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If I have a criminal record, can I still travel?

Criminal law expert SONIA HICKEY gives Traveltalk a rundown of what Aussies with a record - even for a minor offence - need to consider before venturing abroad.

Are you wondering if that criminal record you got years ago for something you regret - minor drug possession, theft, assault – will affect your ability to travel overseas? 


Unfortunately, the answer is not clear cut. 



So, if your best mate is getting married in Bali and wants you to be best man, or you have a great career opportunity in America, or simply want to undertake the trip of a lifetime, and you have a criminal record, no matter how seemingly ‘minor’ the offence, you really need to do your homework before you go. Because the impact of a criminal record on your ability to travel freely depends very much on the country you want to travel to and what the offence you committed was, as well as how long ago it was committed. 


New Zealand 

If you wish to travel to New Zealand, and you have a criminal record then you do need to apply for a visa. It is not the only country which requires criminal history disclosure. 


The United States

If you want to enter the US, a conviction for driving under the influence, breaking and entering, disorderly conduct and simple assault are generally not considered crimes that make a person inadmissible. However, the rules have many grey areas: if you have more than one conviction – no matter how minor the offences, you could be denied entry. 


If you’re heading to the US, it’s advisable to seek advice from the US Immigration Department and plan your trip well in advance, so you can complete any necessary paperwork in time.  If you have a criminal record, then the only possible way to gain entry to the US is by applying for a visa. The process is notoriously thorough, complex and long. 


This is because the US conducts extensive security checks on visa applicants. Even after these checks are complete, your application is dependent on a follow-up interview during which your eligibility will be determined. If your visa is turned down, you can apply for a waiver, but this is also a time-consuming process and in some cases can take months to complete. Even then, success is not guaranteed. 



Canada can also be very strict, and anyone with a criminal record – no matter how minor – can be excluded from entry at the border. If you have a criminal record, it may be possible, under Canada’s entry policy, to submit an application for rehabilitation. This can also be a time-consuming process though and you’ll need to provide significant ‘proof’ of rehabilitation attempts. However, under the rehabilitation process, there are allowances for people who can be considered rehabilitated if a certain period of time has passed since the offence. 


Paris, France



Some countries are more lenient than others. For example, many jurisdictions in Europe don’t require visas for tourists from Australia if people are travelling for tourist purposes (up to 90 days), and so therefore a criminal record does not pose a problem. 


Section 10 Dismissal 

If you are in trouble with the law and the outcome of your case has not yet been heard in court, it is possible to apply for a section 10 dismissal.  Getting a section 10 dismissal is possible if the court believes that it would reduce the likelihood of the person convicted committing further offences. The court takes into account include factors such as your character, age, health, mental condition, the nature of your offence and any extenuating factors that were present at the time you committed the offence.


While section 10 dismissals are available for all charges, it is much more likely to be awarded for less serious offences. Essentially, a section 10 dismissal means that while you are still guilty, your criminal conviction is not recorded and therefore won’t affect your ability to travel or work overseas. 


Probation and parole 

It’s important to remember too that there are strict travel regulations if you are on probation or parole, and leaving the country without permission can result in a revocation of your parole.


Be prepared 

The upshot is that each country has its own set of customs and border policies, and these are updated from time to time. It’s wise to do some research and check the facts when you are making plans. Make sure you don’t forget to check on the countries where you may have stop-overs in your flight plans. 


If you have at some time in the past found yourself on the wrong side of the law, then it is always in your best interest to be honest and divulge all the details, and ensure you have the appropriate visas and paperwork. Otherwise you run the risk of deportation on arrival. And, remember too, that in countries where there may be a language barrier, it’s much easier to have the required official documents than be left having to explain yourself. 


But ultimately, if you really want the freedom to travel it is best not to have a criminal record at all. 


Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers content team.


Written by: Sonia Hickey
Published: 24 March 2019

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