Can You Visit the US With a Police Caution?

Can You Get an ESTA With a Police Caution?

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An ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is among the most popular permits to travel to the US. You'll need it whether you're visiting the United States on vacation or just passing through.
In fact, ESTA allows tourists to travel to the US without a visa for up to 90 days. It is very easy to apply for and complete the ESTA form online. You will receive an answer very quickly, in most cases within a day or two.
However, it could be more problematic to apply if you have a police caution. So, can you get an ESTA with a police caution?
The answer to this question is not that simple, and there are numerous factors that can influence it. This article will provide you with detailed and very useful information regarding the ESTA authorisation and the impact of police caution on its approval.

Applying for an ESTA: The Impact of Police Caution

A person can get ESTA despite a criminal record or police caution, however, approval will depend on the nature of the criminal offence, the age of the offender at the time, and the date the crime occurred.

Can Non-US Citizens With UK Police Cautions/Warnings Apply for an ESTA?

Persons with a UK police caution or warning who intend to apply for an ESTA to visit the United States need to answer eligibility questions. The goal of these questions is to uncover the candidate's potential security threats.
The two most often discussed eligibility questions on the ESTA form are those concerning arrests and convictions involving moral turpitude. Crime involving moral turpitude is actually morally corrupt or vile behavior that violates a community's accepted standards and values. These are the two questions:
1. "Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that caused serious damage to property or serious harm to another person or government authority?"
This question relates to criminal convictions and arrests that cause substantial property damage or serious harm to another individual or government authority. Examples of serious offenses include:
  • Kidnapping crimes;
  • Serious assaults;
  • Gross indecency;
  • Crimes against property (receiving stolen property crimes, committed fraud, robbery);
  • Crimes committed against a government authority (benefit fraud or tax evasion).

2. "Have you ever broken any laws relating to the possession, use, or distributing illegal drugs?"
This question is much more precise in that it asks if a law relating to the possession, use, or distribution of illegal drugs has been broken.
According to the questionnaire, refused entry can be for a serious crime, but if you have a caution, for example, a minor traffic offense, you still might travel to America.

Is It Mandatory to Declare the Caution on the ESTA Application?

It is mandatory to declare caution on the ESTA application. No matter where the crime occurred in the world, a person must declare an arrest, a caution, or a conviction on a visa or ESTA application (even if your caution is spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, you still need to declare it on the ESTA form).

Understanding UK Cautions/Warnings

The following are three UK out-of-court settlements that are particularly significant to US immigration law:
  1. Simple Police Caution - A simple police caution is a written warning from a cop that an individual has committed an offense. Under current policies, the person must provide fingerprints and a photograph. If the offense is small and there is no additional criminal history, the police will most likely issue a warning. If the individual admits to the offense and accepts a caution, the police can just issue a simple one. If the subject ignores the caution, official criminal charges will be launched against them.
  2. Conditional Police Caution - A conditional police caution is identical to a standard police caution in every way, including admission to the offense, except that the person is subject to additional conditions. Failure to adhere to the conditions will lead to official criminal charges being launched against the individual.
  3. Cannabis Warnings - A cannabis warning is a verbal warning given by a policeman to a first-time offender who is in possession of a minor amount of controlled substance for personal use. The police cannot issue a formal verbal warning unless the individual confirms owning the cannabis. The cop will note that the subject has admitted to possessing cannabis and will ask the individual to sign this document. Warnings will appear on an ACRO report.

Do UK Cautions/Warnings Qualify as Convictions?

Police cautions or warnings in the United Kingdom do not count as convictions for the purposes of US immigration. The US Department of State's Visa Office agreed with this on April 9, 2014. The explanation is that no formal court or judicial activity exists. However, the absence of a "conviction" does not exclude a determination of criminal ineligibility for US immigration purposes.

The US Embassy Guidance

According to the US Embassy's website, they "do not advise that passengers who have been arrested, even if the arrest didn't result in a criminal conviction, try to travel visa-free under the Visa Waiver Programme."

Can the UK Cautions/Warnings Be Considered Admissions?

The US Department of State explained to the American Immigration Lawyers Association in April 2014 that, while UK cautions are not convictions, they are nevertheless "admissions" for reasons of ineligibility, seemingly departing from its previous 1997 judgment. The State Department said that a "case-by-case" determination was necessary, probably since UK police officers are not experts in eliciting information about admissions or US immigration law.

Will the UK Police Caution Remain on the Record Once It's Spent?

It is important to keep in mind that even if a UK caution or warning is "spent" under UK law, it stays on the individual's record under US immigration law. The time that has passed does not eliminate an official police warning or caution for reasons of criminal inadmissibility determinations.

Can US Authorities See Your Police Caution?

Despite the fact that US authorities would generally not have access to UK criminal records, we do not advise any visitor to America to break any US immigration rules, especially if they want to stay in the US for a longer period of time.

Exemptions and Waivers of Criminal Inadmissibility

An individual's possibilities of entering the United States do not stop with a conviction for a crime. The applicant may be qualified for an exemption or waiver of ineligibility depending on the visa desired and the crime(s) at issue. The applicant should appear at the US embassy/consulate properly prepared for his or her interview with brief legal reasons and supporting paperwork in support of such exemption or waiver of inadmissibility requests.

Police Caution Deletion for US Immigration

If you have a caution and it is obstructing your plans to move to the United States, the good thing is that your caution can be deleted. There are firms that specialize exclusively in the removal of police cautions, so you can seek legal counsel with some of them to help you in this regard.

Getting an ESTA With a Police Caution: Final Thoughts

Obtaining an ESTA with police caution requires different considerations depending on the applicant's circumstances. Always respond to questions in the ESTA form to the best of your abilities and in a way that is consistent with the truth. Lying could have serious ramifications. In the worst-case scenario, you will face prosecution. Punishment under the Immigration and Nationality Act carries a maximum sentence of two years.
Finally, if you are not eligible to receive an ESTA under the visa waiver program, you could still apply for a visa to the United States.

Written by Abisola Fikayomi

Abisola is an accomplished writer interested in US Travel, immigration, passports and visas. She’s passionate about exploring new places and cultures and willing to share her experiences, expertize and findings with others. That is her primary drive for specialising in this industry.


Yes, you must declare caution on the ESTA application.
If you intend to work in the United States or gain US citizenship, a caution will cause you complications, and you must report it to US authorities.
You can get an ESTA with caution; however, acceptance will depend on the nature of the criminal offense, the offender's age at the time, and the date the crime happened.
If you only want to visit America for a vacation and will be flying on an ESTA, you may be able to enter the country with caution, but you may be technically in violation of US immigration restrictions.
If you have substantial criminal histories and were found guilty, or you are currently under appeal or discussion, your ESTA application can be refused.

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