Where can you travel with a criminal record and which countries allow you to enter despite your criminal charges? The answer isn’t simple. Each country is different and border guards are free to bar you entry at their own discretion. A crime, no matter the nature, may be grounds for refusal. This blog will cover the policies and tendencies of some of the most popular destinations for Canadians, and the implications of your criminal record.
The United States
The USA is Canada’s largest trading partner, closest neighbour, and most popular destination for travellers and businesspeople, so you would think travelling there with a criminal record would be the easiest – wrong.
In fact, Canada and the USA are two of the world’s most stringent nations when it comes to travelling with a criminal history. Crimes that would be overlooked in the EU, UK, or elsewhere are often grounds for refusal.
American border law is straightforward: if you have a criminal record, you MUST answer the border guard truthfully and the guard then has the right to deny entry. Crimes that are weighed heavily are crimes of moral turpitude (your personal character; for example, assault or fraud.
Not every traveller is subject to a background check and not all those with a record are refused entry; however, the fact remains that if you have one, you may be turned away regardless of how you arrived (air, land, or sea).
How to travel to the USA with a criminal record: For Canadians travelling to the USA, it is possible to get a US travel waiver. This will be valid for one to five years, during which you will be free to travel as if your record did not exist. Here’s more answers to frequently asked questions about how U.S. Waivers work.
The United Kingdom
The UK and Canada have a special relationship due to our shared past. Although, this does not stop immigration officials from having the ability to bar entry due to a criminal past (this goes both ways). But in reality, entry is not normally refused on the grounds of certain convictions.
It’s important to understand the concept of a spent conviction. This is the concept that a person can be rehabilitated after committing a crime. If you have gone 10 years after a conviction without re-offending, then your conviction is considered spent (if the conviction was between 6-30 months).
However, the length of time differs on conviction and sentence, and border guards are free to refuse entry on other grounds as well.
The EU is not nearly as strict as North America or the UK.
If you are asked about your history, you are required to answer truthfully; however, as long as it isn’t of a smuggling or trafficking nature, you are almost certainly fine.
It is important to note that if your sentence was long, if your violation involved smuggling, or if it was a major drug sentence, you are legally deportable. Never lie when questioned or on important forms, such as a visa application.
Refusal is rare but still within the realm of possibility.
Travelling abroad is made more complex with a criminal record, and certain convictions may bar your entry from your destination. In our opinion, it is not worth the risk. Obtaining a criminal pardon or entry waiver is the safest way to travel abroad with peace of mind.
Wondering where can you travel with a criminal record, especially to the USA? Start by taking a US Entry Waiver qualification test to gauge your chances of border crossing.
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