Travelling to the USA – the ESTA form and moral turpitude

For more information on travelling to the US, use the ‘Information’ header at the top of this page and select ‘Travelling abroad

Introduction

For anybody considering travelling to the USA, the questions asked about convictions on the ESTA application form changed in November 2014. We’ve covered this in our simple and detailed guides on travelling to the US, but this specific information focuses on how to answer the new questions.

Changes to the ESTA question

The questions changed to:-

  1. 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?
  2. Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using or distributing illegal drugs?
  3. Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage or genocide?
  4. 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?

Questions 2 to 4 are quite easy to answer but question 1, probably less so.

Is there any guidance from US immigration on question 1?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) on-line help, gives the following guidance associated with question 1:-

‘This question refers to crimes involving moral turpitude – such offences generally involve conduct which is inherently base, vile or depraved and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed to persons or society in general. There are factors, such as the age of the offender or the date of the offence that may affect whether an offence will be considered a crime involving moral turpitude for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act’.

What is ‘moral turpitude’?

Our Helpline receives many calls from individuals looking for a definition of ‘moral turpitude’. By looking through the Consular guidance given to officials to help them decide whether to give someone a visa to the US or not, we have been able to identify a number of convictions that would not be classed as ‘moral turpitude’.

Crimes against property which do not fall within the definition of moral turpitude

(1) Damaging private property (where intent to damage not required);
(2) Breaking and entering (requiring no specific or implicit intent to commit a crime involving moral turpitude);
(3) Passing bad checks (where intent to defraud not required);
(4) Possessing stolen property (if guilty knowledge is not essential);
(5) Joy riding (where the intention to take permanently not required); and
(6) Juvenile delinquency

Crimes committed against governmental authority, which would not constitute moral turpitude for visa-issuance purposes

(1) Black market violations;
(2) Breach of the peace;
(3) Carrying a concealed weapon;
(4) Desertion from the Armed Forces;
(5) Disorderly conduct;
(6) Drunk or reckless driving;
(7) Drunkenness;
(8) Escape from prison;
(9) Failure to report for military induction;
(10) False statements (not amounting to perjury or involving fraud);
(11) Firearms violations;
(12) Gambling violations;
(13) Immigration violations;
(14) Liquor violations;
(15) Loan sharking;
(16) Lottery violations;
(17) Possessing burglar tools (without intent to commit burglary);
(18) Smuggling and customs violations (where intent to commit fraud is absent);
(19) Tax evasion (without intent to defraud); and
(20) Vagrancy.

Crimes committed against the person, family relationship, or sexual morality which do not involve moral turpitude

(1) Assault (simple) (i.e., any assault, which does not require an evil intent or depraved motive, although it may involve the use of a weapon, which is neither dangerous nor deadly);
(2) Illegitimacy (i.e., the offense of begetting an illegitimate child);
(3) Creating or maintaining a nuisance (where knowledge that premises were used for prostitution is not necessary);
(4) Incest (when a result of a marital status prohibited by law);
(5) Involuntary manslaughter (when killing is not the result of recklessness);
(6) Libel;
(7) Mailing an obscene letter;
(8) Mann Act violations (where coercion is not present);
(9) Riot; and
(10) Suicide (attempted).

How should I answer question 1?

If your offence is one of those listed above, you can answer ‘No’ to Question 1 on the ESTA application form as it would not be classed as an offence involving ‘moral turpitude’.

A lot of the offences listed above are fairly easy to match with a UK equivalent but there are others which are a lot more difficult to interpret. If in doubt, you would need to contact the US Embassy – we’re unable to provide categorical answers to whether a particular offence is classed as moral turpitude or not.

For further information on travelling to the USA, see our simple or detailed guide.

 

  • Rachel

    Hi,

    If I’m convinced for blue badge fraud, will I be allowed in
    to the usa?

  • Tommy

    Im getting married in new york next year and 1 of my mate was convicted of driving with no car insurance n got a ban n fine will he be able to still get an esta

  • dannys

    Driving without insurance isn’t moral turpitude, so he can answer no to the question.

    Look at it this way, you may forget to renew your insurance, that doesn’t mean you have committed a crime that is “inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules
    of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in
    general”.

    The only way this could affect your travel plans is if CBP asked you, on arrival, if you have every been arrested, you lie, you then get refused entry for the lie, not the crime.

    DUI is also NOT moral turpitude, and one DUI will have no effect on travel. (just thought I’d drop that in)

    CBP operate a website where they have questions and answer pages, they also operate this ESTA system. If in any doubt ask them or look for there Q&A page on the website.

    Have a good wedding.

  • Angela

    Hi my husband was part of a group involved with arson ( burnt a school down), he was 14 at the time and has never been in trouble since. This was in 1986 because he was under 18 does it count as moral turpitude.
    Thanks

  • Richard Murphy

    Would a conviction for death by dangerous driving 20 years ago be considered as moral turpitude?
    Thanks

  • lynnette

    hi i was done at age 17 for common asult on school bully will this stop me getting into usa i never been in trouble since

  • Gayle Louise Stephen

    My fiancé had a caution for possession of a small quantity of marijuana in 1994 when he was just 14 years old and has not committed any other related crime since so this will have been stepped down. He was not arrested and was not required to attend court because he accepted the caution. Would he be eligible under the visa waiver program or would he still have to apply for a visa in full?

  • Dean Anderson

    “serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority,”

    Nothing about moral turpitude any more. So its fairly straight forward Common assault is not serious, ABH and GBH are serious. Criminal damage is a different matter as you can be charged with this for a minor scuff to arson.

  • Dean Anderson

    Nope common assault is a minor offence

  • Dean Anderson

    Moral turpitude is not on the question. Have a read of the declaration again and I am sure you can make a better decision

  • Dean Anderson

    That is a crime intent to deceive the Government so I would say you would have to put yes in the box and go down the visa road

  • Dean Anderson

    Go to the USA embassy

  • Adam

    Regarding Dean’s comments “Nothing about moral turpitude any more.” and “Moral turpitude is not on the question.”

    This is misleading: the article doesn’t say it’s in the question, it says it’s in the guidance for the question – and it still is. You need to click “guidance” to see it.

  • Derek

    Hi my son was convicted of battery in 2008 and does this count. I can’t find the answers anywhere

  • Hannah

    Did you get an answer on this? My partner has the same conviction.

  • Aoprove

    Christopher Stacey
    Co-director | Unlock, for people with convictions
    email: christopher.stacey@unlock.org.uk
    phone: 07557 676433

    Sent from my mobile

  • sarah

    I was convicted of vandalism when i was 15, should i put yes ? and explain the situation if asked

  • Christopher

    Can you have entry to the USA if you have been convicted of common assault by beating

  • James

    Hi I was 15 (juvenile) and shoplifted I wasnt taken to court, no fingerprints were taken and no pictures were taken would this affect me getting an immigration visa?

  • Andrea Kay

    My partner had a convictoion for violent disorder in 2002. There was no custodial sentence and a one year football banning order which may turn up as ‘not active’ on his police certificate. Previously to be safe we declared this as were concerned about the whole moral turpitude question but from the guidance above it appears to not require a visa. My question is if he previoisly held a visa and tries to go down the esta route would he the be barred from a tourist visa if eata is refused and if esta is granted is that it or could they cross check and refuse entry because he previously beld a tourist visa as a result of this conviction
    Im assuming the visa would be granted as the charge is the same as the previous application and he has no convictions since

  • Andrea Kay

    Asking very much the same. My partner applied and was sucessful after a conviction for violent disorder football related back in 2002. He had no custodial sentence so im terrified the fact you were turned down in 2005 for a visa means they have changed the rules. Im not sure if the esta checks previois applications and have a lot riding on getting him a visa granted.

  • Elliot

    I think they are two different things, I was refused visa free entry, which means I have to apply each time.
    My other half spoke to someone who worked at the embassy’s at the time, and he told her it is down to the immigration/consulate person you get on the day, they maybe having a bad day etc.
    I would hope that they use more criteria than that

  • Heath

    My Daughter has a charge of petty larceny from 2013 and is getting very mixed advice as to whether this is a crime of moral turpitude. It was in relation to a stolen mobile phone which in the the procession of another person (old boyfriend) but she was included in the charges.
    She was 18 at the time and is wondering if she could still just apply for an ESTA or will she need to apply for a visa?

  • Lewis

    Just to clarify a few issues. Common assault is a broad category which the CPS has given information on.Included are the offences of ‘Battery’ (where physical contact has occurred) and ‘Assault by Beating’ (which is what you will now be charged with instead of Battery). The charges sound a lot worse than than they actually are. The good news is they both are classed as Common Assault which the Americans class as ‘Simple Assault’. This is not an offence they consider to be serious and not one of moral turpitude. This is due to common and simple assault having no intent to cause harm and the maximum sentence that can be received in both cases is six months custodial. This means that by answering ‘No to question one on the ESTA application you are not lying and therefore can continue with your travels.

  • Tyrone

    Hi, When i was 18 i made a stupid decision and decided to take some money from my place of work at the time and was taken to court got given a fine and completed all my community hours. I’m now 22 and i was wondering if id be eligible for an ESTA to travel to cali for 3 weeks?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Tyrone Elliott

    Hi, When i was 18 i made a stupid decision and decided to take some money from my place of work at the time and was taken to court got given a fine and completed all my community hours. I’m now 22 and i was wondering if id be eligible for an ESTA to travel to cali for 3 weeks?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Tracy

    My boyfriend has a dangerous driving conviction from almost 5 years ago As this isn’t mentioned within the crimes considered of moral turpitude I ticked no for the boxes on the form as I felt this was being honest but now I am second guessing myself as I have read so much online. I don’t know what to do for the best as we don’t have time to apply for a full visa and stand to lose a lot of money if we have to cancel. Help?!

  • Chiara

    I was arrested for drink driving a year ago, had a 12 month driving ban but no points. Can I tick no to the first question?

  • Kerry Russell

    hi I was convicted in 2010 for kicking my ex partners car in an argument just after he had left me I was convicted of criminal damage and received a £300 fine and costs can I safely say hat I have not committed a crime that resulted in serious damage on the esta application or do i need to apply for a visa please help
    thank you
    kerry

  • garry

    My daughter (then 15) told her former friend that she wanted her dead after her friend had gone behind my daughters back, and been with her ex-boyfriend. My daugther got convicted for something I would translate as “illegal threats”, and has to do a few hours of community service. Will she still be able to travel to the USA with an ESTA?

  • lydia

    Just wanted to share my experience with all of you.
    Our family of six are planning a trip to Florida. My husband has a criminal record of which we believed is a CIMT. LOTS OF PEOPLE WE KNOW SAID OH DONT WORRY JUST SAY NO on the ESTA. Some of these people have criminal records one has even done time on three separate occasions (one for assault on a Police Officer!) but they all got their ESTA’s and have been and returned a few of them several times.
    We thought that we would be truthful because we didn’t want to take the chance of being caught out and applied for a VISA (at great expense including the police certificate, travel etc). This criminal record I am talking about is 45 years ago, he got involved with a couple of no hopers, and absolutely nothing since, he got a suspended sentence (ie no prison sentence), two days ago he was DENIED a visa at the Embassy in London and now our travel plans are cancelled. He’s a pensioner for gods sake, a good man who’s been employed by the same company for 37 years and an absolute threat to no-one. It’s madness.
    Just because it says you must apply for a visa doesn’t mean you will get one.

  • Debbie – Unlock

    Hi Lydia
    It’s such a shame to hear of your experience, especially as the conviction was such a long time ago. It must feel as though you’re being unfairly penalised for being truthful. Have you been given the opportunity to appeal the decision?

    Take a look at this thread on our forum where people have shared similar experiences –
    http://forum.unlock.org.uk/Forum175.aspx

  • Tina

    Hi
    I am arranging for a family to visit the usa and one of the members was tagged by the police when he was younger for vehicle theft but wasn’t sent to prison. Can he get an ESTA