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.

travel europe criminal record

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.

Read Post  US Travellers to be Banned from Europe Travel

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.

Can I travel to Europe with a criminal record?

criminal record enter europe

Having a criminal record can prohibit a person from doing many things in life, including travelling to certain counties. But while entry restrictions against criminal offenders are incredibly strict in countries like the USA and Canada, the rules in most European countries are far more relaxed. European criminal conviction checks are uncommon, and most EU borders have employed other security measures, including the introduction of the ETIAS visa waiver program.

Can someone with a criminal record travel to Europe?

Many countries in the world have strict no-admission policies for foreign visitors with criminal records, especially for violent or serious crimes. In the United States, travellers can be denied entry even if they have a minor criminal conviction from as far back as 50 years prior.

In comparison, European countries and especially the Schengen Area countries have far more relaxed rules surrounding entry for travellers with a criminal record. In general, visitors to the Schengen Area will not receive a European criminal conviction check at border control.

However, it is important to tell the truth if asked about a criminal record by a border official or on a form. Minor criminal offences should not prohibit entry to the Schengen Area. Travellers who have served 3 years in prison or more, or who have been convicted of illegal smuggling or drug offences with a 2-year prison term or more, are likely to be refused visa entry.

What European countries can I visit with a criminal record?

Although most European countries will not refuse entry for prior criminal offences, some have stricter policies, while others are even more relaxed. For example, the UK allows entry for the concept of “spent” convictions, which means that any conviction with a prison term between 6 and 30 months, served more than 10 years previously, does not need to be declared.

On the other end of the spectrum, Germany has its own specific rules regarding criminal records. Those convicted of a public order violation with jail time of more than 3 years, drug-related crimes with prison sentences of more than 2 years or any kind of human trafficking offense will be refused entry. Lying to a border official is also immediate grounds for rejection. However, like many other EU member states, German officials will be more concerned with crimes committed within their own borders or in other EU countries.

Read Post  Which EU Countries Are Easiest To Visit Right Now?

How can European countries detect criminal history?

While European countries are largely unconcerned with minor offences committed outside EU borders, crimes registered within the EU are another matter. Since 2012, all EU countries have been connected to ECRIS, the European Criminal Records Information System.

This shared database was created in order to improve the exchange of information about criminal convictions in the European Union. In addition to allowing local security forces easy access to the full record of any previous convictions across the EU, it also takes away the possibility of escaping convictions by relocating to a different EU country. Therefore, it is important to tell the truth about any EU criminal record attached to the passport of the traveller.

Currently, ECRIS is used around 3 million times a year to exchange information of previous criminal convictions. A criminal record is shared in around 30% of the cases when one is requested. These requests are normally made during criminal proceedings or when someone applies for certain authorised purposes, such as a firearms licence or working with children.

Apply for the ETIAS visa waiver with a criminal record

The ETIAS visa waiver will launch in November 2023 and it will become a requirement for many nationalities which can currently enter the Schengen Area without any form of travel authorisation.

On the ETIAS application for there will be some security questions regarding criminal activity and all applicants will be screened by eU-LISA (the department of the EU responsible for criminal data management). However, the EU have made it clear that only those responsible for serious crime or terrorism will be denied an ETIAS visa waiver.

The ETIAS visa waiver is being implemented in order to provide a better travel experience to third-country nationals, and to improve border control against terrorist and other security threats and will be available for 60 eligible countries. Applicants will have to complete a simple ETIAS application online, filling in personal data and details about travel plans. Once approved, the ETIAS will be received by email and the applicant can print a copy of their travel authorisation to Europe to present at border control.

In this regard, it is of the utmost importance to understand that ETIAS is a visa waiver, which is not the same as a visa.

In the end, getting into Europe with a criminal record is not as problematic as some other territories, as long as the offences are not serious. The best option for citizens of eligible countries will be to get the ETIAS visa waiver before traveling to Europe once it becomes available.

Our etias.info collaborator Lauren Kemp writes about everything you need to know to travel to Europe safely and easily. Kemp’s content covers the European Union’s travel regulations, tourist hotspots, international relations, and more.

Related News

Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership Countries EU Requirements

Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership Countries Maintain EU Requirements

On August 4th, 2021, the Commission presented the 4th Report Under the Visa Suspension Mechanism, which monitors the EU visa-free regime with Albania, Bosnia [. ]

ETIAS Central Unit

What is the ETIAS Central Unit?

The ETIAS Central Unit will run ETIAS operations from . It will be responsible for the process behind issuing ETIAS visa waivers. ETIAS will make [. ]

EU Commission Croatia Schengen approval

Croatia will join the Schengen Area

Croatia is finally ready to join the Schengen Area. In recent years the country has taken the necessary measures to meet Schengen standards. In 2019, [. ]

Can I travel abroad with a criminal conviction?

Adam Bate

A criminal offence could jeopardise your chances of working, studying, or going on holiday abroad. The implications vary from country to country, but there are lots of popular locations that might not let you get a visa if you’ve got a criminal record. Here’s everything you need to know.

A driver is tested for drink driving

Can you travel abroad with a criminal record?

It’s possible to travel abroad with a criminal record, but you might find there are some countries you’re not allowed to visit.

That means any crime you commit could jeopardise your chances of working, studying, or even holidaying in certain countries.

So which country has the harshest policy for visitors with criminal records?

Can you go to America with a criminal record?

UK travellers looking to travel to the US can usually avoid getting a visa and apply for an ESTA instead. But if you’ve got a conviction or caution on your criminal record, that could prevent you from using the visa waiver scheme.

Read Post  The Top 10 Mistakes Students Make While Studying Abroad in Europe

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 doesn’t apply to US visa law. Even spent convictions might have an impact on whether you’re allowed to enter the United States. If you don’t declare your convictions – you might be barred from travelling to the states.

When you apply for a visa, a consular officer should determine whether you’re qualified.

Applicants are required to get an Association of Chief Police Officers Police Certificate issued within 6 months of the date of the visa interview.

Information on getting the police certificate is available from the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Criminal Records Office website. You’re also required to complete the personal data form VCU1 and you should provide as much detail as possible concerning your arrests/cautions/convictions.

You then have a face-to-face meeting with the US Embassy in London to seek eligibility for a visa. It could take between 90 days and 6 months for the visa to be approved. If you’re not qualified, you might be able to get a waiver of ineligibility.

Can you go to Australia with a criminal record?

If you wish to visit Australia, either as a tourist or on business, you usually need to get an electronic visitor visa. But if you have a criminal conviction that resulted in a prison sentence, you might need to apply for a full tourist visa.

While these are usually granted automatically, there could be delays if you have a criminal record, such as being convicted for drink-driving.

In certain cases, your application might be referred to the Australian High Commission – the Australian Embassy in London. If you’ve got a criminal record, you might also have to apply for a police certificate. This could take up to 49 days.

All Australian visa applicants have to satisfy the ‘character test’, which is set out in Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958. You might not pass the character test if you’ve got a substantial criminal record.

However, while it might delay your application, it’s unlikely that a conviction for something like a drink-driving offence would prevent you from getting a visa to enter Australia.

Can you go to China with a criminal record?

The Chinese visa service online application asks you to give details of any criminal record in China or any other country.

There’s no official guidance as to what extent previous convictions might be taken into account. But charity Unlock says that disclosure of a conviction shouldn’t automatically stop you from getting a visa.

Can you go to Europe with a criminal record?

Generally speaking, travellers who don’t need visas usually aren’t asked about criminal records, and criminal conviction checks aren’t typically carried out at borders.

If you’ve got a criminal record, you should be able to apply for an ETIAS and have the opportunity to discuss the circumstances around your conviction. If you’re denied an ETIAS, you might be able to appeal to the country that made the decision.

Countries you can’t go to with a criminal record

Any country that requires a visa for entry might ask you whether you’ve got a criminal conviction.

For instance, Canada sets out all kinds of criteria to demonstrate an offender has been rehabilitated before they may enter the country.

Russia asks about criminal convictions and you could end up being denied a visa. Charity Unlock says that there’s little information on what types of offence would lead to an application being refused. However, it adds that the majority of visas are approved and people are typically only declined in exceptional cases.

India is another country that asks about criminal records on its e-vistor applications. If you answer yes, you might be asked to provide further details about your conviction. You might have to provide a police certificate with more information. The visa officer should then decide whether to give you a visa.

What countries can I travel to with a criminal record?

While you might be able to travel to lots of countries as long as you get the appropriate visa, there are several that don’t ask about criminal convictions at all.

Unlock says that based on feedback, the following countries either don’t require a visa at all, or don’t ask about criminal convictions on their entry forms.

Source https://www.etiasvisa.com/etias-news/travel-europe-criminal-record-requirements-apply

Source https://www.etias.info/travel-to-europe-with-a-criminal-record/

Source https://www.confused.com/travel-insurance/guides/travel-abroad-with-criminal-conviction

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *