their hands.

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