Every country has its own rules and policies about criminal records and travel. This can make foreign travel complicated.

For example, Mexico identifies serious crimes as being of concern. Australia says a person who was given a sentence of more than 12 months can be inadmissible. The United States will bar drug convictions and “crimes of moral turpitude.” In terms of crimes that will make you inadmissible to Canada, the country relies on the “indictable” standard, which encompasses most offences.

These guidelines can usually be found on the website of the consulate or embassy, or on other government websites.

Dangers of foreign travel with a record

However, many travelers will take their chances and either not read the guidelines or read the guidelines and decide to try anyway. The reasoning is that border guards don’t necessarily have access to international criminal records. A second reason is that it is usually up to the border guard to decide whether the traveler will be admitted. Even if the record does come up, people reason that they look harmless enough that they will get in any way.

When it comes to foreign travel, there are a few dangers with this reasoning:

  • Not declaring your record could be considered misrepresentation. You could be barred from the country for years or even life.
  • Lying to a border guard could cause you to be arrested and detained.
  • You could be turned back and lose all the money you paid for your vacation. The airline won’t necessarily change your return ticket or they may charge you a high fee to do so.
  • Authorities could detain you until the next flight leaves. You could spend the night in jail.
  • You could be deported even after you enter. If an official discovers your record after you have entered the country you can be removed.
  • These consequences could be passed on to your travelling companions.
  • There are ways people can find out your record other than accessing a country’s official police databases. They could look you up on the Internet or in databases of court records.
  • Canada and the United States share their official criminal databases. As well, they have very strict guidelines to follow. It’s rare for a person to be permitted to enter if they look up your record and find that you have an inadmissible offence. Once you have been flagged, your record will appear at primary screening and you will need to get a waiver before you return.

Should you check the box?

Given these potential consequences, many people feel anxiety about disclosing their record when engaged in foreign travel. Especially if they are already on the plane and the flight attendant has handed them a disembarkation card that contains a question about arrests or records.

It could also come up before you travel when you are applying for an Electronic Travel Authorization or a tourist visa.

Generally, you should always disclose the record when asked. Outright lying will be looked at very seriously. On the other hand, admitting to a record is not necessarily a deal breaker. Many countries will allow you to enter depending on how minor the record is or how far in the past. Often a consulate or embassy will require you to submit a criminal record check at your own expense in order to obtain a visa. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you will be denied. Ask the embassy about the country’s policies on criminal records. Keep in mind that you cannot travel if you are on probation or awaiting trial.

What can you do?

There are a few things you can do to ease the pressure that a record puts on your foreign travel plans.

US Entry Waiver: A US Entry Waiver allows Canadians multiple entries for a period that is determined by the official deciding the application. It is usually good for one to five years. The process to apply takes a long time because you will need to assemble a number of documents to support your application. Plan about 12 months for a first-time waiver application.

Canadian Waiver: US residents have more options for visiting Canada with a criminal record. There is a Temporary Resident Permit which allows you to enter for a specific purpose, for example, a wedding or business conference. There is a permanent waiver, which gives you more freedom. Once you have it you can enter as many times as you want subject to the normal visitor rules. You must wait at least five years from the end of your sentence to apply. Finally, there is a deemed rehabilitation. After 10 years, you may be considered, or “deemed”, rehabilitated, which means that you can enter as a normal visitor. You may need documentation to prove your status.

Other countries: To travel outside North America, we recommend that you apply for a pardon. While it is not an absolute guarantee of entry, you can use your pardon to support a visa application. Currently, a Canadian pardon is called Record Suspension. The waiting period to apply for a Record Suspension is five years or 10 years from the end of your sentence depending on whether your charge was summary or indictable.

If you want to experience the freedom of travel, but are held back by a criminal record, we can help. Contact us for a free consultation and we’ll help you choose the right application. Call 1-866-972-7366 today to get started.