We’ve all felt the call to travel before, embrace our inner nomad, and head off to lands previously unknown to us. However, if you’ve been convicted and served time for a felony, you might be wondering: am I still eligible for a passport?
Can A Felon Get a Passport?
Naturally, as one might expect, the ability to travel is one such right that is curtailed, even after time has been served, much like one’s voting rights. All is not lost, however. Ultimately, the road to getting a passport can be long and difficult for those convicted of a felony, but it is not necessarily impossible.
What Convictions Make Obtaining a Passport Impossible?
The type of felony committed has a massive impact on the eligibility of receiving a passport. Some crimes, no matter how long ago, prevent a person from ever receiving a passport. For example, plotting a revolution, in other words, treason, against the United States government revokes the right to a passport.
Understandably, these cases are few and far between, and likely does not apply to you. Other major crimes that severely curtail the ability to receive a passport include international drug convictions and the distribution of controlled substances.
Furthermore, under federal law, if you’ve ever committed a felony or drug offense across international borders, or used your passport while committing a crime, your passport validity would be revoked, and you become ineligible for consideration for a passport in the future.
What if My Conviction Was Less Severe?
These sorts of crimes are few and far between. That does not mean that all other felony convictions are good to go, however. If your felony conviction is related to the dealing of a federally controlled substance, your chances of receiving a passport are essentially zero.
Even a conviction of a misdemeanor state or felony drug charges can result in the loss of eligibility if the United States Secretary of State feels inclined to disqualify you. On the flip side, a first-time offense of possession of a controlled substance usually tends to experience more leniency.
Exceptions are handled entirely by the Secretary of State and are usually only delivered in cases in which humanitarian circumstances deem it ethical to do so.
Drug-related convictions are not the only type of felonies that can severely restrict one’s ability to travel. There are also a variety of instances in which a person convicted of a felony would not be able to leave due to the likelihood of a flight risk.
If you’re on the hook for $5,000 or more in child support payments, you’re most likely unable to receive a passport. Carrying large amounts of debt can also prevent a person from receiving a passport, which makes sense, as the incentive to leave the country and not return prove to be high.
It’s not just private loans or child support that can leave you stranded. Failure to give Uncle Sam his cut is also very prohibitive to a passport application, as applicants who have not filed taxes are summarily denied. Failure to pay taxes is not the only way to suffer ineligibility; failure to pay back a federal loan you took, such as for education, will render your application useless.
Fortunately, unlike many other types of problems with passport eligibility, this one is fairly straightforward to solve. You’ll have to pay back any outstanding amounts you have leftover to the IRS, either in full or by setting up a payment plan if you are unable to pay the amount in full at the moment, but once that’s set up you’re likely good to go.
If you’re like most people convicted of a felony, most likely, you’ll be able to get a passport once you get your affairs in order. There are a few things to keep in mind, however, that may pose a problem in obtaining a passport that may not have to do with a prior felony conviction.
For example, if you’re currently being charged with a felony, don’t be surprised if your application comes back with a denial. Naturally, it’s in the government’s interest to keep those charged with felonies within the nation’s borders, even if the person isn’t charged, to ensure that court proceedings can occur unhindered.
What if I don’t meet those criteria?
If none of the above applies to you – congrats! It is very important to temper one’s expectations, as the receiver of a passport is not necessarily a ticket out of the country as it’s commonly thought of. In short, a passport is a method by which the United States government uses it for the purpose of identifying its citizens as they travel abroad.
While this distinction seems largely meaningless, it can have very serious consequences for those convicted of felonies. This is because while a passport allows you to leave the United States, it does not ensure that you’ll be allowed to roam freely in your chosen destination. Some countries, like the United Kingdom, may turn you back if you have been convicted in the past of a felony.
What Countries have no Restrictions on American Citizens?
There are a few countries that have no visa requirements for citizens of the United States, and therefore any American citizen with a valid passport with six months of validity is eligible to travel. These countries are listed below:
- Caribbean countries
- European countries
- New Zealand
- South Africa
Are There Countries that don’t Ask About Prior Convictions?
Other countries are a little more judicious about who they let into their country and require that all citizens of the United States have a visa before traveling or upon arrival. As is the case with visa applications, there is a section that asks about criminal history, and accordingly, may deny an application on the basis of a prior felony conviction.
These countries include popular tourist destinations, such as Australia, China, Fiji, and Japan. Fortunately, while many countries do ask for criminal history on visa applications, certain countries, like India and Brazil, have no such section on their visa applications, which means at the very least, you won’t be denied a visa on the basis of a prior felony conviction.
I’m eligible for a Passport, but now what?
Now that you know you can get a passport as a felon, it’s also nice to know how to get one, especially since there are a few different forms for different circumstances. Like everyone else applying for the first time, you can choose to complete the DS-11: Application for a Passport online, or in person at either a Passport Agency or a Passport Acceptance Facility.
Do keep in mind this method can only be used for new applicants or for people who’s passport expiration was five years ago or less. If it’s been longer than five years, you’ll have to complete the DS-18. What if your passport was lost, or even stolen?
There’s no need to worry, just be sure to fill out Form DS-64, the passport application specifically for applicants with a missing or stolen passport. Always remember to be 100% honest when filling out the form, and to fill it out in its entirety, in order to minimize delays in a process already fraught with problems.
What Do I Need To Submit My Passport Application?
The passport application isn’t the only thing you’ll have to submit before getting navy blue of your own. In addition to the passport application, you’ll be asked to submit two passport photos of yourself, which must be about 2 inches in size, taken with a white background, and within six months of submitting an application.
You’ll also be asked to provide proof of citizenship, which, fortunately, includes a wide array of documents, such as a birth certificate, previous passport, consular report of birth, or naturalization certificate alongside a photo identification, which includes things like driver’s license, school IDs, and military IDs.
Once you have everything in order, you’ll also have to cough up $35 for a processing fee, and it takes roughly 6 to 8 weeks for a passport application to be received, reviewed, and decided upon.
The journey to getting a passport, especially for those convicted of a felony, is a long and complicated one. While certain types of felony convictions severely curtail the ability of a former felon to receive a passport, the good news is that most people convicted of a felony will be able to get a passport eventually.
With a little bit of work and due diligence, you’ll be able to receive a passport in no time and find yourself traveling wherever your heart desires.