Travelling to USA with criminal record: Requirements and How to Apply

The United States is an amazing place to visit, with so many famous sights and stunning cities, beaches and everything you need for a great holiday. There are so many different types of holiday across the US too, from taking a coast-to-coast road trip, to relaxing on Miami Beach, or even a wild week in Vegas! Those are just a few of the most popular options and we haven’t even mentioned the Big Apple yet!

Anyway, before you get anything planned and book your flights, it is important to understand that it can be more difficult to gain entry into the US than most other countries. There is a strict set of eligibility criteria that is in place to monitor who is entering the US and to enhance security by approving only the people that Border Security deem as low risk.
If you have a criminal record, you may not be granted permission to enter the US, as depending on the type of record, you may be deemed as a risk and the government will decline your application for an ESTA or other kind of visa.
However, different types of criminal offenses are treated in different manners. For example, minor traffic offenses which do not lead to a conviction will be considered as a lesser offense and your visa application or ESTA application should be accepted, providing there are no other issues that affect your eligibility. There is no definitive list of acceptable criminal convictions, as each application will be processed on the full information provided, however it may help to know the questions that you will be asked related to criminal activity on an ESTA application:
  • Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?
  • Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?
  • Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?
  • Have you ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States?
  • Are you currently seeking employment in the United States or were you previously employed in the United States without prior permission from the U.S. government?
  • Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa you applied for with your current or previous passport, or have you ever been refused admission to the United States or withdrawn your application for admission at a U.S. port of entry?
  • Have you ever stayed in the United States longer than the admission period granted to you by the U.S. government?
  • Have you traveled to, or been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011?
If you are heading to the US for a short visit of less than 90 days then an ESTA visa should be all that you need in the form of travel authorisation if you are a citizen of a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program such as the UK. However, if your planned trip is for longer than that limit then you will need to apply for a relevant type of visa instead e.g. working visa or permanent residency if you are eligible.
Applying for an ESTA is easy and can be completed using an online form in a matter of minutes, getting processed usually very quickly. You can read more about the application process here.