image of a criminal record support worker helping with paperwork

Travelling from the UK with a criminal record

If you want to travel or emigrate abroad, your criminal record may prevent you from entering certain countries. Each country will have its own entry criteria, and if you are considering moving or travelling abroad you should check the entry criteria with the relevant embassy to see if any documentation is required.

Travelling abroad

The United Kingdom does not routinely share criminal records with foreign authorities. As a result, if you declare a criminal record on your visa application form, you may be required to provide a police certificate as part of your application.

Police certificates are issued by the Criminal Records Office (ACRO) for those wishing to travel to certain countries. Police certificates give details of all convictions, cautions, final warnings and reprimands recorded on the Police National Computer, although ACRO filters certain records after a certain period of time under their step-down guidelines.

Travelling to specific countries

There are different restrictions for different countries. The below are the top countries we are asked about.

If you are a UK citizen and you wish to travel to Australia for business or leisure, you can apply for an eVisitor visa. This allows you to visit Australia for up to three months at a time during any 12-month period.

To be eligible to apply for an eVisitor visa, the conditions state that you must not have any criminal convictions, for which the sentence or sentences are for a total period of 12 months duration or more (whether served or not), at the time of travel to, and entry into, Australia.

You will be asked to disclose any offences that are currently awaiting legal action and whether you have been convicted of an offence in any country.

You will not be eligible to apply for an eVisitor visa if:

  • You have a conviction that resulted in a prison sentence of 12 months or more (regardless of the time served)
  • You have been convicted for two or more offences and the combined length of all your sentences amounts to 12 months or more (regardless of the time served)
  • You have a suspended prison sentence where the period you would have served, had it not been suspended, was 12 months or more

If you are not eligible to apply for an eVisitor visa, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot travel to Australia. It means that you will have to apply for a full tourist visa through the Australian Embassy. As part of your application, you will need to apply for a police certificate.

To be granted a tourist visa to travel to Australia, you must be deemed to be of ‘good character’. The Australian authorities will take your criminal record into account when determining whether you are of good character and will have particular concerns if you have a substantial criminal record. They define a substantial criminal record as the following:

  • A sentence of life imprisonment
  • A sentence of imprisonment of 12 months or more (regardless of time served)
  • Acquittal of an offence on the grounds of either unsoundness of mind or insanity if, as a result, you have been detained in a secure hospital or facility
  • A current, or previous, association with an individual, group or organisation suspected of having been, or being, involved in criminal conduct

If any of the above points apply to you, you will need to provide evidence of what you have done since the offence that can reassure them that you are of good character. This will be taken into account when they assess your application.

If your visa application is cancelled on the grounds of either a substantial criminal record, or past and present criminal conduct, you will be permanently excluded from entering Australia.

If you wish to appeal this decision, you must do so within 28 days. Appeals can be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Changes to the entry requirements for Canada were implemented in March 2016. These changes mean that UK citizens need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) to fly or transit through Canada.

If you are not a UK citizen, check the Canadian Embassy website to find out if you need an eTA or visitors visa.

You can apply online for the eTA and, in most cases, your eTA will be approved within minutes of you completing the application. However, there is a question on the application form that asks:

“Have you ever committed, been arrested for, been charged with, or convicted of any criminal offence in any country?”

The advice from the Canadian Embassy is that you should answer yes to this question if you have ever been arrested, charged with or convicted for a criminal offence in any country. There is also some space on the form to provide details and failure to provide sufficient details may delay the processing of your application.

If you answer ‘yes’ to the question, you will be asked to provide a Police Certificate and your court records within a 30-day period.

Under Canada’s immigration law, you may be refused entry to Canada if you have been convicted of a criminal offence. However, this will depend on the crime, how long ago it was and how you have behaved since. Your application may be granted if you:

  • convince an immigration officer that you meet the legal terms to be deemed rehabilitated
  • apply for rehabilitation and this has been approved
  • were granted a record suspension or
  • have a temporary resident permit.

If your convictions are spent under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, you will be deemed rehabilitated for the purposes of entering Canada. This is following a decision made in the 1991 case of Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration) v. Burgon.

If your convictions are spent, you do not need to apply for rehabilitation, but you should check that you are eligible to be considered as such before you travel. For more information on how to do this, please see here.

If you need to travel to Canada for a particular reason, you can apply for a temporary resident permit. For more information on how to do this, please see here.

If you wish to emigrate to Canada, you will need to provide a police certificate as part of your application.

British passport holders visiting mainland China for whatever reason must hold a valid Chinese visa. From 10th December 2018, the Chinese Embassy has introduced a new website to streamline and improve efficiency for online visa applications and appointments. You must apply for your visa via www.visaforchina.org

Does the application form ask about criminal records?

Yes. Section 8, question 8.4, the application form asks:

‘Do you have any criminal record in China or in any other country? Yes/No’

If ‘yes’ you must then provide details.

If I disclose my criminal record, will I get a visa?

It is unknown if disclosing a criminal record will prevent you from obtaining a visa. The Chinese Embassy has said that disclosure of a record will not necessarily stop an applicant from getting a visa.

This should be interpreted as; every applicant who chooses to disclose a criminal record will be treated on a case by case basis.

British passport holders need a visa to visit India. From 1st April 2017, you can apply for an e-visitor from the Indian Government’s e-visitor website.

Do they ask about criminal records?

Yes. As part of the e-visitor application they ask about criminal records. They ask the following questions.

  1. Have you ever been arrested / prosecuted / convicted by Court of Law of any country?
  2. Have you ever been engaged in human trafficking / drug trafficking / child abuse / crimes against women / economic offence / financial fraud?
  3. Have you ever been engaged in cyber crime / terrorist activities / sabotage / espionage / genocide / political killing / other acts of violence?
  4. Have you ever by any means or medium expressed views that justify or glorify terrorist violence or that may encourage others to terrorist acts or other serious criminal acts.

If you answer yes to any of the above questions, you will be asked to provide further details in a box on the form.   You may be required to provide a police cert

British Citizens can enter Japan as a visitor for up for 90 days. If you are visiting Japan for any other purposes (e.g. work or studying) you will need to obtain a valid visa from the Japanese Embassy.

Do they ask about criminal records?

Yes, on the Disembarkation Card for Foreign Nationals (landing card), they ask the question:

‘Any history of being convicted of a crime (not only in Japan) Yes/No’

If I tick ‘yes’ on the Disembarkation Card, will I be allowed entry into Japan?  

Japan has some of the strictest entry requirements for foreign nationals. The Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act states the following:

A foreign national who falls under any of the following item shall not enter Japan.

(iv) A person who has been convicted of a violation of any law or regulation of Japan, or of

any other country, and has been sentenced to imprisonment with or without work for 1 year

or more, or to an equivalent penalty. However, this shall not apply to those convicted of a

political offense.

(v) A person who has been convicted of a violation of any law or regulation of Japan or of

any other country relating to the control of narcotics, marijuana, opium, stimulants or

Psychotropic substances, and has been sentenced to a penalty.

If you tick ‘yes’ on the Disembarkation Card, you will almost certainly be questioned upon arrival by an immigration officer, who will then make a decision whether to allow you entry into Japan.

British citizens do not need a visa to visit Mexico for tourist purposes. You will need to complete an immigration form and have it with you when you arrive and leave Mexico. This form is known as a Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM). You can complete the form online in advance or when you arrive in Mexico.

Do they ask about criminal records?

The Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM) does not ask about criminal records.

British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Morocco for the purpose of tourism for up to 3 months.

Do I need to declare my conviction on entry to Morocco?

The landing card in Morocco does not ask for a disclosure of criminal records.  The information required are; full names, date and place of birth, nationality, country of residence, occupation, passport details, address in morocco and reasons for visit.

British citizens can enter the Philippines for up to 30 days visa free. If  you intend to stay for longer than 30 days, you can apply for a tourist visa from the Philippines Embassy

Do they ask about criminal records?

If you arrive in the Philippines, you will need to complete an arrival card (see below) The arrival card does not ask about criminal records. 

If you require a visa for your visit to the Philippines, you will have to complete a visa application form. Question 16 on the form asks:

‘Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime, even though subject of a pardon, amnesty, or other legal action? NO YES, if yes, state circumstances’

 It is unknown if disclosing a criminal record here will prevent you from being issued a visa. Every applicant will be dealt with on a case by case basis. However, applicants with sexual or drug offences should be aware that the Philippines has a very strict rules and regulations which may block these individuals from obtaining a visa.  If you have any of the above offences, you will not be required to declare if you are staying for 30 days or less as a visa will not be required.

British nationals visiting South Africa for tourism or business purposes for a period of up to 90 days do not need a visa.

Do I need to declare my conviction on arrival?

You are required to complete a Traveler Card when you arrive and leave South Africa. There is no requirement to declare criminal records.  The questions asked are around; reasons for visit, occupation, address in South Africa, if in possession of any prohibited goods and passport details.

British passport holders are granted a visa exemption and can stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa. You must hold a valid British passport with 6 months minimum left before the expiry date.

In order to work or study in Thailand you will need to apply for a visa from the Royal Thai Embassy.

Do they ask about criminal records?

No. There is no reference to criminal records on the Thai T.M.6 Arrival Card (see below) or on the Visa Application Form.

If you are a UK citizen, you can travel to the US without a visa if you intend to stay for 90 days or less, but you are required to apply for authorisation to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). You can apply for authorisation to travel to or through the US by completing an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) form.

If you have a criminal record, you may not be eligible to travel under the VWP. The ESTA form asks applicants for the following information:

  1. Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person, or government authority?

This question relates to ‘moral turpitude’ offences. ‘Moral turpitude’ is a legal term in the US that includes offences relating to:

  • Crimes against the person such as murder, manslaughter, rape, gross indecency, serious assaults, kidnapping
  • Crimes against property such as arson, burglary, theft, robbery, fraud, receiving stolen property
  • Crimes against government authority such as benefit fraud, tax evasion, bribery, perjury

According to the legislation, your offence will not be considered one of moral turpitude if:

  • You were under 18 when you committed the offence
  • At least five years have elapsed since the date of your conviction or, where you were sentenced to a period of detention or imprisonment, at least five years have elapsed since the date of your release
  • The maximum possible sentence for the offence was less than 12 months (regardless of the actual sentence you received) and you were sentenced to six months or less

Note that if your offence meets the above conditions, this does not mean you do not need to declare it. The advice from the US Embassy is that if you have ever been arrested or convicted for any reason in any country, even if the arrest did not lead to a conviction, you should answer ‘yes’ to this question. The only exception would be an arrest for a minor motoring offence that resulted in a fixed penalty notice or other out of court disposal.

  1. Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using or distributing illegal drugs?
  2. Do you seek to engage in, or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?
  3. Have you ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the above questions it doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot travel to the US. It means that you are not eligible to travel under the VWP. Instead, you will need to apply for a Visitor Business (B1) or Pleasure (B2) visa through the US Embassy. As part of your application, you will need to apply for a police certificate and you may need to attend an interview. The US Department of State have useful information on their website about what they take into account when deciding whether or not to grant a visa. See here for further information about applying for a visa.

My conviction or caution is spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Do I still need to declare it on the ESTA form?

Yes. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 has jurisdiction in England and Wales only. Other countries have different means by which they deem a person to be legally rehabilitated. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to US visa law.

Refusal of entry to/deportation from the US

When you check in for your flight at a UK airport, you will be asked a series of questions and your answers will be checked against the information provided in your Visa Waiver application. Similarly, when you reach immigration at a US airport, you will be asked to provide your fingerprints and again you will be asked a series of questions and your answers will be checked against your Visa Waiver application.

If your answers conflict with the information you have provided on your Visa Waiver application form, or if the authorities have any doubts about the information you have provided, you may find that you are refused entry to the US and you are returned back to the UK.

Refusal of a future visa application

It may be that you decide to withhold details of you criminal record and successfully travel to, or via, the US under the Visa Waiver Programme. It may then be the case that at some point in the future you need to apply for a visa to the US – perhaps because you take on certain employment – and you need to travel there for longer than 90 days, or you decide to emigrate.

In order to apply for the visa, you will need to supply a copy of your Police Certificate which may disclose details of your criminal record which you had previously withheld. The US Embassy will retain details of your previous Visa Waiver and this may then give them grounds to refuse your new visa application for having previously lied about your criminal record.

Applying for a visa

If you are not eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Programme, you will need to apply for a Visitor Business (B1) or Pleasure (B2) visa through the US Embassy.

Visa application form

The visa application form asks ‘Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offence or crime, even though subject of a pardon, amnesty or other similar action?’

The US Embassy advises that they expect you to declare any arrests or convictions, regardless of the nature of the offence or the length of time that has elapsed. Note that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 does not apply to US visa law, so even convictions which may be deemed as spent would need to be declared.

Personal Data Sheet (VCU-01)

Where you declare that you have previous arrests or convictions, you will also be required to complete a Personal Data Sheet. This form requires further details about whatever you have declared.

Police certificate

As part of your visa application, you will be required to provide a Police Certificate issued by the Criminal Record Office (ACRO). The certificate must be issued within six months of the date of your visa interview.

ACRO filter certain eligible records from Police Certificates after the relevant period of time has elapsed. This means that you may find that some or all of your cautions or convictions are not recorded on your Police Certificate. For this reason, we recommend that you apply for your Police Certificate before completing the Personal Data Sheet.

Visa interview

Once you have completed your visa application, you can arrange an appointment with the Visa Coordination Officer at the US embassy in London. The decision to grant or deny a visa is made on a case-by-case basis. You can improve your chances if you prepare for the interview in advance, in particular thinking about how you can provide evidence about:

  • Why you wish to travel to the US
  • Why you wish to return to the UK (e.g. details of your job and/or family ties)
  • Remorse for your offence(s)
  • What you have learnt from your offence(s)
  • How your circumstances have changed since your offence(s)Take any evidence of behavioural or education courses you have completed; counselling you may have undertaken and any other evidence of rehabilitation

For further advice and information, please contact the Resettlement Advice Service on 0300 123 1999 or email helpline@nacro.org.uk.

British nationals need a visa to travel to Turkey, except for cruise ship passengers with ‘British Citizen’ passports who arrive at sea ports for tourist visits to the port city or nearby cities, provided that the visit doesn’t exceed 72 hours.

If you’re visiting Turkey as a tourist or on business, you can apply for an e-Visa online before you travel.  If you don’t have an e-Visa you can still get a visa on arrival for £20 in cash, although the visa on arrival service is due to be phased out. Getting an e-Visa from the official website before you travel will avoid possible problems or delays at the Turkish border, or when boarding your flight in the UK. See Entry requirements.

Do I need to disclose my criminal record when I apply for e-Visa?

A disclosure of criminal record is not required when you apply for e-visa.  The information required are; your full name, date and place of birth, passport number and dates of travel.

Citizens from countries such as the United Kingdom who do not require a visa to enter the Schengen Area will need to apply for an ETIAS travel authorisation beginning in 2024. The ETIAS system checks personal and travel information against various security databases to pre-screen travellers before they arrive at the border. This will aid in the identification of potential security threats and their prevention from entering the Schengen Area.

Each application for ETIAS will cost €7. Adults between the ages of 18 and 70 are subject to the fees. Minors and senior citizens (aged 70 and up) will not have to pay.

According to the latest information, applicants must answer security questions, informing authorities of any serious criminal offences that resulted in a conviction in the previous ten years. These are some examples:

  • Terrorism (any conviction in the last 20 years)
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Human smuggling
  • Trafficking in drugs
  • Murder
  • Rape

If your ETIAS application is denied, you can apply for a Schengen Visa. In this case, you would need to go to the Embassy in your country for an interview and provide additional information about your criminal conviction as well as any other documents and information that are requested. Every applicant will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

When we have more information on the implications of having a criminal record and travelling to the Schengen Area, we will update this page.

Criminal recrod support service staff member on Nacro helpline

You can contact us on 0300 123 1999 helpline@nacro.org.uk

Monday – Thursday: 9am – 5pm
Friday: 1pm – 5pm

Our advisors can help you with any questions you may have.