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Travelling abroad while on licence

Aim of this information

This page aims to set out the approach of Probation to travelling abroad and highlights some cases where individuals have successfully challenged their Probation Officer’s decision to refuse them permission to travel.

It forms part of our section on travelling abroad.

Why is this important?

It is likely that you will face restrictions on travelling abroad whilst being supervised on licence in the community. Licences include a standard condition that you must not travel outside the United Kingdom without obtaining the prior permission of your supervising officer which will be given in exceptional circumstances only.

It is important to understand how Probation will view your intention to travel abroad and the options open to you if you are refused permission prior to making any definite plans.

What is meant by abroad?

The key thing to do in this situation is to check your specific licence conditions. The standard licence condition is “not travel outside the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man without the prior permission of the responsible officer”

Whilst on licence, you can travel freely within the United Kingdom – this includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Channel Islands includes Jersey and Guernsey. Added to the Isle of Man, these represent three Crown Dependencies.

However, this does not extend to those countries which the United Kingdom has sovereignty over, including 14 British Overseas Territories. British Overseas Territories include Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. Being independently administered jurisdictions, none form part of the United Kingdom, although the UK government government manages their foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf. As such, if you wish to travel to any of these whilst on licence, you will need to seek permission first.

The approach of Probation

Guidance on the Probation Service’s decision-making process in allowing temporary travel abroad while on licence is contained in Probation Instruction 20/2012.

Each Probation Area should also have their own approach towards travel abroad. For example, we obtained a copy of the London Probation Trust’s policy as it was in January 2011.

Steps to take

  1. Check your licence conditions to see whether you are prevented from travelling abroad. If you are not allowed to travel, you will need to seek permission from your Probation Officer.
  2. Speak to your Probation Officer about the best way to seek permission. Ideally, whilst you may be able to approach your Probation Officer informally in the first instance, you will probably need to put your request in writing, asking for a response in writing. This way, if you are refused, you will at least be provided with reasons why. Before asking for permission, you should refer to the above Probation Circular to help you to make your case for why you should be allowed temporary permission to travel abroad. You should also ask your Probation Area if they have a copy of their own policy that they can provide you with. Some may just rely on the Probation Circular, whereas some may also have their own policy.
  3. If you are refused permission, you will then need to go through the Probation Services Complaints Process.
  4. Once you have exhausted this process, you have the option to challenge the decision of the Probation Service by means on Judicial Review. This is a court process which as an individual you can do yourself without being legally qualified. However, you may wish to enlist the services of a solicitor to help you.

Successful cases

An Unlock client challenged the decision of Probation to refuse him the ability to travel abroad whilst on licence.

In brief, he was granted permission in February 2009 to travel abroad for employment, on certain terms, including advising the purpose of proposed trips, the intended destination(s) and when back in the UK. He then obtained work and received a very significant income, enabling him to establish a business employing several staff. Between February 2009 and May 2010, the probation service acknowledged on several occasions that he was utilising the permission properly and that he had fully complied with its terms. However, in May 2010, citing the same ‘guidelines’ that applied at the time of the permission, the probation service abruptly withdrew their permission for him to travel.

If a government department acts unreasonably or irrationally, you can ask for a ‘judicial review’ in the courts and so he started these proceedings against the probation service. The individual was successful in his application for interim relief. This means that he is able to travel abroad in connection with his employment until his case is heard in full. The Probation Service managed to get the courts to reject the application on the papers, and reverse the interim permission to travel. The individual therefore applied for an oral hearing. At an oral hearing, permission was granted for a full judicial review. The Probation Service finally capitulated and signed a consent order permitting the individual concerned to travel abroad. The procedure is as follows:

  • The purpose of proposed trip(s) and the intended destination(s) are sent;
  • Probation advise within five working days of any reasonable objection;
  • Subject to no objection, Probation are sent travel dates and accommodation address(es);
  • Probation are notified of any minor logistical changes;
  • Probation are notified when back in the UK.

Although this case was dealt with by consent, the individual was concerned to avoid any future issues and so obtained a court order. It therefore sets a precedent for future cases. Nevertheless, it is an exceptional case because a) the individual, although British, had lived and worked abroad for nearly twenty years and b) Probation originally granted permission but then revoked it some time later with no apparent justification. It does, however, show that Probation, when pushed, will give someone permission to travel abroad whilst on licence. This individual succeeded because he demonstrated that Probation’s policy was irrational and because, despite the procedural difficulties, he would not give up.

“My probation trust has just granted me permission to travel abroad for business purposes. My application was for travel to The Netherlands, returning the same day (business meeting). My index offence is a s.20 wounding and I still have about 4 months of licence. I applied about 3 weeks ago and it took this long to get a decision (it went all the way up to the regional direction) and it took a bit of chasing from my end”

Resettling abroad whilst on licence

We often get queries from people who would like to move abroad when they are released from prison. It is not easy to move to another country while on licence. There is no automatic right to do this. HMPPS has published guidance – this is regularly updated, so a direct link is not possible, but the guidance should be available from here.

Supervision on licence is part of a sentence. Although you’re not in prison, the time on licence is still part of your sentence given by the court. This means that HMPPS, through the probation officer are responsible for supervising you. Breaking the conditions on the licence can mean going back to prison. All licences include a condition that the address must be approved by the probation office and any proposed change to the address – even for one night – must be approved by the probation officer.

Usually you must spend some time in the community in the UK on licence before you can be considered for resettlement overseas. This is so there is time to assess any risk of reoffending and ensure they can keep to the licence conditions. It is very rare for someone to be allowed to leave the country straight after release. This will usually only happen if you have been released under exceptional compassionate circumstances. In some rare cases the Parole Board might approve a release abroad as part of the resettlement plan. In a situation where someone was being resettled abroad, they would be expected to report at least once to the probation office so that the licence could be explained to them.

In deciding whether to grant permission, the probation services will look at whether there are close family or other ties (such as living somewhere else for a long time). Secondly, they will assess whether the offence has any connection with the country you want to go back to. Thirdly, they look at whether moving abroad would reduce the risk of reoffending . If the probation officer believes that a move abroad would be likely to increase the risk of harm or reoffending then the application will be refused.

Any request to live abroad would have to be signed off by a chief executive of a Probation Trust and then be confirmed by the Secretary of State. However, the Secretary of State has given this authority to governors (for determinate sentenced prisoners) and the Public Protection Casework Section in HMPPS (for indeterminately sentenced prisoners).

The licence still remains in force while someone is abroad. It will expire at the usual licence expiry date, and will be a life licence for people on a life sentence. If you come back to the UK during the licence period, you should let the probation service know within 2 working days. If you return to the UK during the licence period, the licence will still be in force.

Personal experiences

The personal story below has been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.

Getting permission from probation to travel to my brother’s wedding whilst on licence – Mia explains what steps she took when her Probation Officer refused her permission to travel overseas to attend her brother’s wedding.

Getting permission from probation to return overseas to my husband and family – Rosie explains how building a good relationship with her Probation Officer enabled her to move overseas with her husband.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • National Probation Service – The National Probation Service is a statutory criminal justice service that supervises high-risk offenders released into the community.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information can be found on our travelling abroad sectio
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine under the tag travelling abroad while on licence
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine.

This page was last fully reviewed and updated in April 2017. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to



Add Comment
  1. If I just go to France and come back, is there anyway pronation will know I’ve left the country? I will still attend my monthly meeting.

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Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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