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Travelling to the UK

Aim of this page

This information sets out details of the visa application process for travelling to the UK and in particular, how your criminal record may affect your ability to get a visa.

Why is this important?

A visa to enter the UK can be expensive and fees are usually non-refundable if your application is refused. Therefore, if you have a criminal record, it’s important to have a good understanding of whether your application is likely to be successful.

General rules for entry clearance

The following text is taken from Theyworkforyou:

Applicants for entry clearance and those applying to remain in this country are checked for UK criminal convictions.

Those seeking permission to enter the UK will normally be refused if they have previously been convicted of a criminal offence punishable by at least 12 months imprisonment.

A person may be refused permission to stay on the basis of his character, conduct or associations or if he represents a threat to national security.

Entry clearance officers will take account of any available local intelligence about a person’s criminal activities overseas, but the agency does not have access to foreign governments’ criminal records.

Visiting the UK

Do you need a visa?

The UK Border Agency have a useful tool on their website which will help you ascertain whether you need a visa to travel to the UK. This often depends on which country you are travelling from, and why you are travelling.

If you do not need a visa, you shouldn’t encounter any difficulties in relation to your past criminal convictions. However, if you are concerned, you should contact the UKBA.

Applying for a visa

The UK Border Agency considers applications for permission to enter or stay in the United Kingdom through their visa services around the world. Visit their website to apply for a visa to come to the UK.

Application form

On the application form(s), the questions are:

Do you have any criminal convictions either in the UK or overseas (you must include spent and unspent convictions as well as traffic offences)?”

In the guidance notes, it states:

Please give details of the date and place (country) of the offence and what you were convicted of. Please state what sentence you received. To assist your application, you may want to supply documentary evidence of the conviction (e.g. the official record) detailing the crime you were convicted of and the sentence you received.”

A further question is:

Have you ever been charged in any country with a criminal offence for which you have not yet been tried in court (including traffic offences)?”

The Declaration section states:

I am aware that it is an offence under the Immigration Act 1971 (as amended) to make a statement which I know to be false, or not believe to be true, in order to obtain a visa/entry clearance to the UK. I am also aware that my application will be automatically refused and I may be banned from going to the UK for 10 years if I use a false document, lie or withhold relevant information. I may also be banned if I have breached immigration laws in the UK. I am further aware that should I use a false document, lie or withhold relevant information my details may be passed to law enforcement agencies.”

Supporting documents

UK Criminal Record

If you received the conviction when you were previously in the UK, you can apply for a Subject Access Request (this costs £10) from the Police Force where you last resided in the UK. You should speak with the Data Protection Officer in the relevant police force (or visit their website) for more information about this.

Overseas Criminal Record Certificate

From April 2015, the Home Office introduced a new ruling requiring applicants to provide an overseas criminal record certificate from any country they have lived in continuously for 12 months or more over the past 10 years.  The requirement will be introduced in phases and will start with Tier 1 (Investor and Entrepreneur) applicants and their adult dependants.  By starting with a small category of applicants the Home Office believe that they will be able to successfully monitor and evaluate the implementation of the policy. This requirement will apply to all applications submitted on or after 1st September 2015.

From March 2017, the requirement to provide a criminal record certificate was extended to Tier 2 (General) applicants coming to work in education, health and social care sectors and their adult dependants. You can only apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa if you’ve been offered a skilled job in the UK and you’re from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland.

A criminal record certificate will be required for applicants working in:

  • Education, for example teachers, education advisers and school inspectors
  • Healthcare, for example nurses, doctors, managers, pharmacists, dentists, ophthalmic opticians
  • Therapy, for example psychologists, speech and language therapists
  • Social services, for example social workers, managers, probation officers.

You can find the full Standard Occupation Classification Codes here.

Certificates will also be required from partners applying from overseas, on or after 6 April 2017 who want to join an existing Tier 2 (General) visa holder working in one of the above sectors.

The requirement may be waived where it is deemed not “reasonably practicable” to obtain a certificate, such as if a country or authority does not produce such documents.

Updated policy guidance on Tier 1 (Investor) and Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) was published in April 2016. For questions or enquiries please refer to the UK Visa and Immigration.

Refusal on the grounds of criminal convictions – Immigration rules part 9

The following information is extracted from the Gov.UK website, making reference to the Immigration Rules.

Grounds on which entry clearance or leave to enter the UK is to be refused

Paragraph 320(2) of the Rules states that an application should normally be refused if:-

The person seeking entry to the United Kingdom:

  • is currently the subject of a deportation order; or
  • has been convicted of an offence for which they have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of at least 4 years; or
  • has been convicted of an offence for which they have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of at least 12 months but less than 4 years, unless a period of 10 years has passed since the end of the sentence; or
  • has been convicted of an offence for which they have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of less than 12 months, unless a period of 5 years has passed since the end of the sentence.

Where this paragraph applies, unless refusal would be contrary to the Human Rights Convention or the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, it will only be in exceptional circumstances that the public interest in maintaining refusal will be outweighed by compelling factors.

Paragraph 320(18A) of the Rules states that an application should normally be refused if within the 12 months prior to the date on which the application is decided, the person has been convicted of or admitted an offence for which they receive a non-custodial sentence or other out of court disposal that is recorded on their criminal record.

Paragraph 320(18B) of the Rules states that an application should normally be refused if in the view of the Secretary of State:

  • the person’s offending has caused serious harm; or
  • the person is a persistent offender who shows a particular disregard for the law.

Paragraph 320(19) of the Rules states that an application should normally be refused if the immigration officer deems the exclusion of the person from the United Kingdom to be conducive to the public good. For example, because the person’s conduct (including convictions which do not fall within paragraph 320(2), character, associations, or other reasons, make it undesirable to grant them leave to enter.

Personal experience

An example of the problems that a criminal record can bring when travelling to the UK can be highlighted by the story of Beth Chapman (wife of Dog the Bountry Hunter, Duane Chapman) who was forced to pull out of a series of Celebrity Big Brother when a shoplifting conviction from the 1980’s led to her receiving a custodial sentence in the USA. Visit the Metro to read the story in full.

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on housing in the UK
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. 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 other on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord




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Debbie Sadler
Helpline lead

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