If you want to travel outside of the United States, you will need a passport. Even if you are just going a cruise that will venture into international waters, you will still need a passport. After your felony conviction you have lost some of the rights you previously had. Most felons are still eligible for a U.S. passport. However, you may have some issues getting permission to enter certain countries.
What is a Passport?
A passport is proof of your country of citizenship. A U.S. passport proves to officials in other countries that you are a U.S. citizen. It also functions as a type of international identity card. A passport alone is often not enough to allow you to enter another country. You do need your passport, or an adequate substitute, to reenter the United States after having traveled abroad.
Difference Between a Passport and a Visa
While a passport is the way you prove you are a U.S. citizen a visa is permission from another country to visit for a set period of time. The U.S. has agreements with many countries where U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter, just their passport. Many countries require U.S. citizens to apply for a visa upon arrival in the country or before they arrive. A visa is advanced permission to enter a country. There are usually several restrictions with a visa such as the length of time you may visit and you ability to work in the country.
However, a visa is not a guarantee that you will be allowed into the country. It is still possible for a foreign country to deny you entry into the country even if you have a visa. If you are denied entry you will be put on a plane and sent back to the U.S. While this rarely happens, U.S. citizens with a felony record are at greater risk for being denied entry even with a visa. Make sure you do your research on an individual country before buying your tickets and applying for a visa. The U.S. State Department website has a lot of information about the visa requirements for different countries.
When you are issued a visa it will typically be placed in your passport.
When You Cannot Get a Passport
Most U.S. citizens, even with a felony record, are eligible to get a passport. However, the following groups of people will not be issued a U.S. passport:
Anyone with a felony conviction for international drug trafficking
You owe more that $2,500 in child support
There is a felony warrant out for your arrest
You still owe the federal government money for loan issued to help you evacuate back to the U.S.
If you are still on parole or some other type of post-prison supervision, it may be against the terms of your release agreement to apply for, or have a U.S. passport. In these cases you may be issued a passport, but you could be subject to penalties for being in violation of your parole. Make sure to check with your parole officer before applying for a passport.
How to Apply for a Passport
If you need a passport in less than two weeks, you will need to apply for a passport in person at Department of State Passport Agency. Otherwise, you can apply for a passport through the mail. You can have your application expedited for an additional fee and have it delivered to you in two to three weeks. Regular passport processing will take four to six weeks.
No matter how you decide to get your passport, you will need to complete form DS-11. It is critical that you are thorough and honest when completing this form. It is a federal crime to knowingly provide false information on a passport application. The form will ask you about where you were born, where you have lived, and if you are in one of the categories mentioned above that would make you ineligible for a passport.
When completing your passport application you will also need to send in original documents that prove you are a U.S. citizen. Examples would be birth certificate showing you were born in the United States, a certificate showing you were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents, or a Naturalization certificate. The DS-11 will have the full instructions about what documents are acceptable.
If applying in person you will also need a valid form of government issued identification such as a driver’s license. Note that a driver’s license is not adequate proof of U.S. citizenship for the passport application. You can get more details about applying in person for a passport here.
You will also need one photo that meets the specific requirements of the State Department. The easiest way to get a photo that meets the requirements is to go to a place that advertizes passport pictures. Note that most visa applications will also require the same type of photo. It may be wise to get two to four photos in case you need them later. The photos must be of you facing the camera against a white background. You must remove any eyeglasses from your face. The photos must be 2 X 2 inches.
You will also need to enclose the passport fee with the application. The fee will be a minimum of $135. It may be more if you need expedited service. You can find the latest information about the fees here.
You can complete the passport application and pay the fees online or you can print out the application and complete it by hand. Either way, you will still need to mail certain documents in or present the documents at a passport agency.
After your application is processed the passport will be issued and mailed to you at the address you specified in your application.
Special Issues With Felonies and Visas
Many countries require that anyone with a felony record first obtain an exception before they will be admitted to the country Canada. You will also require this exception in Canada if you have a DUI conviction, even if it is just a misdemeanor. You will need to complete a form and submit documents that show you are rehabilitated. Here is an article that explains this process in more detail.
Each country will have its own process. You will need to research the country’s requirements before you travel to limit the chances of running into any problems.
Having a felony doesn’t meant that you cannot travel internationally. You may have to go through some extra steps and incur some extra costs. However, you can still enjoy all the wonderful things only travel can offer you.