Can a felon travel to Europe? Unless your offense is a very serious one, you should be able to travel to Europe. Europe refers to both a geographical area and to some countries within that area that belong to the European Union (EU).
Felons wishing to travel outside the United States should always check the entry requirements for the country they plan to visit to avoid being turned back at immigration.
In this article, we’ll look at travel rules for European countries inside and outside the EU.
Can A Felon Travel To Europe (European Union)?
Usually, the answer is yes, but new rules come into force in 2023.
Currently (2022) American passport holders enjoy visa-free travel for up to 90 days in any 180-day period, to countries in the European Union Schengen Area, also known as the Schengen Zone.
The Schengen Area includes all of the countries in the EU, except for Ireland. Non-EU member states, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and Liechtenstein are also part of the Schengen Zone.
Full List Of Schengen Zone Countries
- The Netherlands
Criminal records checks are not made on visa-free travelers entering the Schengen Zone, therefore a felon can currently travel to a European country in the Schengen Zone without any restrictions.
You simply need to check the standard entry requirements for the country you want to visit, buy your ticket, hop on a plane, then pass through passport control at your destination. Passports are scanned to store your entry date in the system, but criminal record checks don’t take place.
Once you’re in the Schengen Zone, you can travel to any other country within the common travel area as long as you don’t overstay your 90-day limit, and are able to meet the standard entry requirements for that country.
For example, to enter France you must provide the address of the place you will be staying and proof of your reservation. If staying with a friend or family member, you must have a certificate already validated by the relevant town hall.
You must have a passport valid for 3 months beyond your departure date, sufficient financial means for the purpose of your trip, a return ticket or the funds to purchase one, and medical insurance which includes the cost of repatriation.
Other countries will have similar requirements, and you should check what you’ll need before you travel.
To be eligible for visa-free travel, the trip must be for tourism or a business trip. You cannot enter a Schengen Area country to work or study under visa-free travel rules.
What Changes In 2023 For Felons Traveling To Europe?
In November 2023, the European Union will introduce ETIAS – European Travel Information and Authorization System. ETIAS will cover all the countries in the Schengen Zone.
Once ETIAS is launched, visa-free travelers will need to obtain pre-travel authorization to enter a European nation within the Schengen Area. The stated purpose of ETIAS is to ensure that travelers entering the EU Schengen Zone are not a security threat, and officials are particularly concerned with keeping potential terrorists out of Europe.
ETIAS approval is only a security clearance, and you’ll still need to comply with all other standard entry requirements for the country you plan to visit.
ETIAS Application Process
You need to apply for ETIAS approval before you travel. The application is an automated online process that will take roughly 10 minutes to complete. The fee for each application is expected to be 7 Euros for applicants between 18 and 70 years old. There is no fee for members of your party outside that age range.
An ETIAS approval will be valid for 3 years, as long as your passport is still valid during that period.
Are felons eligible for ETIAS approval?
The ETIAS application includes questions about your criminal record, and all applicants will undergo a background check as part of the approval process. The background check will search various European databases and Interpol.
While the vast majority of ETIAS applications will be automatically approved in a couple of minutes, applicants with a criminal record may face a longer processing time because their applications will need to be approved manually. Manual processing times are expected to be between 4 days and 2 weeks.
When an application is not automatically approved, it’s sent to the ETIAS Central Unit for manual review. The Central Unit will either approve the application or send it on for further checks at the ETIAS National Unit of the country you want to travel to.
Having a criminal record doesn’t mean that you’ll face rejection, though, and it’s expected that only very serious offenses will result in an application being denied, with non-violent offenses unlikely to be a barrier to ETIAS approval.
Can A Felon Travel To Other European Countries?
Let’s quickly list the European countries who are not part of the Schengen Zone.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- San Marino
- United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales)
Russia and Turkey both require all travelers to obtain a visa, while U.S. passport holders are entitled to visa-free travel (for tourism and business) to all other countries on the list.
For travel to Russia, you will need to make a full visa application and the application asks for a list of all of your criminal convictions. Applications will be denied if the immigration authorities deem you to be a threat.
For travel to Turkey, you can apply online for an E-Visa. The E-Visa application is very quick and the normal processing time is 1 hour.
You will have to answer some security questions as part of the visa application, and individuals with serious felony offenses may be refused a visa.
Traveling To A Visa-Free European Country As A Felon
When you enter a visa-free European country outside the Schengen Zone, your passport is checked by border guards to make sure you match the photo in your passport, and that your passport is valid for your stay.
You’ll usually be asked about the purpose of your visit, and you may be asked to show proof of sufficient funds for your stay and that you have medical insurance. You could also be asked to show that you have purchased a return ticket.
Other checks are unlikely and you should be able to enter the country unless your passport has a notice identifying you as a sex offender.
For further reassurance and to avoid potential problems when you go through immigration, it’s advisable to check the travel information provided by the government of the country you plan to visit. You’ll find information for travelers in English if you search online for the name of the country followed by “immigration information”.
On the relevant government website, you’ll find complete information about travel requirements for tourism, family visits, business trips, work, study, and medical treatment.
You’ll also find details about any extra information you’ll need to present at immigration.
Unless you have a serious felony on your record, you should be able to travel to Europe for tourism, a family visit, or a business trip because U.S. passport holders are entitled to visa-free travel to all but 2 countries within the European geographical area.
From November 2023, however, you’ll need to obtain ETIAS approval to enter a country belonging to the Schengen Zone. The ETIAS application asks about your criminal history and includes a background check.
If your application is flagged by the system, a manual review of your application will take place but unless you’re deemed a security threat or violent criminal, your application should be approved.
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