Traveling with a criminal record can be a constant worry when crossing borders. Will you be asked difficult questions? Will you be interrogated? Or worse, will you be denied entry into the country?
If you are traveling 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 generally okay to enter the Europe if you have a criminal record.
To minimize the risk of complications, it is a good idea 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 are 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 which did not lead to jail time (or very little) are unlikely to result in travelers being denied entry into European countries. However, the following types of convictions are much more likely to cause problems for Canadian travelers:
- Any convictions which led to more than 3 years in jail
- Drug convictions which led to more than 2 years in jail
- Smuggling convictions (people, drugs, weapons etc)
- Other very serious convictions such as terrorism and homicide
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 traveling 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. Travelers have to apply for a visa from the country 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 2021
At the moment, Canadian can travel to Europe without a visa or any form of travel authorization. However, this will change in 2021 with the implementation of ETIAS (which Canadians will need to apply for before going to any country in the Schengen Area).
The online application form has not yet been finalized but 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.