Travelling with a Canadian Criminal Record
International travel is part of many people’s business and personal lives in this modern era. Whether you seek to travel for sightseeing, relaxation and enjoyment, or it’s a necessary part of your job, more and more people are travelling abroad each year than ever before. However, if you are a Canadian citizen, and have a criminal record, travelling can be a bit more problematic.
In this guide, we’ll look at all of the issues surrounding travelling with a criminal record. We’ll highlight why it can be problematic, why there’s no simple “yes or no” answer to whether or not you can travel with a criminal record, and look at a list of countries and details for places you can travel, and places you can’t travel with a Canadian criminal record. Finally, we’ll offer up some useful rules and tips to help make it easier for you to travel with a criminal record.
Why Travelling with a Criminal Record Can Be a Problem
It should come as no surprise that security and heightened scrutiny of foreign visitors is more important than ever before for many countries around the world. Terrorism and other concerns have made this our reality. In addition, countries generally want to welcome in visitors, but not those who might cause trouble or commit crimes while visiting. As such, it’s fairly understandable that most countries perform customs and immigration screenings for incoming foreign travelers. For Canadians, a criminal record can be a red flag during this process when entering another country.
The Answer to “Can I Travel with a Criminal Record” Depends on Your Destination
The simple question, “Can I travel with a criminal record?” doesn’t have a simple answer. It greatly depends on your destination. In several countries, a criminal record of any kind may prevent you from visiting. In other countries, it may mean additional scrutiny or paperwork. Still, other countries may not care or even ask about the topic. Some countries may only care about criminal activity in the last few years, whereas others consider any criminal history. Many countries are only concerned if you intend to stay longer-term – not necessarily as a resident, but for a lengthy visit of months in duration. It all depends on the destination country (and, in some cases, on what your criminal record says).
In many cases, there are different rules for travelers visiting a foreign country as opposed to attempting to immigrate and become a citizen or obtain a permit to work or stay longer-term. For the purposes of this guide, we’re really only focusing on travel, as in visiting another country. There are many more issues surrounding visa or work permit applications, permanent resident or immigration applications, and so on. Those are outside the scope of concern for the vast majority of Canadians who are looking to travel with a criminal record.
Where Can You Travel with a Criminal Record?
First, it’s important to point out that every country has their own rules for customs, travel, and visas. Before you travel to any foreign country, you should do your research to see what is involved – whether you have a criminal record or not. Visa paperwork and other permissions and documents can often be completed in advance. Even if they cannot, it is best to know exactly what is expected of you so you’re knowledgeable and prepared when you get on the ground in your destination. After all, the best way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to not be surprised at all, and know in advance what’s involved. You’ll also be able to ensure you bring the correct documents and information you need to get through customs and immigration swiftly and without issue.
With that said, there are some general guidelines and rules as to destinations to which you can travel with a criminal record. It’s still ideal to check with your destination country first for their policies, of course. These can usually be found via the local consulate website.
In general terms, you can travel to most countries around the world, even with a criminal record, provided that you aren’t applying to work, become a permanent resident, or staying for 6 months or longer. This is not because they don’t care, but they don’t generally ask about criminal record status, or seek to verify it, for shorter-term traveler visits.
This also assumes you have a valid passport, identification, and other documentation to travel. A criminal record may or may not prevent you from obtaining a valid Canadian passport. In most cases, it’s doesn’t, unless there is an order in place that you not travel as part of a pending litigation or serving a sentence, or for a few other specific reasons.
Countries You Can’t Travel to with a Criminal Record
There are some countries you can’t travel to with a criminal record, at least not without special permission or circumstances. We’ve highlighted them with a few details for each below, ordered roughly by how common the destination is for Canadian citizens to visit.
- United States – a criminal record will almost always preclude you from entry into the US. This is true even if you have a Canadian pardon/record suspension. You must obtain a US Waiver for entry. This also prevents you from transiting through the US to another ultimate destination, unless you have a Waiver of Inadmissibility.
- It’s important to note that pre-screening does not guarantee admission. You may pass pre-screening, and have your criminal record check subsequently run, effectively blocking you at the port of entry, or causing issues for you during your stay once admitted.
- European Union – visiting any of the EU countries for 90 days or less does not require a visa. This means you typically will not be asked on any form to disclose a criminal record. If you plan to stay longer, or apply for a work permit, it may be required.
- United Kingdom – due to Brexit, it’s useful to address the UK separately from the EU. While the exact regulations remain uncertain at present, it is likely that the UK will require you to disclose your criminal record. They may or may not deny you entry based on the offense(s) committed, and the amount of time since they occurred. More information on these policies should be forthcoming once Brexit is fully fleshed out.
- Japan – generally speaking, if you have served a year or more of jail time at any point, you are not permitted to gain entry into Japan. You must disclose your criminal record as part of the entry paperwork process.
Important Rules and Tips for Travelling with a Criminal Record
We’ve already addressed one of the most important rules and tips for travelling with a criminal record – always do your research in advance! Knowing the rules and regulations of your destination country, and how they align with your particular criminal record circumstances, length of your stay, and so on is really the most reliable way to answer the “Can I travel with a criminal record?” question. With that said, there are some other principles and tips that can help keep you out of trouble:
- Always be honest. While there’s an appeal to not disclosing your criminal record when asked, the consequences can be extremely severe in many countries if you lie. Almost all modern countries can query and pull information on your criminal record if desired. While the chances they will actually run a check varies from country to country, the penalties are almost always far, far worse for lying – anything from being permanent barred to imprisonment.
- Obtaining a pardon in Canada can be valuable. If you’ve never been looked up or criminally checked by a destination country before, and you have received a Canadian pardon prior to your travel or entry application, your file will return clean. This is not fool-proof if you have already had a criminal records check performed previously. But it’s still worthwhile and considered in many countries regardless, and maybe a way to “clean” your record and avoid travel problems.
- Many countries offer waivers, with varying difficulty to obtain, that will allow you to enter even with your record. Some countries may do so based on the nature of your crimes, or the amount of time passed, record suspensions, and so on. Others may only offer waivers for extreme circumstances, such as a family illness, to attend a funeral or recover a body, and so on.
Make an effort to resolve your past criminal record issues. Being able to demonstrate your record is suspended, that the offenses happened in the past, were perhaps minor, have not recurred, and that you have a stable job, residence, and other supporting factors can go a long way in your favor.
In many countries, only very serious crimes may be an absolute rejection factor for entry. In a lot of cases, it’s more of a gray area, and can be at the discretion of the particular entry official or office who considers your application. You’re always better off doing as much as you can to improve your standing and records, and thus improving your chances of entry when travelling with a criminal record.