There are all sorts of reasons for travel out of the country. You could be going on vacation, to study, for a religious pilgrimage, and more.
The need or desire to travel is common to both felons and non-felons. But given the restrictions that come with being convicted, can a felon leave the country?
In some legal dramas, the judge will often tell a defendant not to go too far. This often relates to not traveling out of the jurisdiction until the case is heard and determined.
However, this can also be made a condition of probation or parole. So until you complete serving your sentence, movement is limited. This is to allow the prison authorities to continue checking on you.
Certain offenders, mostly sexual offenders, may need to keep updating authorities on their location indefinitely. For felons under such conditions, it can feel like travel is not possible.
Whatever the reason, travel is an activity that is made possible when you have a passport. The US passport is well accepted. There are many countries one can travel to without prior approval.
However, some may require you to obtain a visa. This means applying to the destination country’s embassy or consulate for consent to travel to their territory.
A visa can be a good thing. It removes much of the scrutiny that comes when having to get past customs.
Before we go deeper into the foreign conditions for travel, let’s cover the basics.
As said, many felons are still under court or prison supervision. This means that to travel, they must seek permission. Sometimes, even if it is to travel out of the county, leave alone the country.
In pre-trial cases, some courts may even require you to deposit your passport with them.
These restrictions often have a time limit. So you have the option of postponing your travel until you are cleared. If, however, you deem the travel a must, you will need to consult with the court clerk.
For those under probation or parole, you will need to consult your probation or parole officer. Their approval is needed to avoid further legal problems.
If you travel without consent, it may be seen as a violation of your release terms. You may end up serving the rest of your term in prison.
Once you are legally allowed to travel, your next concern should be a passport.
Getting a US Passport
As said, the US passport is well regarded. It is also a must for travel. Even when just crossing the border into neighboring countries, like Canada, you will need one.
This is the basic ID document. Current passports being issued are also Real ID compliant.
It needs to be valid. If traveling abroad, many countries will require not less than 6 months’ validity. If closer than that to expiry, you should have it renewed.
To apply for your first passport or a renewal, you need to have a valid state-issued ID. More requirements for a passport include proof of citizenship, passport photos, and social security details.
Some crimes may prevent a person from getting a passport in perpetuity. These include international drug trafficking, treason, and passport fraud.
Background checks are a part of passport processing so any conviction is studied. If convicted of a prohibited crime, your passport application may be denied.
If you do secure a passport, then the next stage is getting to your destination country. You will need approval from their authorities to enter the country. However, as a felon, there may be challenges.
Foreign Travel Restrictions
Many countries do allow Americans to travel without a visa. You may still be subject to border control scrutiny. Some have access to US criminal records and can run background checks.
Certain offenses are viewed as grave enough to deny entry. More so if the felon was recently freed.
You may need to complete a certain waiting period, before qualifying to enter some countries. Others are stricter and do not permit US felons at all.
For instance, a short stay visit to the Schengen Area in Europe should not pose a problem. However, Japan is more restrictive and does not permit most felonies, and some misdemeanors.
The rules vary from country to country. It is vital to avoid wasting time and money on travel only to be turned back at the border.
The best approach should be to get in touch with the destination country’s embassy or consulate. They can offer guidance on what a felon can do.
For instance, when traveling to Canada, a temporary resident permit or rehabilitation request will work. They can allow a felon to get past border control. This is without worry about being turned back because of a felony past.
Many countries can also consider an application for a Police Certificate. If issued, this document grants permission to travel into the country for a specific period.
Different countries may have different names for these authorization documents. Whatever it is called, it is best to seek suitable advice and secure it for hassle-free travel.
Leaving the country is a definite possibility for any felon. However, before you book a ticket, you need to ensure you cover your basics.
You should have ideally completed your entire sentence, including payment of any restitution. Thereafter, you will need to apply for your passport.
With a valid passport in hand, the next step is to ensure you can get past border control. While the decision is made by a border control officer, you can preempt. Seeking authorization from the country’s embassy or consulate assures them you have been vetted.
Remember that border officers are responsible for preventing anyone that is a threat to their society. It is not personal, simply a part of their job. You make it easier by making early enquires and getting the right paperwork in advance.