David has a criminal record and is worried he won’t be allowed to travel to Germany with his wife.
When I was young and foolish, I picked up a criminal record for drug possession (it was the 70s, everyone was doing it, and I just got caught). It hasn’t really been an issue but now that my wife has retired, she wants to travel, starting with a trip to Germany next year to visit some relatives. Will my criminal record hamper our travel plans in retirement?
A. Germany forms part of the Schengen Area of Europe, which is an area comprising 26 European states that function as a single jurisdiction for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy.
The travel rules for the EU, specifically the Schengen Area, regarding character concerns is relatively lax.
Questions about criminal convictions are not asked when applying for a Schengen visitor visa, and border agents and landing cards don’t ask this either.
If any officials or forms ask you if you have a criminal history, you still have to answer truthfully, but in general if it is not more than three years of imprisonment, or crimes involving drug offences that resulted in more than two years of imprisonment, then generally they will not refuse you entry or a visa on those grounds.
Countries like Germany have specific rules that state anyone convicted of an offence relating to public order with a sentence of more than three years, a drug offence with a sentence of more than two years, and any offence related to alien smuggling is deportable (a ‘must deport’).
They are, however, more concerned with offences committed in their country, rather than outside of the EU.
Do not lie in any visa application or when answering questions from officials, because in Germany that is a ‘can deport’.
Not all countries have the same rules regarding character concern, so some EU countries may be more lax. However, Germany is known to be a rather strict country so it is a good guideline on rules for the rest of the EU.
In terms of your future travel options, most countries don’t stop someone from entering because of insignificant or antiquated criminal history. The United States is generally the strictest when it comes to criminal records, no matter how minor or how long ago it may have been.
There are numerous crimes that makes you ineligible to enter the US, including ‘crimes involving moral turpitude’. Moral turpitude is a legal concept in the United States for which the definition can be imprecise and the list of offences, which vary somewhat by jurisdiction, may include everything from shoplifting to murder.
If you are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, you are ineligible to enter the US and little relief exists for this.