One of the requirements that most (all?) countries have for issuing a work permit is that the applicant does not have a criminal record. On the other hand, I suppose nations do not open the criminal records of their citizens to other countries, in the interest of national sovereignty and security.

So, excluding international criminal databases (Interpol, for example) and shared intelligence information between allied agencies (such as terrorist activities and suspects), how do countries get access to criminal information from foreign citizens?


6 Answers 6


Despite what many believe, there aren't as many non-spy links between countries in terms of sharing of criminal records. Generally, the onus is on the applicant to provide such details, if required.

For example, applying for a driver's license in Victoria, Australia, as a New Zealand citizen - two very closely linked countries, I still had to write to the New Zealand police and get a certificate of particulars for my license.

When applying for my Canadian and UK visas, I had to get documentation of my (clean) criminal history as evidence of good behaviour for the application.

There are some inter-country links, such as Interpol, Five Eyes and more, but inevitably these are very restricted, for good reason, and don't easily provide information on you to the departments where you'd almost find it useful for them to have your info.

Long story short - it's often a balance of cost, privacy, technicalities, security and bureaucracy.


In most cases, the person applying for the work permit (or residence visa) is required to provide the police record. This means that the information is usually provided to the applicant by their home police force (or the police in countries they have lived in), and then submitted as part of the application.

The process for obtaining a report varies a great deal between countries. Canada has a good summary of how to get a police report for immigrants from all countries. New Zealand has a similar list of how to obtain a police certificate (the country list is at the end of the page). Australia has a 98-page PDF on this subject.

  • 1
    And while the police record is often furnished directly to the applicant, many countries have document verification and authentication requirements, such as notarisation.
    – Ben Burns
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 12:05

A few additional remarks:

  • I am not sure most countries actually do require foreign criminal records to grant visas. I was going to comment that it was rare but a quick search reveals that it's pretty common in the Americas. By contrast, European countries don't do it systematically to my knowledge.
  • Countries cannot generally access criminal information from other countries (and when they do exchange stuff, it's typically only selected lists of people or partial information). The country where you are applying might require you to provide some sort of official document from your country of origin but they rely on you to procure it and even that would be incomplete (rules about what goes there and for how long differ between countries and it's perfectly possible that you committed a criminal offense in a third country).
  • Consequently, I suspect that such requirements are mostly there to have legal cover to refuse the visa or even deport you if and when something surfaces. Some countries have a general “good character” clause or some other vague requirement for the same purpose. Like all the apparently silly questions about terrorism and prostitution, it's also an occasion to catch someone in a lie during an interview.
  • What is more relevant and might in fact disqualify you for a visa in many countries is a criminal record in the country you are applying. This is explicitly mentioned as a requirement in many cases and obviously easier to check.

If you look at Interpol membership unless you are in or from one of the countries that are non-members Interpol can either provide the information or facilitate the contact between the jurisdictional law enforcement agencies to get the information (see Methodology on the same page).

If the law enforcement agency chooses not to use Interpol they can contact the law enforcement agencies directly which could get cumbersome in places like US, where multiple jurisdictions exist.

  • Not sure how this relates to the question. As far as I know, many police forces only ever go to the trouble of sending Interpol notices, inquiring about them or contacting other police forces when looking for someone in particular who committed an especially serious crime, has some reason to be abroad and has not been arrested or judged yet. I don't think it's used to share routine criminal records or do background checks for visas.
    – Gala
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 12:45

I can't say that this applies to all countries and situations, but when moving to the UK for university, the university required that I get a statement from both my home country (South Africa) and the Japanese government (where I was living) that said I didn't have a criminal record. In South Africa, I had to go through a rather lengthy process, including finger-printing, to get a police-verified document, despite being only 17 and having spent only summers there since the age of 6.


China is one country that does require a statement from the "local police" that the person does not have a criminal record.

  • This is really a comment rather than an answer. But you could edit it and say that there are several countries that require a statutory statement, and maybe give a list of such countries.
    – ouflak
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 7:45

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