What Is a Clearance Letter?

A police clearance certificate is often needed by someone planning to travel to a foreign country for an extended period.
A police clearance certificate will usually contain information such as any arrests or convictions.
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  • Written By: Pablo Garcia
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2014
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A clearance letter is a document confirming a person’s lack of a criminal history in a place where the requesting party has lived or worked. this document may be needed to obtain, change or update a visa. Clearance letters are issued by the local police authority where the person worked or lived and are an affirmative statement that the person has a clean criminal record. “Police certificates” are also issued for visa and immigration purposes. A police certificate lists all arrests and their dispositions or states “none found.”

Resident aliens in the US, as well as US citizens traveling abroad or wishing to adopt a child from another country may need to have a clearance letter. Most countries will require applicants for a visa to have a clearance letter or a police certificate.

A clearance letter in the US can be obtained in person or in some circumstances by mail, from the local police authority where the person has lived. The applications are short and request basic identifying information. Supporting documents should be brought in person. In some jurisdictions, copies of supporting documents can be mailed with the application. An applicant should check with the issuing police authority. The letter can usually be issued in just a few days.


Visa applicants to the US age 16 or older must obtain police certificates from every locality in which they have lived in their country of nationality. Additionally, a police certificate is required from every locality in which they have lived in another country for more than 12 months since the age of 16. If the applicant has ever been arrested, a police certificate is necessary from that locality regardless of the length of time the applicant lived there. US Immigration maintains a list of all countries that do not issue police certificates to their citizens.

To be valid, a police certificate must contain the details of the arrests, the nature of the offense and any disposition, whether or not there was a conviction. A police certificate may be for a variety of reasons, including visa applications, including those for foreign school attendance and employment. Every country will have its own rules about what contents in a police certificate can result in denial of a visa application.

The United Kingdom does not issue clearance letters to individuals. They will, however, give information to the appropriate consulate. Most countries do issue police certificates to their citizens. The procedure is much the same in each country. The request for the certificate is made to the police authority where the person lives. Each country has its own requirements about the length of residency in a particular country that makes a police certificate from that country necessary.


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