Charged with a crime? I won’t bullshit you, if you don’t come from a well-off family, you’re probably screwed. The public defenders offices in the United States are overburdened and underfunded. Your best bet is taking a plea deal, if you go to trial, you will lose, guilty or innocent, it’s how the system is. America has become a country that profiteers off people like you and me. The good news is you have a choice other than going to trial or taking a plea deal. When you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table!
I won’t go into the boring details today of my case, today I want to help you.
Risk vs Gain
The first thing you need to calculate is if it’s worth leaving in the first place. If you have been charged with a traffic ticket, you’re an idiot for thinking of running. Same thing for first time drunk driving offences. The most you will get is a slap on the wrist unless someone was injured or killed. If it was some other offence where the punishment is prison, it might be time to pull the ripcord. Usually you can figure out what the prosecuting attorney is asking for at your first appearance, this is usually after you have bonded out or been cited but possibly before you have spoken to a public defender.
In some instances, you may have already received a plea deal either from the prosecuting attorney or your public defender. If the punishment seems overly harsh, it probably is, the name of the game is to lock everyone up for as long as possible in the new America.
Do not accept a plea deal and then leave! Do not plead guilty and then leave! It is best to leave before your case ever goes to trial, even better to leave before there is an arrest warrant out for you.
Remember criminal histories follow you forever in America but sometimes a good person needs a fresh start in a new land, exactly what you will get when you leave. Do not fuck up your new life, your old one will come back to haunt you.
Before going forward, you need to strongly consider what you are doing. The moment you get on that plane, there is no going back. You need to be able to be gone for good. You will need to have the will to never step foot in the USA again. If you do, the punishment will be even worse than the original. The courts don’t like scofflaws that abscond and usually hand out max sentences on your return.
Can you deal with being away from your loved ones, possibly never to see them in your home country ever again? Can you handle possibly living in a third world hell hole? There is a strong possibility you’ll end up in a third world country if you have no skills or means of income.
If you leave the country while out on bond, you forfeit that bond and will never see it again. If you used a bail bondsman, a bounty hunter may be looking for you. Depending on the bond amount, they may or may not follow you, again it depends on how much the bond was, is it really worth finding you for $1,500 when you are out of the country? Probably not. $100,000, you better have eyes on the back of your head; travel far and fast.
If you have decided to go forward, you will need a passport. It would be best if you had a passport before you skipped town, one with at least 6 months validity left. If not, it’s not a problem. First though is you need to make sure you have no other outstanding warrants for your arrest. This is the fastest way to be sent back to the slammer if there are still any active warrants.
The state department will check and notify the courts should you have an outstanding warrant. Best way to figure it out is call the police department you may have been in trouble with, check your state court database, or show up for your first court appearance. As long as you haven’t committed any crimes since you were let out, you should be in the clear.
It is a risk getting a new passport in the USA, there is a slight chance they may have put your name into a lookout list, lesser the crime, lesser the likelihood. If you already have one and have bailed out, do not renew it unless you have less than 6 months left on the current one. You will renew it outside the country, see more information on why under Timing.
Note that for high level felonies, courts usually will make you surrender your passport. They will also make an entry with the state department to be notified should you request a passport but not always. A high level felony is murder, rape, kidnapping, the big ones that someone gets the needle or life for.
If you are ordering your passport for the first time, make sure you get it expedited.
Picking your destination is the tough part. If you have relatives or friends in another country, that might be your first choice as you have a network to start with. It can be also a downfall if law enforcement knows this. Picking a country that you know the language fluently is also a plus. If you are under 30, you can apply for a working holiday visa in Australia, Singapore (if you recently graduated college only), Ireland, South Korea and New Zealand.
Two countries that you should absolutely not go to are Canada or Mexico if you are a USA citizen running from the law. Why? Canada shares all criminal history information with the USA and vise versa, they will see you have an outstanding court case, turn you around and notify the court. Canada is the only country that has this unique ability as of this writing, unless you are in the Interpol database as a red flag. Red flags are also listed on Interpol’s website so that should make it easy to find out. If you are red flagged, you probably won’t want to try and leave your current country either. Mexico should be avoided as it is too close and usually one of the first places the authorities will scourer for you.
Two good places to go if you don’t want the working holiday route are Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Their immigration policies are pretty lax and if you a flush in US dollars, it will go much further than anywhere else.
No matter what destination you go, always keep track of your visa. Never overstay. Overstaying your visa brings unwanted attention at the very least and at worse, a deportation back to America. Follow the rules, like any good law abiding citizen does, even if you are a fugitive. Note that some countries are very suspicious if you were in the country for a full visa free period and come right back, the best thing to do is have a rotation of countries you stay in. Never leave a country, go somewhere for a week or two and come back. Most countries are on to this behavior and will accuse you of working illegally and deny entry.
Some destinations may require you to show proof of funds for entry. This is especially true of Australia, be sure you have the proof to back up what you say such as bank statements. If you are going to create fake statements, don’t be stupid about it either. They may actually call the bank, try and plan an entry for a weekend or federal holiday when no one is at the bank so it’s you versus the statement!
To keep you free, you need to enslave yourself to work. It is no different than back in the USA, money makes the world go around and you need a legitimate job to fund your travels. Being a criminal never pays well, you’ll end up in a jail cell, serve a sentence in hell, and then be sent back to the USA to continue the trial you skipped out on. It is best to find a job that pays, even better if you can find a job that will sponsor you.
Note that many countries require a good conduct certificate for a long stay visa, also known as a police record. Coming from the USA, you would normally get this from the FBI. As a fugitive, don’t bother, you’ll either have the FBI hot on your tail or if you use a friends address, they send a letter informing you/them of the outstanding warrants. It is best to research the requirements of any countries on your short list before hand, taking special note to those where a good conduct certificate is a requirement. If a good conduct certificate is required, you won’t be able to get a long term visa.
Getting a job abroad is no harder than it is back home, sometimes easier depending on what you are doing. Consider teaching English if you are in a non-native English speaker country. If you have a TEFL, even better. Those with any degree will have no difficulty finding a job teaching English. If you want to work in your field, more power to you and it will be easier to get a long term visa.
If you don’t have a degree, you are going to have a more difficult time but can still make it. If you have any sort of skill, consider working online, there are many freelancing websites available with many different tasks. Programmers are in high demand but there is also jobs for writers, graphic designers, webmasters, etc. A quick Google search will find you the most popular freelance websites.
Timing is extremely important, more so for those with a passport that was not recently issued. You need to time your departure with as much time before your next court appearance as possible. This will allow those who didn’t get a new passport in the USA to get one in your new country from the consulate before having their names entered into the denial list. It took me 7 days to get my new passport in XXXXXXXX but your time may vary, try and give yourself 3 weeks and always request an expedited passport.
If you request your passport too late, you run the risk of them checking the denial list database which your name very well could have been entered into if your court date has passed. You are in the clear if you get your passport back before the court date, there isn’t much they can do then. It is recommended you find a new place to stay once you receive your passport back to be on the safe side.
Another good thing about giving yourself a departure date as far away from your next court date is to allow you time to decide if this is the life you truly want. You may have second thoughts about leaving after being abroad. A life on the run isn’t for everyone. Weight the risks, don’t let anyone make the decision for you.
The ideal time is shortly after a court date, usually court dates are set a few weeks apart unless you are already at the later stages. Th best time to leave is well before the jury selection phase as your presence will be required more frequently.
You will need a decent amount of money to fund your new life. Even staying at hostels for an extended period of time will eat into your savings. I left the USA with only $2,500 and my ticket and barely survived but I hit the ground running and found a job relatively fast, 2 months. I would recommend leaving with at least $5,000. If you can work online, even better. Sell all your possessions if you can, this will get you a good amount of money, even if you need to sell them at a discount. You aren’t going to need them anyway if you are serious about leaving for good. It’s too expensive to ship everything. A wise fugitive travels light, I left with only a backpacking backpack on my back.
Before leaving the USA, open a new bank account, preferably with a bank that doesn’t charge ATM fees or international transaction fees. The bank account should be with a bank you have never had an account with before. If you have a long first name, shorten it to a nick name, it will make it a tad harder to track.This will also be useful if you use a freelance website to work, they usually pay in USD.
Prepaid credit cards are also an option and the one I went with but they have maximum balance limits. The card I had had no foreign transaction fees or ATM fees but has been discontinued. Prepaid cards also have a correspond routing number and account number you can use for deposits for being paid from freelance sites. A good option if opening bank accounts makes you nervous about being tracked.
Withdraw most of your money, if not all, from any other accounts via ATM and deposit it into the new account. If the new account is an online bank, still take all your money out and have it turned into a cashiers check to send to the online bank. Do not withdraw more than $10,000 at a time (do a max of $5,000). This is to prevent any of those crazy bank laws from turning into another headache. Try and spread the withdrawals over a period of time up to the $5,000. If you have too much money for this to work in a reasonable time frame, you should really hire a lawyer instead of running away. If the new account is a prepaid credit card, most can be refilled at 7-Eleven for a small fee.
Most of your money should be in your bank account but when you first leave, keep $200 USD in cash in $20 notes. This is useful if you need to pay for visa on arrival fees, if applicable. Never trade in cash at a foreign transaction kiosk, the rates are absolutely horrible, unless you have no choice. Use an ATM to get the local currency, the rates are essentially wholesale. Do not travel with all of your cash! There is a good chance you will be robbed and if over $10,000, seized! The safest place for your cash is your bank account or prepaid credit card.
Communicating with loves ones may sound dangerous and that you will be instantly tracked. Truth is, there are more fugitives than you realize in the United States, most stay in the country! Unless you committed a seriously heinous crime, pissed off the local sheriff, or are on a most wanted list, chances are no one is actively looking for you. The chances of them actively looking for you go down the longer you are abroad too. Out of sight, out of mind.
I would recommend only communicating through Skype via a VPN. Same goes for accessing anything online, use a VPN. If you can pay with BitCoin or some anonymous way, even better. If you don’t want to use a VPN, use a public WiFi and change up the location when you can. Get a new email address, one from a provider in your current country so your loved ones can get a hold of you. Get a new Skype ID too. Do not contact anyone you cannot trust 100%.
When I left, I left all my friend behind. Stay off Facebook, make sure you delete it from your phone and that your phone is not pulling any old emails before leaving (don’t forget about your Apple or Google accounts, best to do a factory reset!). As you board the plane, remove your SIM and toss it, you can buy a new one in your new country with a local number.
Never publicly brag about your new location, do not update Facebook, do not update anything.
You need an end game, everyone’s is different. Ideally you should be aiming for a country that will allow you to gain permanent residence status or even citizenship. Your current passport will expire, hopefully a little short from 10 years from now if you planned everything right. This should give you plenty of time.
Most countries give permanent residency in 3 years, citizenship in 6. Every country is different. The list of countries you can stay in permanently are reduced some from the above requirements, mainly that you are able to present a certificate of good conduct.
My recommendation is using a working holiday to get your footing, save up some cash, and then head towards a country where you have a chance of staying permanently while meeting the hurdles. I started in a working holiday situation and remained in one for two years before heading to Eastern Europe and getting a visa as a freelancer.
I hope I never need to find out what happens when I need to turn in my passport in a few years time but by then, I should have citizenship in my current country. Even so, the charges I faced were fairly minor and I do not think I will have difficulty in obtaining a renewal. I will probably file for a renewal when the time comes and will be sure to post an update with the outcome. My ultimate hope is to save enough for an attorney around my 9th year and see if he can get the charges dropped since it has been such a long time even if it is a long shot.
If going home eventually is your end game, being abroad a long time may help. Files get lost, witnesses forget, victims move, it’s all part of life. For some crimes, they may even drop the charges all together the longer you are gone. Being able to show you changed your life around can also be a big plus. Consult an attorney if this is your eventual hope, not today but before you go home.
- Keep a low profile, under no circumstance should you tell anyone you are a fugitive from the law.
- Do not break the laws in your new country.
- Do not head back the USA without first consulting an attorney.
- Be aware of the time left on your current visa, comply willingly if you must leave.
- Deportations are usually to your country of origin, but not always. If you have permanent residence or a second citizenship, ask to be sent there instead of the USA.
- A last ditch effort to avoid being deported is to apply for asylum, this should only be used to avoid deportation as receiving asylum is a high hurdle to meet coming from the USA. This will only buy you time and should you be released with your passport, catch the next flight out, do not return to that country. Asylum should only be used if you cannot convince the immigration officer that you will leave on your own accord immediately but to a destination of your choice.
- Use a VPN or public WiFi.
- Open a local bank account, very useful if you get paid in that currency or not.
- Be aware of entry requirements before buying a ticket to any country.
- Stay away from Canada, they are the only country in the world that has access to criminal records of US citizens, no other country does as of this writing.
- Stay away from Mexico, it’s one of the first countries officials look for you in.
- Use your American bank account or prepaid credit card to take money out of random ATMs in your new country, do not pay hostels with this credit card or any place you frequent regularly.
- Always keep $200 USD on you for emergencies or visa on arrivals. Keep a further $200 USD equivalent on hand in the local currency.
- Buy a good backpacking backpack, preferably one that allows you to take a day back for keeping valuables on you.
- Change up your location frequently the first few months of your stay. Use hostels.
- Keep your passport in a safe place, preferably a safety deposit box. If you lose it, you could be screwed.
- Keep those that know you will be leaving to a minimum. It is best to leave with no one knowing so no one can be an accomplice or accessory to your escape.
- If you are listed on Interpol’s website, do not attempt to leave your current location. Stop and burn all identifying documents. Assume a new identity if possible or live off the grid. All countries have access to Interpol’s wanted database, a quick search on their website will determine if this applies to you or not.
- Stay off Facebook, Twitter, etc. Do not brag about your current whereabouts to anyone back home. Keep family in the dark if possible.