Can You Get a British Passport With a Criminal Record? UK Rules Breakdown

Themis the goddess of justice

Even a relatively minor criminal offence can blot a person’s record for good. Say, it may pose a problem when applying for a vacancy or having yourself insured. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get a passport if you need to.

Before we begin, a quick disclaimer: this blog post is made for informational purposes solely and in no way can be considered a source of legal advice. If you need assistance in obtaining citizenship or getting a passport, we strongly recommend consulting a professional lawyer or legal firm.


Passport and Criminal Record: Two Possible Scenarios

Scenario One: You Are Already UK Citizen

First thing first: if a person is a citizen or national of Great Britain, he or she is already entitled to make an application for a British passport.

Nonetheless, if this person is found to be a security risk during the application review stage, his or her passport application may be rejected.

applying for a passport with a criminal record uk

So, the fact that you’re a UK national doesn’t necessarily mean that you can get a new British passport without any trouble. In fact, even the document that you already have may be taken from you in the following cases:

  • You are suspected of a major criminal offence and there is a warrant issued for your arrest
  • You cannot travel freely or are not allowed to have your UK passport by order of a court

  • You are out of prison on bail and the conditions require that you do not leave the territory of the United Kingdom

  • The UK authorities had to bring you back to the country at their own expense and you still have not returned the money they spent on you

  • There is a European Union or United Nations order that restricts your movement or forbids you from travelling completely

But if you’re a UK citizen and don’t fall under any of these categories, getting your new passport should be easy, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.

However, things get far more complicated if you are looking to get yourself a UK passport when you’re not a British national.

Scenario Two: You Don’t Have UK Citizenship

newspaper with immigration written on it

If this is the case, applying for British citizenship (or ‘naturalisation’) is the first thing you will have to do. And when you do that, it won’t be enough to simply take a UK passport photo. In fact, there is a whole range of factors you will have to take into account.

Having a criminal record, for instance, may significantly affect your chances to get British citizenship and, consequently, your new passport (even if your offence took place a long time ago and is minor in itself).

Of course, this does not mean that your application will be rejected by the Home Office instantly, there will be a review anyway. However, each applicant’s case is different and depends on a lot of aspects, so it’s better to break the whole thing down.

So, Is Getting British Citizenship and Passport With Criminal Record Possible?

Yes, you do have a chance to become a UK citizen by applying for British citizenship even if you have prior convictions.

You see, the Home Office doesn’t just blanket ban people for having a criminal record. First of all, they assign a worker that thoroughly reviews your case and decides whether or not you can get British citizenship and your UK passport with it.

What Are Requirements Here?

In a manner of speaking, there is one main criterion that determines your chances to succeed. According to the British Nationality Act of 1981, you need to be of ‘good character’ to become a fully legitimate citizen of the United Kingdom.

If, after reviewing your case, the United Kingdom Home Office concludes that you don’t meet this vital requirement, your application will be refused. In fact, some 37% of all people applying for British citizenship get turned down on account of being of ‘bad character’.

Mind you, this concept of ‘good character’ isn’t strictly defined in the law we mentioned above. It’s up to the individual Home Office worker who handles your case to assess all factors, weigh all your pros and cons and then make the final decision.

black and white coffee cups

Obviously, having a criminal record will be an important factor for the caseworker. But it’s not only the nature of the offence they’re going to take into account. First of all, all applicants must wait for a certain period of time after the conviction before their British citizenship applications are even looked at.

How Long Do I Have to Wait Before I Apply for British Citizenship?

The waiting time will depend on the length and type of sentences or court disposals that you may have on your criminal record.

judge in court

  • Police cautions. If you have a police caution (even if it’s a spent one), you will have to wait for at least 3 years from its date before you can submit your application.
  • Non-custodial sentence. If you were given one, the waiting period is also 3 years from the date of the criminal conviction.

Suspended imprisonment will be considered a non-custodial sentence provided that this suspended prison sentence has not turned into real imprisonment during the time of suspension.

  • If you’ve served a custodial sentence of up to 12 months, you must wait 10 years from the date it was fully served.

  • If your imprisonment duration ranged between 12 months and 4 years, your application will not be valid for 15 years from the end of the prison sentence.

And if you got exactly four years of imprisonment or more, it’s most likely that the Home Office will refuse your citizenship application in any case.

Does It Mean You Can Apply for British Citizenship With Criminal History of Any Kind?

No, it does not. A person will have a pretty high chance of refusal if:

  • They have a pending prosecution, even if it hasn’t been included in the person’s criminal records yet.
  • They have shown a definite pattern of persistent offending. For example, if they have a long history of repeating criminal offences and/or these offences are increasing in their severity and/or they committed several crimes in a short period of time. Another important factor here is the public impact that the persistent offender may have made.
  • Their record includes a crime where serious harm was inflicted on the victim(s).
  • They have committed a sexual offence and consequently got a sexual offences prevention order, sexual harm order or foreign travel order.

rejected stamp

Are There Any Offences That Home Office Can Ignore?

There are some types of criminal conviction that can be more or less serious abroad but won’t be treated as such in Great Britain.

Say, a person has got an overseas conviction for having a same-sex relationship. Even if this resulted in a non-custodial sentence or prison sentence in the other country, they may still be granted British citizenship. UK laws do not forbid that and it won’t necessarily count against the person’s good character profile.

Will My Minor Offences Cause Trouble When Applying for UK Passport?

The answer to this question depends on what we can count as minor offences. Say, if you have a case that resulted in a small fixed penalty or conditional discharge only, it’s possible that the Home Office won’t take it into account.


However, if your caseworker sees multiple instances of minor offences, they are likely to classify your behaviour as showing disregard for the law, be it the law of the UK or the other country. And that will definitely hurt your chances when applying for British citizenship.

Do You Need to Disclose All Convictions When Applying for a Passport With a Criminal Record?

Absolutely. Even if they are considered spent under the ROA, you must disclose all offences.

What is ROA?

The United Kingdom Parliament introduced the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) in 1974. According to the act, certain past criminal convictions could now be disregarded after a rehabilitation period the duration of which was determined by the person’s sentence.

The main goal of this legislation was to rehabilitate UK citizens who had committed a minor offence in the past but never had criminal relapses and the consequent repeated convictions. Simply put, these people were given the right not to disclose their prior convictions when submitting an application for a job, obtaining insurance and so on.

However, it goes without saying that the act does not apply to foreign nationals.

And let us stress it once again: when applying for British citizenship, there are no exceptions when it comes to disclosure of your prior convictions, and it doesn’t matter if they are spent or not in terms of the ROA.

Please remember that non-disclosure of your criminal records is an offence in itself. Even if a person manages to keep prior crimes a secret and thus becomes a citizen, his or her British citizenship will be revoked as soon as the hidden offences become known to the authorities.

it's important to tell the truth

Even if we put aside the purely legal aspect of the matter, this scenario is still fraught with trouble. Suppose your Home Office caseworker finds out that you’ve kept secret relevant information about a very small offence you have on your record. Although the offence in itself may not have been a serious hurdle to getting your UK passport, the fact that you tried to deceive a government official will dramatically decrease your chances to become a British citizen.

What Must Be Declared When Making Application for British Citizenship?

  • Fines received over the last 3 years
  • Reprimands
  • Absolute or conditional discharges
  • Community sentences
  • Probations
  • Police cautions
  • Arrests
  • Convictions (you must declare military convictions, too)
  • Pending prosecutions
  • Criminal offences committed overseas or in the UK

In other words, the applicant must disclose his or her full criminal record, even every criminal conviction from when he or she was a child and there was no serious harm done. Be it a prison sentence, military convictions, non-custodial sentence or fine, the Home Office officials need all relevant information.

Although your overseas convictions will be treated as if they happened in the United Kingdom, remember that there might be cases where an offence punishable in other countries can be disregarded in England. In that case, the person may well be granted British citizenship.

flag of the United Kingdom

But at the same time, the fact that certain behaviour is legitimate in terms of UK law doesn’t mean that it won’t be considered at all. For instance, the caseworker may come to the conclusion that the applicant disregarded the law in their native country, which might become the reason he or she fails the good character test and, consequently, doesn’t get UK citizenship.

When you successfully become a citizen of Great Britain, you’ll be good to go and get your travel document as well. And when it comes to taking a photo for it, we will help you make sure it meets the UK requirements (for clothes, facial hair, etc.). After all, you don’t want to end up with a non-compliant or ugly passport photo, right?