Aspiring travelers with criminal histories may have to do a little extra homework before booking flights to go abroad since certain criminal histories sometimes restrict travel plans. In most cases, U.S. citizens who have spent time in prison and completed parole have eligibility to apply for U.S. passports and can still leave the United States – they just might have to jump through a few extra hoops during the application process because of their criminal charges.

Domestic Restrictions

If you've been convicted of certain offenses in the United States, your passport will be revoked for the full duration of the sentence imposed for your offense, including:

  • federal drug offenses
  • state drug felony offenses
  • state or federal drug offenses that are misdemeanors, but determined by the secretary of state to warrant the revocation of a convict's passport

If you've been convicted of a serious crime that falls into one of these categories, like drug trafficking, you'll lose your passport and travel documents for the duration of your imprisonment and parole. This means you won't be able to leave the United States for a foreign country while you're on parole or subject to another form of supervised release from prison.

Convictions of non drug-related felony convictions will usually keep you from qualifying for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection trusted traveler programs, such as expedited security clearance programs through the U.S. Department of State. However, failing to qualify for these programs won't keep convicted felons from leaving the country – it just means you'll have to endure more travel restrictions and go through each airport security check in full during international travel.

Foreign Restrictions

Laws in other countries can also limit your travel freedom based on having a criminal record in the United States. Canada is the most obvious example of this, since its border service agents can access the U.S. National Crime Information Center database with just a passport, so they can conduct criminal background checks at the border crossing. Because Canada prohibits people with certain criminal convictions, including DUI charges for those for driving under the influence, from entering the country, you could be restricted from entering Canada from the United States by immigration authorities or law enforcement.

Other countries don't have access to the United States' crime databases, meaning you're not likely to run into issues entering those places unless you've applied for a visa. Visa applications usually include questions about your criminal history, and certain offenses can keep you from obtaining a visa. This could keep you from traveling to countries that require United States citizens to have tourist visas or from working, studying or living long-term in those countries. Each country has its own standards for issuing visas, so if you're applying for a visa after being released from prison, get legal advice and first contact that country's embassy to learn more about its requirements.