Travelling to the USA in brief
There is a lot of misleading information around travelling to the USA with a criminal record. It’s important to note that having a criminal record does not automatically bar you from travelling to the USA.
- Anybody travelling to the US for less than 90 days will be able to travel under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). However, if you’ve been arrested or convicted of certain offences, you are ineligible to travel under the VWP and will need to apply to the US Embassy for a visa.
- The process of applying for a visa to the US can be a long (and expensive) one. However, we regularly receive reports of people being successful in their applications, so if you are serious about travelling to the US, you shouldn’t be put off by the process.
- People with convictions also travel to the US on a daily basis, choosing to lie on the ESTA form (i.e. declaring that they’ve never been arrested or convicted) instead of applying for a visa, and are generally able to travel with no difficulties. However, our experience suggests that this option is only really suitable for people who are willing to take the risk, as it is technically a criminal offence, and for most people choosing to go to the US for a leisurely holiday, it is not normally a risk they wish to take.
Travelling under the Visa Waiver Programme
You can travel under the VWP if you have received an authorisation to travel through the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. The ESTA process asks questions regarding criminal convictions. If you answer ‘yes’ to the questions that are asked, you will be told that you are not eligible to travel under the VWP and will instead have to apply for a visa.
Applying for a visa
The process of applying for a visa can be quite long and expensive. You will need to complete an online application form, obtain official confirmation of your criminal record and attand an interview at the US Embassy.
- Applying for a visa
- Identifying whether your offence is a crime involving moral turpitude
- Will I get a visa?
- Police certificate
Frequently asked questions
Here you’ll find some specific questions that we regularly get about travelling abroad and the answers we generally provide. More detailed FAQ’s may be included in the information pages above.
Moral turpitude is a legal concept in the US that refers to conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals. More information can be found here.
A minimum of 12 weeks and anything up to 6 months or longer. It’s recommended that you’re in receipt of your visa before booking your trip to the US. See our applying for a visa section.
Many people with convictions travel to the US every year from the UK, they do not disclose their convictions and they travel without any issues. However, to do this, you will need to lie as part of the ESTA application process and by doing this you are potentially committing a criminal offence under US law. We are not aware of anybody that has been prosecuted for this, but we are aware of instances where individuals have been questioned by officials and sent back to the UK on the next flight (at their own cost).
If your visit is for business, this could have implications on your future employment. Not knowing what would happen if you were questioned can be extremely worrying. For those who are travelling for a holiday, the anxiety could ruin your trip. If you think that it is better to lie on the ESTA, you will need to be prepared to continue the lie if you are questioned face to face by an Immigration Officer in the US. This can be quite a frightening experience.
We get mixed reports from people about their experiences of the US visa process. It’s undoubtedly quite a time-consuming process, and can feel quite intrusive. There are also no clear guidelines available to the public on how the US Embassy will make their decisions, so it’s hard to know whether you will be successful until you actually apply.
From our experience, much will depend on the consular officer that deals with your case, and how you present yourself at the interview. Ultimately, if you decide that you need to apply for a visa, you’ve got nothing to lose by applying. We certainly hear of many people who have been successful in getting a visa and these include a range of convictions and disposals.
If the consular officer denies you a visa and does not recommend a waiver of ineligibility, you may apply again if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for the refusal. In the absence of any new evidence, consular officers are not obliged to re-examine your case.
If you feel that you’ve omitted evidence material to the visa decision, you will need to reapply for a visa and appear at the embassy in person. See our will I get a visa section.
Here you’ll find links to useful organisations and websites related to travel to the US that we refer to in our information and advice.
- ACPO Criminal Records Office – Prepares and issues police certificates for anybody applying for a visa to travel to the US
- US Embassy – Responsible for issuing visas for travel into the US and the Visa Waiver Program
Read personal stories
The personal stories below are from people with convictions writing about their experiences of living as a law abiding person with a criminal record.
- USA – here I come (at the second time of asking)
- Embassy interview to travel to the US
- I tried again for my B2 visa and it was granted