Which Countries Can You Travel To With A Canadian Criminal Record?
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One of the great pleasures of the world is travel. It’s often both a fun experience, and an educational one that exposes people to new ways of thinking, new sights, sounds and food. In some cases, travel can be essential for work purposes. If you have an employer that sends you abroad, or you are professional that needs to go to another location for career purposes, such as professional development and networking, like the various conferences held throughout the world. In other words, for both personal and professional reasons, travel can be a very good thing.
But to travel with a Canadian criminal record can complicate the issue. Crime and subsequent convictions are not something that other countries treat lightly. So if you do have a criminal record, can this interfere with your ability to travel? Let’s take a closer look.
Every Country Is Different
The truth of the matter is that a single article is not going to be able to comprehensively list which countries you can travel to with a Canadian criminal record. The reason for this is because every country has its own individual policy, and that makes for a lot of variation. In some cases, the laws may be very clear on Canadians with a criminal record traveling, but the actual application of the law is inconsistent, which can make for some confusion.
If you are actually planning to travel to another country, and you have a Canadian criminal record, the first thing you should do is look up travel guidelines for that specific country to see what their policies are, and then make a judgment based on what your own situation is. Here are a few examples of how the travel restrictions can differ for some popular destination areas.
The United States of America
In theory, the USA is a country you cannot travel to with a Canadian criminal record. In reality, this happens quite often, though the risks are higher these days than they were 20 years ago. USA travel law has a straight forward policy. If you have a criminal conviction, then the customs and border patrol has every right to refuse you entry into the USA.
However, the border patrol only exercises this right if they actually decide to do a criminal background check. That background check is not something that happens for every single Canadian wishing to enter the US either by air, or at the border by car. This means that there are some Canadians with criminal records who have been freely entering and leaving the USA for decades, right up until even now.
They’ve had no issues at all, simply because they’ve never been subject to a criminal background check at either the airport or border. However, if that check should be conducted, and a conviction is found. Entry privileges can be forever revoked, unless a US entry waiver is secured to present to the Americans the next time entry is sought.
A US Entry Waiver is a complicated application and can take some time to obtain. It is also called an I-192 or I-194 form. Once you are denied entry to the US due to having a criminal record, the US border person will likely fingerprint you and give you papers that will begin the US Waiver application process. You may choose to hire a lawyer to help you complete the application but this can be very costly. At Pardons Canada we have been helping people to obtain US Entry Waivers for over twenty five years and we know exactly what the Americans are looking for in order to approve the application.
Once a US Entry Waiver is approved, it will be good for one to five years. During that timefram you will be safe to travel back and forth as many times as you wish. Once the US Waiver is expired, you will need to renew the application.
The United Kingdom
Traveling to England or Ireland is a bit more complex if you have a criminal record. On the one hand, the United Kingdom has a concept known as “spent,” which means that they believe rehabilitation is possible. If enough time has elapsed, they consider a person with a criminal record but without further incident to have been “spent” or rehabilitated, and therefore entry into the UK even with a Canadian criminal record, is feasible.
On the other hand, there are different amounts of time for what is considered spent, and this is entirely dependent on the nature of the conviction. You will need to look up your specific conviction and see how that aligns with UK travel policy to see whether your criminal record is now considered spent or not.
The European Union
In general, travel throughout Europe is very easy, especially if your trip is less than 90 days. A trip of 90 days or less does not require a Visa application, and entry into one country is valid for most of the countries in the union. This means that the majority of Europe is a series of countries you can travel to with a Canadian criminal record, provided your trip is short.
Longer trips will require a Visa, which means you will be asked whether or not you have a criminal record. In these cases, your situation will change, and you may experience more complications, especially if you decide to lie on the application about your record.
Don’t Take Chances
If you don’t want to experience any travel difficulties, the best way to achieve this is to get a record suspension, or pardon, if you have a Canadian criminal record. We can help to explain and guide through this process. Contact us for more details if you’re interested.
Pardons Canada undertakes all necessary steps and procedures for removing your criminal record, including: Pardons/Record Suspensions, Purges, Photograph & Fingerprint Destruction, and U.S. Entry Waivers.
Author: Pardons Canada
Pardons Canada is a national non-profit organization which assists individuals in removing a past criminal offence from public record. We undertakes all necessary steps and procedures for removing your criminal record, including: Pardons/Record Suspensions, Purges, Photograph & Fingerprint Destruction, and U.S. Entry Waivers.
Can I enter the EU with a criminal record?
A criminal record can be a cause for worry when crossing borders. It is natural to have concerns about being asked difficult questions or even being denied entry into the country regarding this matter. Nevertheless, don’t panic!
If you are travelling to Europe with a criminal record it will probably not cause you any problems. It is possible for a past conviction to prevent you from entering any country, but generally speaking, Europe is a tolerant, accessible region to travel to.
Canadians do not need a visa to visit European countries (as long as the stay is not longer than 90 days) and the vast majority of visitors are not asked about their criminal convictions at the border. Therefore, for holidays and short trips, it is usually okay to enter Europe if you have a criminal record.
To minimize the risk of complications, it is a good idea for criminal record holders to obtain a Record Suspension as soon as possible. This removes the criminal record from the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database which means, effectively, the record no longer exists.
Will I be denied entry into an EU country if I have a criminal record?
Unlike many parts of the world, visitors are not required to fill out any additional paperwork to present to border control officials upon entry. In addition, you are not normally asked any questions.
On rare occasions, you could be asked some questions about your background. In these cases, it is essential to answer truthfully. If you do have a record, it is normally nothing to worry about (depending on the crime).
Less serious criminal convictions that did not lead to jail time (or very little) are unlikely to result in travellers being denied entry into European countries. However, the following types of convictions are much more likely to cause problems for Canadian travellers:
- Any convictions which led to more than 3 years in jail
- Once you enter the Schengen Area, you can move freely between the participating countries without going through any passport controls
- However, in some circumstances, countries require visitors to declare their entry to the relevant authorities.
What if you plan to stay for longer than 90 days?
If you are planning to spend a long time in EU countries you will need to apply for a Schengen visa (unless you are travelling to the UK or Ireland who both issue their own, separate visas).
When you apply for a visa you may be asked about your criminal history. Each country has slightly different rules although they are all in the Schengen Area. Travellers have to apply for a visa from the country in which they are entering (in most cases).
Some countries ask visa applicants to list all past convictions, even those which have been pardoned. Other nations will not request so much information.
The introduction of ETIAS in November 2023
Currently, Canadians can travel to Europe without any form of travel authorisation. However, this will change in November 2023 with the implementation of ETIAS (which Canadians will need to apply for before going to any country in the Schengen Area or countries in process of joining Schengen such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania).
ETIAS is not a visa. The application process will be straightforward, requiring just a few personal and passport details. Although the online application form has not yet been finalized, it is very likely to contain questions about criminal history.
ETIAS is a visa-waiver, (similar to the Canadian eTA) and it is being introduced to strengthen the security of the region following a string of high-profile terrorist attacks. However, even after ETIAS is introduced, minor convictions are unlikely to cause complications.
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Going to Europe with a Criminal Record: Requirements and How to Apply
This website does not belong to, nor is it affiliated with, the EU. The official website of the European Union is europa.eu.
A criminal record can limit the number of opportunities in life for a felon, and this is also often true when it comes to international travel. Countries such as the United States and Canada have strict policies: travellers can be rejected entry even if they have a minor criminal conviction from as far back as 50 years prior.
However, although most other countries have strict no-admission policies for foreign visitors with violent or serious convictions, many countries will still grant entry to travellers with a minor criminal history, especially if a significant amount of time has passed. In general, the policy for admission for travellers with a criminal record in Europe is far less strict than in North America.
Requirements for Going to Europe with a Criminal Record
Although the policy can differ between individual countries, in general, criminal conviction checks are not carried out at European borders for foreign travellers coming for short stays for tourism purposes. Citizens coming from visa-free countries for a holiday in Europe will normally not be asked about a criminal record.
However, it’s important to tell the truth in the rare case you are asked about your background by a border official, as lying could only make the situation worse.
From November 2023 onwards, travellers from previously visa-exempt countries coming to the Schengen Area will be required to pre-register an ETIAS visa waiver online for short stays. The application process for this electronic travel authorisation will involve security checks to pre-identify any public safety risks to Europe.
European Criminal Records Information System on Convicted Third Country Nationals
On April 9th, 2019, the European Commission gave its final approval on a proposal to create a European Criminal Records Information System on convicted third country nationals. The goal behind this central system is to improve the exchange of criminal records information about convicted non-EU citizens and stateless persons. The exchange of data is done through the exisiting European Criminal Records Information Sytem, or ECRIS.
According to Vĕra Jourová, “the new system will make it faster and easier for law enforcement authorities to spot third country nationals previously convicted in the EU.” ECRIS will provide support and improve police and judicial copperation. This system will also help in the fight against crime and terrorism.
ECRIS-TCN will have several features including:
- Authorities will have access to the online database and will be able to search with a hit/no-hit search mechanism: a hit will identify the Member States from which full criminal records can be obtained.
- ECRIS will only enclose identity information such as fingerprints, and where available, facial images.
- The system will be managed by the eu-LISA agency, which will also manage the ETIAS system as well as other large-scale information systems in the area of freedom, security and justice.
- Besides contributing to criminal proceedings, ECRIS can be used for other authorised purposes such as clearing persons to work with minors or getting a license to handle fire-arms.
Additionally, further legislation proposed by the Commission is being negotiated and would make it possible to check the ECRIS-TCN database when an ETIAS visa waiver is requested through the ETIAS system, when evaluating visa applications through the Visa Information System (VIS), or when investigating identity fraud.
Travel to Europe with a Criminal Record with ETIAS
Once the ETIAS authorisation is implemented, travellers from previously visa-exempt countries will be required to complete an ETIAS application online for stays up to 90 days with a 180-day period of any of the Schengen member states.
The ETIAS requirements will involve having a passport from an eligible country upon entry to the Schengen Area, and will also require applicants to answer a series of questions about security and health matters.
Although these are yet to be finalised, the application is expected to include questions regarding criminal history. However, as the system is geared towards identifying terrorist threats, those going to Europe with a criminal record for a minor offense are unlikely to face complications with the application and should be able to get an ETIAS visa waiver without problems.
Can I Travel to Europe with a Serious Criminal Record?
Travellers going to Europe with a criminal record for a holiday are currently not asked about minor offenses, especially upon entry to any of the countires in the Schengen passport-free zone.
Travellers with more serious offenses may face problems entering the Schengen Area ETIAS countries for short stays. Those who have served more than 3 years of jail time, or have been convicted of human trafficking or drug offenses with more than 2 years of jail time, are likely to be refused entry.
However, the policy can vary between countries. For example, Germany has much stricter rules than most of the other Schengen member states, as the county reserves the right to immediately deport anyone with:
- A public order conviction with a sentence of more than 3 years.
- Drug offenses with a sentence of more than 2 years.
- Any offense related to human trafficking.
However, German border officials are more concerned with offenses commited within their own country rather than outside the EU, as is also the case in the United Kingdom. However, the UK also employs the concept of ‘spent’ convictions, which can allow travellers with a criminal record to enter the country if they are considered rehabilitated.
The UK considers a conviction ‘spent’ if more than 10 years have passed since the traveller last served jail time (sentences between 6 to 30 months). Jail time of over 30 months cannot be ‘spent’ and will always be held against the traveler. Imprisonment of less than 6 months or fines incur a shorter rehabilitation period of around 5 years or less.
If the imprisonment is considered ‘spent’ then the traveller does not even need to declare the conviction, and it cannot be used against them even if immigration officials are aware of the offense.
Finally, those going to Europe with a criminal record should bear in mind that the final decision for entry often comes down to the individual discretion of the border control official, so it’s important to be polite and truthful when presenting your case.