Wanting to travel once released from prison is not unusual. And, for the most part, you should be able to do so. Like anyone else, you will need a passport for most international travel. But, in most cases, someone with a felony conviction can still get a passport after release. However, there are some specific circumstances that might stop you from traveling abroad.
Do you lose your passport when you go to prison?
It depends. One reason government officials can revoke your passport is because of the type of offense committed. If you have an international drug trafficking conviction or certain violent crimes in your past, the government may revoke your passport. The U.S. Department of State may also revoke your passport if officials believe you may flee the country. Finally, a court may prohibit you from leaving the United States, which could result in the revocation of your passport, too.
Can someone with a felony conviction obtain a passport?
In most cases, yes. This is because a passport itself is just an international form of identification. However, a justice-impacted person with a felony conviction cannot get a passport if they are convicted of certain crimes. Again, international drug trafficking is a common example.
It is also possible that someone is disqualified from getting a passport because of a lesser conviction for drug trafficking or a violent crime. But those situations depend on the specific case.
Another time you may be denied a passport is if you have an outstanding payments for child support or government loans due. In addition, you may not be able to get a passport if you have an outstanding arrest warrant.
Is the process for getting a passport for someone with a felony conviction the same as everyone else?
No. Because you have a criminal record, you will not qualify for certain programs like the Global Entry Program. You will also not qualify for the NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST programs, which are pre-cleared programs for travel from the United States to Canada and Mexico. Some countries may also require that you apply for pre-clearance before traveling.
Once you have a passport, can a felony conviction still stop you from traveling abroad?
Sometimes. Traveling abroad may be more difficult depending on what you were convicted for. It also depends on where you are traveling.
Some countries do not let people with a criminal record enter their country. Canada, for example, has access to criminal records in the United States. So, before allowing certain travel, they can check your criminal history.
Other countries may not have access to these records. They can, however, ask you about them on paperwork (such as a visa application) or in person at th border. Certain countries may not allow you to leave the airport if they determine that you have a criminal record.
Once you are abroad, can other countries ask for your criminal record?
Yes. Some countries may ask U.S. citizens for proof of “lack of a criminal record” or a “certificate of good conduct.” There are many reasons that officials from other countries may ask for documentation like this. They are especially likely to ask for this information if you seek an education or employment there. In this case, you will have to reveal your criminal record.
What if a court seals or expunges your record?
If you have your record sealed or expunged, you know that information about your criminal history may be harder to find. That can be true for government officials from other countries, too.
However, you need to be careful when answering questions from foreign officials about expunged or sealed criminal records, especially with immigration authorities. These officials may have access to records even after they’re sealed or expunged.
There are several different ways that you can make sure that you have a certificate of good conduct or proof of your criminal history ready for foreign officials if you need it.
You will more than likely be able to obtain a passport and travel abroad if you have a felony conviction. The only time problems happen is when your criminal history includes international drug trafficking convictions or convictions for other serious crimes. You also need to know that other countries have their own rules about who can enter.