Note: I have never been detained, arrested, or charged with anything; I don't have a criminal record. After over a decade of teaching I have run across people who have records and have managed to get visas. I am not a lawyer nor do I work in immigration. Please do your own research and contact people as necessary. Here's all I know.
Some countries require you to have a clean criminal background check (CBC) before being able to teach. Others will forgive petty crimes, like under-aged drinking. This article gives information about those with petty crimes. If you have major crimes, such as child molestation, rape, murder, armed robbery, you can forget about teaching, at home or abroad.
People Who Have Gotten Visas Criminal Record
These people are friends or friends of friends who have successfully gotten a visa even though they've had a criminal record.
- American, assaulted a federal officer got a Korean visa: He was arrested for assaulting a federal officer 20 years ago during a protest. According to him the officer pulled him away and he stepped on his foot. This showed up on his FBI record. He hadn't had any problems since then and was actually studying to become a pastor. When he handed over his FBI check to the Korean immigration officer, he barely looked at it and simply renewed his visa. My friend asked the immigration officer about it and he laughed saying that many middle aged male Koreans have been arrested due to all the protests in Korea during the 80s.
- British, arrested for drunk driving got a Korean visa: He simply wrote a letter saying that he wouldn't get a Korean driver's license and promised not to drive in Korea.
- American, possession of alcohol as a minor and a DUI as an adult, got a Korean visa: She apologised and said she learnt her lesson and that she wouldn't be re-offending.
- American, arrested for possession of marijuana got a Korean visa: He was arrested nearly 10 years ago and was able to get a Korean visa.
Some may require you to get your CBC legalised at the embassy or consulate, and other require you to get it apostillised. Apostillisation is cheap, fast, and easy in the US. It should cost you less than twenty dollars and can be done by mail. Here's a list of the Secretary of State offices. In England, it's rather expensive, about a hundred pounds or so and you may have to run around finding a lawyer. Either way, plan ahead as things may go wrong.
Steps to Take if You Have a Criminal Record
1. Misdemeanors that happened over 7 years ago may not show up. It varies by state, but 7 years seems to be the most common. Some states only report recent convictions and some keep everything on record permanently. The best way to find out is to ask a friend in law enforcement to run your name. If you get fingerprinted and it's been less than 7 years it will add another 7 years to whatever time is left.
2. See if you can get the record expunged. You will have to show that you're not guilty. If you committed a misdemeanor before you became a legal adult you might also be able to get it expunged. Some countries automatically delete misdemeanors for minors.
- In Australia, they have the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. This means that if you were convicted of an offense (but given less than 30 months in prison) then after 10 years it would not show up on your criminal record for overseas purposes as long as you have not been convicted again within that 10 year period.
- In the US your juvenile record (crimes that occurred when you were under the age of 18) will not show up on your record. Exceptions would be felonies: such as rape, murder, etc.
- If you broke the law a long time ago and have been a law abiding citizen since, you may not have a problem. Remember that if you have to declare on an immigration form or a visa application about your criminal past you should delicately broach the subject to your prospective employer or recruiter. There have been cases of teachers getting work permits despite having DUIs.
5. Felonies may be an issue, depending on what it was and when it happened. In the first example above, I do know an American who had a felony on his FBI check and still was able to get a Korean visa. Granted, it was over 20 years ago and it was due to a protest, but he still got the visa.
Where you can go
Here's some info about where you may be able to teach. Keep in mind that rules change all the time and it depends on the immigration office you get.
You CANNOT teach here
- Czech Republic
- Saudi (If you're on a work visa (though some people have just had the police sign the Saudi form for a local police check)
You MAY be able to teach here
- Korea (You might have to write a letter of apology)
- Central and Eastern Europe
- Middle East (Some countries require a criminal background check)
- International schools
You CAN teach here
- EU (Though if you have an EU passport you shouldn't be asked for a CBC)
- Latin America
- Saudi (If you're on a business visa)
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