Monday 1 October 2012

Teaching with a Criminal Record

Updated 28 March 2017

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.
Here's more info about Korea. Some countries may have you list any felonies you have committed on the visa application form. Still others may have you sign a document stating that you have a clean background with no criminal record.

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.
3. If the crime was a misdemeanor (such as DUI / DWI, shoplifting, underage drinking or possession of a small amount of illegal substances) it might not matter at all. You may still be able to get a job and a visa. You should check with the embassy of the country that you want to teach in.
  • 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.
4. If you can't get your record expunged then you can still teach abroad. Here are some countries that will and will not accept those with petty criminal backgrounds or that do not require a criminal background check to teach. This is not a complete list and is based on info from teachers who have taught in these countries. In conclusion, try to erase your criminal record if possible. If not, then ask the embassy if it would matter and be up front with your prospective employer.

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
  • Poland 
  • 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) 
  • Turkey

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
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

You CAN teach here

  • China
  • EU (Though if you have an EU passport you shouldn't be asked for a CBC)
  • Indonesia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Latin America
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • Russia
  • Spain
  • Saudi (If you're on a business visa)
  • Spain
  • UK
  • Ukraine



  1. Wow. Don't ask a TESL blogger about legal matters because they know very little apparently. Here's some corrected information:
    1. there is no "7-year" rule concerning previous arrests or convictions falling off your record. If the search is at the state level, some states will only report very recent arrests (within the previous month) and after that only if arrest led to conviction; but at the level of an FBI "record set" (i.e. "rap sheet") arrests, convictions, warrants all stay on once they are on, forever (with very, very few exceptions...see below)
    2. there are only certain types of expunction that will erase something from the FBI check. You have to go through a procedure to demonstrate innocence, so just having your arrest or conviction expunged for technicalities (or deferred prosecution, etc.) is not going to make the record fall off at the federal level; it's still going to be there with annotations and explanations but it won't disappear; even if you do the expunction AND show innocence, this has to be initiated within 2 years of the arrest/conviction
    3. as for Saudi Arabia, I obtained a work visa there and all I had to do was go to my local police station and have them run a quick check to see if there was a warrant (they didn't do any kind of background check) and they signed the form that the Saudi government required, which requires only that one go to one's local police station and just have them sign it after doing whatever kind of check they want or that you tell them to do, so actually Saudi Arabia is one of the places where it's really simple to get past the background check requirment

    1. 1. The info about the 7 year rule was given to me by a friend who has been in law enforcement for 7 years. She did say that the rule varies by state.

      2. And it's a very long procedure. I know in some states if the arresting officer doesn't show up then you can't do anything.

      3. I guess you were lucky. My local police station will NOT run local checks unless you are teaching in a local school district or adopting a child.

  2. Hi there,
    I am wondering if this information is current, or if you have come across new information regarding DUIs. I would love to teach in South Korea but I heard recently that a DUI was grounds for an automatic dismissal. Can you please let me know? Thanks!

    1. Is it on your criminal background check? If it is you might not get hired. With that being said I personally know of people who have had things on their CBC (one was assault of a federal officer and the other was a DUI) and they were both able to get E2 visas. A lot depends on the immigration officer. The one who dealt with my friend who assaulted a federal officer said that many Korean middle age men had the same thing due to protests. Granted my friend's was from over ten years ago so maybe that had something to do with it. There are no rules of black and white here. One person could get a visa and the other could get denied. Even if they both have the same stuff.

    2. Well, this was a recent event occurring within a year. Also, I'm still fairly young and I am a female so I don't know if many middle aged Korean men would be able to relate to me on that type of level. For a country well-known for their drinking and public intoxication, I thought that maybe it would be easier to explain my situation and may possibly be a bit more lenient but now I'm starting to have my doubts. Have you encountered anyone recently with a similar problem fitting my demographic?

    3. Yes. And you can go on LOFT and PALS and people will tell you about people they know who have done the same.

  3. Thanks for this extensive post! I'm looking at going abroad early next year after I've graduated, and I'll be applying sometime in mid to late June. I have a DUI from about 7 years ago now, but I can't get it expunged here in Idaho. I had dreamed of going to Korea, but many people told me that wasn't possible. I'll still apply, but I'll plan on writing a letter of apology. Is that something I'd have to send to the immigrations office?

    1. No. First you would need to find a job. Most places will ask for your FBI check when you apply. Once you find a job and get the visa in the USA, once you come here to Korea you would have to get your alien card at immigration. If your DUI is an issue then you would have to write an apology and hand it to them. Good luck!

  4. Darn, I think I would prefer finding a job first and then heading overseas. I guess writing an apology letter wouldn't work in my case, unless I could submit it from abroad. I appreciate the help through! I haven't given up on Korea, but I'm focusing on Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan now. :)

    1. Yes, that's what you would need to do. First you would get a job while at in the USA. Then your employer would send you what you needed to get a visa at the nearest Korean embassy. Then once you actually set foot on Korean soil, you would have 30 days to get your alien card. At that time you would go to immigration in Korea. If they had a problem then, then you would write an apology. It depends a lot on the officer that you get.

  5. Thank you for this! It gives me hope on teaching in Korea even though that hope was shot down earlier today. I have a misdemeanor petit theft charge from 2013 and I know it will come up on the FBI background check because I haven't had it expunged. It will probably show up in any case. I also have like 6 traffic infractions for speeding, tail lights and all that. I wish there were a rewind button in life lol. Teaching in Korea seems like such a great opportunity.

    1. Traffic infractions shouldn't be an issue in the OECD's number one ranking country for traffic problems. Petty theft might not be. It all depends on your employer and the immigration officer you get. Good luck! Hope it works out for you.

  6. I could possibly have a few or at least one felony by the time I am able to leave. The question that I'm not sure is made clear here is What countries don't do thorough background checks and a place that as a woman I can safely get a job as an ESL teacher?

    1. It's going to depend on the type of felony you have. Rape, murder, etc. You're not going to get a job.

      As far as safety goes, that's very personal. What one person thinks is safe, another may think is dangerous.

      What countries do changes a lot. I suggest you pick a few countries and do your research on those. Good luck!

  7. I have a 20 year old possession of marijuana charge. I haven't been in trouble since. Would this prevent me from teaching in Vietnam?

    1. I've never taught in Vietnam. With such an old record I would hope not, but I would ask in some country specific FB groups or forums. Good luck!

  8. I have a 12 year old arrest non-conviction and misdemeanor for minor in possession which is only visible on an fbi rap sheet both 12 years old nothing since then i was a minor at the time and i just got a job in china im about to sell my car to move there and now im learning they require a clean cbc and im freaking out! i have no idea if i tell them or lie? this is so frustrating i was a child at the time smh... im mostly worried about being deported after arriving in china since my z visa will obviously be denied because of this???

  9. You can try to get it expunged. Otherwise, like you said, it'll show up. Have you contacted your recruiter or boss and asked them about it? Since you were a minor, something's can be expunged. I would contact the courts and start the process.

  10. This was very interesting and encouraging to read, as I just ordered my own FBI check and have a couple arrests for minor offenses from 9 and 10 years ago. I feel pretty realistic about it; it will make securing a job a little more difficult, but not impossible by any means.

    I just wanted to clarify for myself, are you saying that some employers will simply send you the things you need for a visa, the prospective employee brings their own background check (authentic FBI report), and there is never a need to even bring it up with the employer?

    1. Yes, but seeing as though your employer will most likely ask to see the FBI check, it’s not like you can hide it.

  11. If i have a second degree robbery conviction from 2005 can i still obtain a z visa to teach in china? If not which countries would allow me to do so

    1. I doubt it. I would ask on China-specific forums. Robbery is very different than something like under-age drinking. I’m not sure which countries would allow you to get work visas. Sorry about that.

  12. This gave me a little hope. I was arrested two years ago for driving with suspended license and now I am scared that i will get denied

    1. That offense could easily be waved. DUIs are more serious. I know an Australian who couldn't continue teaching at a S Korean university because of a DUI conviction. This was 10 years ago.

    2. As of May, 2017, ex-pats teaching in China can no longer acquire a CBC letter from the local police in China when changing jobs and reapplying for a foreign work permit. They must obtain a notarized CBC letter from their home country and have that certified by the Chinese Consulate there. Either someone back home can do it for you or you can apply at your nearby Canadian Consulate in China to initiate the application if you have the time on your residence permit to do this. I found out the hard way with only 2 weeks remaining in my FRP and must leave China in a few days. Until now, I thought I could still get a letter from the local Chinese police or sign a letter of oath which I did in August 2015. My most recent job lasted 3 years.

    3. Things change a lot in a decade. Plus it will vary depending on the immigration officer. I’m glad you were able to get the Chinese visa reqs taken care of.

  13. In 2008, I could no longer teach in a Korean public school in Gyeonggi-do, S. Korea, because of a possession of marijuana under 5$ summary conviction at the age of 18. But a private high school and a public school in Changnam-do subsequently hired me and obtained the E2 visa. So, it all depends.


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