Legal Advice For Expats: Can You Travel Overseas With A Criminal Record?

By LucyTaylor, 09 September, 2016

How a rap sheet can follow you around the world.


As an experienced traveler, you may already be aware of how past criminal offenses can limit your destination options. And for expats, similar rules apply. One of the major differences, however, is that as an expat you may have extra layers of scrutiny. For example, expats who attain their visas via work placement may have employers as well as immigration officers looking into past indiscretions, and one or both parties may reject the application. You will also need to be on good behavior while living abroad as well, since being a resident doesn’t always carry the same rights as being a citizen. Here are some other important points to note before you apply for residency abroad:


Not all crimes are equal

Meaning, if you have a criminal record, the offenses don’t always void your visa application. Offenses such as traffic violations are usually overlooked. This is also true of juvenile offenses, though not necessarily always. For example, certain programs in Japan will look into your juvenile history. You may also find that the host country doesn’t rank the crime in the same way your home country does. What is a felony at home may be a misdemeanor elsewhere.


Don’t expect the same guidelines between employer and government

Depending on the type of work you are applying for, your employer may ask for a criminal history even when the government does not require it. In cases like this, you may technically move to the country, but not necessarily to work for any employer. This is most common in jobs that require you to work with children or in medical settings.


DUIs can be deal breakers

Some countries, such as Canada, have strict entry laws regarding driving under the influence (DUI) offenses. As such, immigrating to Canada may be extremely difficult. However, read the laws of the country in question carefully, as these restrictions may be handled by paying fines, applying for a specific visa, or may expire after a certain number of conviction-free years.


Governments have different requirements

While many countries are not interested in your criminal record, some popular expat destinations are. This includes countries such as Belgium, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, and the United States. Each country has slightly different guidelines in terms of expat requirements, but generally they ask for a criminal history. You can find the details on the government website of the country in question, or if you apply for a job it may already be provided by your employer.


Note the ‘yes-and-no’ loopholes

Unless you are skilled at immigration law, these loopholes may be difficult to find and some countries may have no loopholes whatsoever. But for example, in the case of Chile, the loophole is a significant one. Those seeking Chilean residence while outside of Chile are required to submit a criminal history. Those seeking residence while in Chile are not required to do so, as the processing takes a different route.


Post-emigration crimes can affect your residency

In countries such as New Zealand, getting a DUI once you’ve settled can be cause for deportation proceedings or even jail time. If this happens to you, be sure to seek legal counsel.


Be proactive

Few people actually intend to face a criminal conviction in their lifetimes, but at some point you may find yourself caught up in a criminal offense (whether in Australia or abroad). Ideally, the proactiveness here would be to not commit a crime; however, you can also be proactive about the outcome. This is where hiring a competent lawyer, like those at LY Lawyers, comes in handy. They can help you to minimize negative outcomes that can have an effect on your future, including travel.



If it turns out that you do need to provide a criminal history, be sure you get the procedure started quickly. Depending on your home country or territory, this process can take weeks. For those who have already done the process before, be careful not to inadvertently submit a report that is older than the requirement for your visa application. If you commit an offense and are in the process of being charged around the time of your travel, consult a lawyer. Lastly, even if you know that you have no criminal offenses, you will still need to provide the document stating so.