Traveling the world with a criminal record
Getting hit with a DUI charge can throw a huge wrench into future plans – including plans to travel.
Being convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can result in trouble moving to or even visiting other countries, depending on whether those countries consider DUIs a criminal offense and their rules regarding visitors with a criminal history.
As a general rule of thumb, any country can use any type of criminal history as reason to refuse entry, but the following countries might present particular difficulties for those with DUI convictions.
Canada is notoriously tough on people with DUIs, since impaired driving is considered a felony there. The country thus restricts anyone with a DUI from entering the country.
There are ways around it: Those convicted with a DUI who didn't serve jail time and who have an otherwise clean criminal history have the best chance of skirting Canada's travel bar, though it costs a $200 fine. It's also possible to apply for criminal rehabilitation starting five years after the original conviction, which can renew eligibility for entry into Canada.
DUI convicts who stay on the straight and narrow following their charge can enter Canada freely again after 10 years when the conviction is expunged from their criminal record. Those whose DUIs have been diverted or deferred will still be considered criminally inadmissible to Canada until they've finished the entire diversion or deferment program and have documents proving the final result.
China, Japan and Malaysia
These countries' travel visa applications ask about misdemeanor charges in the traveler's home country, and may run background checks depending on the answer.
The key here is honesty: In these and many other nations, hiding or lying about a criminal background can have worse consequences than the criminal background itself. When applying for a travel visa anywhere, be upfront when asked about past criminal charges.
Dubai and Persian Gulf Countries (UAE)
Immigration rules in these countries don't specifically condemn DUI convictions, but because the UAE operates in a conservative Muslim society, alcohol-related crimes might not fare well.
Entry is often up to the discretion of the immigration officer in these situations, so for travelers worried about a DUI on their record, call the consulate or embassy ahead of time for advice on whether immigration will ask about past misdemeanors and how to approach that situation should it arise.
Getting into Iran is tough enough as it is. U.S. citizens must apply for travel visas through an embassy or consulate of a country where Iran has diplomatic relations, which excludes the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
On top of that, Iran's generally conservative society can pose problems for people with DUIs. But as with the UAE countries, entry is usually up to individual immigration officers.
Mexico is another country that cracks down on DUI convicts specifically. Foreigners with drunk driving criminal convictions within the past 10 years are usually refused entry into Mexico, since the country's immigration laws consider DUIs an indictable offense, much like a felony.
DUIs generally bar travelers from entering New Zealand only if the charges and jail time were severe. People who did jail time for 12 months or more within the last 10 months or who received a prison sentence exceeding five years might have trouble entering the country.
The United States
The United States can keep out visitors with a history of "crime involving moral turpitude," which generally means crime with intent. Charges of intent aren't normally wrapped up in DUI convictions unless there's an aggravating factor, so ordinary DUIs shouldn't keep travelers from visiting the United States.
On that note, temporary residents with U.S. work visas might have trouble re-entering the United States with DUI charges. Still, a typical DUI conviction probably wouldn't be grounds for removal of those residents.