Having a criminal record does not necessarily mean that you will be unable to travel, but certain criminal convictions may present problems if you are attempting to immigrate or obtain a visa. If unsure, you always may contact the embassy of the country you wish to visit to request specific information. These communications are anonymous and will not affect your receipt of a visa or passport.
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If you have outstanding warrants, are on probation or will be facing criminal charges and have been released on bail, you may be violating the law if you attempt to travel domestically or internationally. If you plan to travel, ensure that the terms of your probation or bail permit it, otherwise you may face greater charges. In some cases, travelling while on probation or on bail will result in a misdemeanour charge becoming a felony.
If none of the above situations apply to you, but you do have a criminal record, domestic travel is probably OK. States are not permitted to refuse citizens their right to move freely between the states. While some criminal convictions like a sex offence requiring registry may present problems when attempting to establish residency in a new state, you are still free to travel within the country with a criminal conviction.
Some countries, like Canada, bar anyone with a criminal conviction from entering the country. Others are concerned only with convictions of specific crimes, like murder or fraud. While it is practically very difficult to check the criminal records of every entering visitor, many will require a certification of a clean criminal record before issuing a visa. However, countries that prevent those with criminal records from travelling into their borders often provide a waiver process.
Permanent relocation to foreign countries presents additional challenges for Americans with criminal convictions, as background checks are usually lengthier and more detailed. Additionally, many countries have higher standards for immigrants than for temporary visitors. However, most immigration requests are processed on a case-by-case basis, so individuals with relatively minor crimes on their record, or with very old convictions may be able to obtain a waiver.
If a country requires a certificate of good conduct, you can obtain this document from your local police station and request the results of a criminal records search. In some cases, an FBI Identification Record must be supplied, which can be obtained by filing this request online. These documents are rarely requested except for very long stays or immigration.
Canadian officials, unlike those of any other country, have access to the U.S. criminal records system and may consult it when you attempt to cross the border. Though records are often checked only when there is cause for suspicion, the San Francisco Chronicle warns that many U.S. citizens have been turned away at the Canadian border as a result of this check.
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