Practical information & advice

Generally anybody travelling to the US for less than 90 days can travel under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). However, if you’ve been arrested or convicted of certain offences, you are ineligible to travel under the VWP and will need to apply to the US Embassy for a visa.

Information

Here you’ll find links to various parts of this site where we have information and useful resources relating to travelling to the US.

I would like to take my children to Florida next year but I received a conviction about 5 years ago. Will I be able to travel under the Visa Waiver Programme or will I need to apply for a visa?

It’s possible that you will need a visa, especially if your offence is deemed to be a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT).

I received a conviction for criminal damage after accidentally breaking a car window. I’m sure I can travel under the VWP, how do I apply?

If you’re able to travel without a visa using the VWP, you’ll need to register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before you travel.

I need a visa to travel to the US but I’ve left it too late to apply. What can I do?

There are a couple of options available to you. You could consider rearranging your trip and then applying for a visa or alternatively you could lie on the ESTA form and travel without a visa.

How do I apply for a visa to travel to the US?

The process of applying for a visa can be quite long and expensive. You will need to complete an online application form, obtain official confirmation of your criminal record and attend an interview at the US Embassy.

I’m attending an interview at the US Embassy next week. How likely am I to get a visa?

In deciding whether to grant you a visa, the consular officer will take various factors into consideration including the seriousness of the offence and the sentence/disposal that you received.

Index of our information pages

Advice

Here you’ll find some of the common advice we give on travelling to the US. This is based on what we’ve learnt as a charity, as well as the real-life experiences of people with convictions.

  • The process of applying for a visa to the US can be a long (and expensive) one. However, we regularly receive reports of people being successful in their applications, so if you are serious about travelling to the US, you shouldn’t be put off by the process.
  • People with convictions also travel to the US on a daily basis, choosing to lie on the ESTA form (i.e. declaring that they’ve never been arrested or convicted) instead of applying for a visa, and are generally able to travel with no difficulties. However, our experience suggests that this option is only really suitable for people who are willing to take this risk, as it is technically a criminal offence, and for most people choosing to go to the US for a leisurely holiday, it is not normally a risk that people wish to take.

Frequently asked questions

Here you’ll find some specific questions that we regularly get about travelling abroad and the answers we generally provide. More detailed FAQ’s may be included in the information pages above.

Moral turpitude is a legal concept in the US that refers to conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals. More information can be found here.
A minimum of 12 weeks and anything up to 6 months or longer. It’s recommended that you’re in receipt of your visa before booking your trip to the US.
If you’re travelling abroad, the police may put a notification ‘flag’ on your passport. This can sometimes cause problems if you are using the automated passport control gates at the airport. The gates won’t let you through and an immigration officer will come to speak to you. Some people might find this embarrassing. Therefore, whenever possible, it’s advisable to use a manned gate.
Many people with convictions travel to the US every year from the UK, they do not disclose their convictions and they travel without any issues. However, to do this, you will need to lie as part of the ESTA application process and by doing this you are potentially committing a criminal offence under US law. We are not aware of anybody that has been prosecuted for this, but we are aware of instances where individuals have been questioned by officials and sent back to the UK on the next flight (at their own cost).

If your visit is for business, this could have implications on your future employment. Not knowing what would happen if you were questioned can be extremely worrying. For those who are travelling for a holiday, the anxiety could ruin your trip. If you think that it is better to lie on the ESTA, you will need to be prepared to continue the lie if you are questioned face to face by an Immigration Officer in the US. This can be quite a frightening experience.

We get mixed reports from people about their experiences of the US visa process. It’s undoubtedly quite a time-consuming process, and can feel quite intrusive. There are also no clear guidelines available to the public on how the US Embassy will make their decisions, so it’s hard to know whether you will be successful until you actually apply.

From our experience, much will depend on the consular officer that deals with your case, and how you present yourself at the interview. Ultimately, if you decide that you need to apply for a visa, you’ve got nothing to lose by applying. We certainly hear of many people who have been successful in getting a visa and these include a range of convictions and disposals.

If the consular officer denies you a visa and does not recommend a waiver of ineligibility, you may apply again if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for the refusal. In the absence of any new evidence, consular officers are not obliged to re-examine your case.

If you feel that you’ve omitted evidence material to the visa decision, you will need to reapply for a visa and appear at the embassy in person.

Here you’ll find links to useful organisations and websites related to travel to the US that we refer to in our information and advice. Contact details for the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • ACPO Criminal Records Office – Prepares and issues police certificates for anybody applying for a visa to travel to the US
  • US Embassy – Responsible for issuing visas for travel into the US and the Visa Waiver Program

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