Are sex offenders allowed to leave the U.S.?

Under North Carolina, federal, and international laws, people on the sex offender registry are legally allowed to travel across international borders. However, whether a registered sex offender is able to enter another country will be based on the home country’s laws. Since registrants are still legally allowed to obtain a passport, it is possible for them to travel to many places around the globe.

If you are a registered sex offender and are hoping to avoid being accused of violating the terms of your registration, it is important that you understand how these international travel laws are going to impact you. Contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first step well before making travel plans.

Leaving the U.S. for vacation?

Registered sex offenders within the United States are legally allowed to leave the U.S. and travel internationally. There is no U.S. law that prohibits sex offenders from traveling abroad. That does not mean every country will allow sex offenders to enter the country. Registrant Travel Action Group (RTAG) is a good resource to determine where people on the registry may travel.

Every country has its own laws that will determine whether the sex offender’s criminal record meets the criteria for entry into the country. A sex offender who was convicted at the felony level may be refused entry to a significant number of countries across the world.

Where is Travel Permitted?

The United States does not restrict registered sex offenders from entering any country around the globe. There are very few countries that will review a United States citizen’s criminal background before allowing them entry to the country. In fact, in many cases, countries will only require that the individual have a valid passport to be approved for entry.

Currently, registered sex offenders are prohibited from traveling to or changing flights in any of the following countries:

  • China (monetary fine)
  • Mexico
  • The United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • Thailand (monetary fine)
  • Canada
  • Brazil
  • Russia (mandatory jail time and monetary fine)
  • Japan

Countries that allow sex offenders entry may require them to register with local police upon arrival. Other countries could allow entry if the criminal offense in question occurred a long time ago or was a first offense. Many countries do not have clear rules in place that deny or allow entry to registered sex offenders.

Since immigration laws across the globe can change at any point in time, if you are a registered sex offender who is hoping to travel internationally, you should be sure to reach out to a sex crime lawyer or your destination country’s consulate for additional information.

Required to Notify Law Enforcement of Their Plans to Leave the Country?

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

Sex offenders are required to comply with local sex offender registry rules and regulations. Registered sex offenders may be required to report their travel plans with a minimum of 21 days’ notice. Some of the different types of information you should expect to provide to your local sex offender registry include:

  • The names of the countries you plan to enter
  • What are you expect to do within the country
  • When and where you plan to leave the United States
  • When and where you plan to arrive in the United States when you return
  • A way to contact you while you are abroad
  • Your reasons for traveling internationally
  • Your airline name and flight numbers

There are criminal consequences associated with failure to notify authorities of your intent to travel internationally. If convicted, a registrant could spend up to 10 years in prison.

When human trafficking, child sex trafficking, and other sex crimes are prevalent in tourist areas across the world, It should come as no surprise that there would be strict travel restrictions in place for registered sex offenders.

While on Probation Travel Internationally?

Sex offenders who are currently on probation may be allowed to travel internationally if granted approval by their probation officer. There may be additional restrictions and requirements in place before a registered sex offender on probation may be granted approval to travel abroad.

Generally, registered sex offenders who are on probation will be denied approval for international travel unless they have a substantial reason for needing to leave the country. A good example could be a registered sex offender who needed to leave the country to care for their terminally ill parent.

Returning Back in the U.S.?

One of the biggest risks registered sex offenders takes after they have left the US is being denied entry when they attempt to come back. Although they might have reported your travel plans to the local authorities, it is not uncommon for registered sex offenders to face further scrutiny and screening when they attempt to enter the US after traveling abroad.

You may not necessarily be denied entry. You should expect delays in your attempt to cross the border. You could also face further scrutiny from airline officials and law enforcement, which could make your travel experience shameful, embarrassing, and anxiety-ridden. For those thinking that travel insurance would be a good backup plan. There are reports that claims were denied because of criminal investigation clauses. Read the fine print before committing to travel insurance.

If you have concerns that you may have been treated unfairly in your attempt to re-enter the US after international travel, an experienced attorney may help you file a complaint with the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

If you are having difficulty re-entering the United States as a registered sex offender after having been granted approval to do so by your local authorities, you should reach out to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible for legal guidance and support.

Be Proactive. Not Reactive.

People on the registry have the right to travel internationally. Do not ask the sheriffs questions about international travel because they simply do not have the correct answers. But making international travel plans and its navigation is perhaps worth taking a moment to ask an attorney about options well before purchasing air travel. Otherwise, a registrant could be facing severe criminal charges upon return to the United States. Unfortunately, it is the United States that has created this “if this then that” travel scheme for the registry population. It is better to be prepared.

Dwayne Daughtry

Dwayne is NCRSOL's Executive Director.

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