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Can a Registered Sex Offender Travel Internationally?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Oct 06, 2023

Being required to register as a sex offender can complicate life in many ways, limiting where you can live, work, etc. But how does it affect you if you need to travel internationally?

For example, if you have business obligations overseas or plan on attending a family function in another country, will you be allowed to travel there if you're a registered sex offender?

Can a Registered Sex Offender Travel Internationally?
With conditions, registered sex offenders in the United States are allowed to travel internationally.

The short answer is yes, with conditions. In the United States, registered sex offenders are not prohibited from traveling internationally—but because other nations have their own rules in this area—plus there are considerations of international law—the international travel process becomes more difficult.

Simply put, a registered sex offender can leave the United States to travel internationally as no U.S. laws forbid them from traveling abroad. While registered sex offenders can obtain a passport and travel internationally, there are some restrictions regarding where they can go.

Registered sex offenders can go anywhere that does not conduct a criminal background check before letting them enter. Most countries will not review a United States citizen's criminal history before allowing them to visit. Most countries only require a valid passport issued by the U.S. government for entry.

While United States law does not prohibit them from traveling out of the country, some countries might restrict registered sex offenders from entering once their customs agents observe the “sex offender” identifier on their passports.

In other words, some countries will refuse entry to a registered sex offender. This refusal is often based on the registration itself but could also be based on their criminal record, such as any felony convictions, regardless of the type of crime.

Further, there will also likely be notification requirements to meet before leaving, and sex offenders might also receive extra screening on return.

What Are the General Challenges of International Travel as a Registered Offender?

Sex offenders must generally notify authorities of their travel plans, especially overseas journeys. While the U.S. allows you to travel outside the country, you may have more difficulties with border officials when entering other countries. Some of these complications are discussed below. 

You will be denied entrance to some countries

Certain nations simply won't permit a registered sex offender to enter the country. The list changes from time to time, but currently, these nations include:

  • China;
  • The United Kingdom;
  • Australia;
  • Thailand;
  • Canada;
  • Russia;
  • Japan;
  • Costa Rica;
  • Philippines;
  • Mexico;
  • Jamaica.

You may have difficulty procuring visas

Regardless of the nature of your offense, having a criminal record may cause issues with visa eligibility or entry permits in some countries. In some cases, the visa may be denied; in others, you may need to explain your offense and what you plan to do in that country.

Challenges of International Travel as a Registered Offender
Sex offenders are typically required to notify the proper authorities of their travel plans.

You may have to register with the authorities upon entry

In certain countries, sex offenders must register with the authorities upon arrival. This could mean reporting to a local police station or providing detailed information about your itinerary while in the country. Researching these requirements before traveling is essential, as failure to comply may result in deportation.

You may have trouble getting back into the U.S.

While the U.S. has a protocol for registered sex offenders to leave the country, it also reserves the right to deny entry to registered offenders. Even if you've followed all protocols and given the correct notifications, you should be prepared for intense screening and questioning upon re-entry.

Are Sex Offenders Required to Notify Law Enforcement?

In 2016, the International Megan's Law (IML) amended the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). It requires registered sex offenders to report their intent to leave the country with their local sex offender registry.

In other words, registered sex offenders might be required to report their travel plans with a minimum notice of 21 days. Some of the information you might have to provide to the place of your sex offender registry includes the following:

  • Dates and places of departure and arrival;
  • Airline information and flight numbers;
  • Names of the country to be visited;
  • Purpose of the international travel;
  • Proposed itinerary;
  • Address and contact information abroad;

Suppose you fail to notify authorities of your intent to travel internationally. In that case, you could face criminal charges resulting in up to 10 years in prison.

What is the International Megan's Law?

International Megan's Law (IML) is a crucial piece of legislation affecting the international travel of registered sex offenders. IML was enacted in 2016 to prevent child exploitation and other sexual crimes by improving information sharing between nations. It mandates that the U.S. government inform foreign officials when a registered sex offender plans to travel to their country.

International Megan's Law
The International Megan's Law (IML) mandates a "unique identifier" on a sex offender's passport.

One of the critical conditions of IML is the "unique identifier" placed on the passport of registered sex offenders. This identifier serves to alert foreign immigration officers of the individual's sex offender status, thereby potentially affecting their decision to grant entry. This "unique identifier" also means you can only have a passport book, not a passport card.

The law also requires sex offenders to report any intended travel outside the U.S. at least 21 days in advance. Failure to comply with this requirement can lead to criminal charges, adding another layer of legal complexity for these individuals.

The implications of IML for registered sex offenders are far-reaching. The unique identifier on their passport can lead to heightened scrutiny, potential stigma, and even outright denial of entry in some countries.

The advance notification requirement can also make spontaneous or emergency travel practically impossible.

What If You Are Still on Probation?

Suppose you are a sex offender still on probation from a sex offense conviction. In that case, you should expect to face additional requirements and limitations.

Sex offenders must notify their probation officer before they leave the county, state, or country. You can leave the country if your probation officer approves travel. In most cases, the reasons for the trip will determine whether it's approved or denied.

How Can You Navigate the Legal Requirements?

For registered sex offenders hoping to travel internationally, understanding and navigating these legal requirements is crucial to avoid unexpected mishaps, scrutiny, and embarrassment. Here are some practical tips:

  • Plan Ahead: Given the 21-day advance notification requirement under IML, planning your travel well in advance is essential.
  • Get Legal Consultation: Seek advice from a lawyer to understand your rights and obligations under the law and the potential implications of your sex offender status in your destination country.
  • Respect Local Laws: Every country has rules and regulations regarding sex offenders. Familiarize yourself with these laws to avoid any legal complications.

The best way to ensure you can travel to a particular country is to get legal guidance from a sex crimes attorney or call the country's consulate or embassy in the United States. Sex offenders who travel abroad and are denied entry into their destination country must return to the United States with the same airline.

The “Travel Matrix” indexes nations' current registrant entrance and treatment policies and practices and which countries are currently turning away sex offenders. Contact our law firm for a case review. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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