Can I Apply for ETIAS with a Criminal Record?

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Criminal records can prevent you from being allowed to travel to the Schengen Zone. Any travellers applying for ETIAS for a short stay in Europe are likely to have their ETIAS application declined if they have committed a serious crime. Applications from people with minor offences will usually be approved for an ETIAS and granted entry to the 26 ETIAS countries.

ETIAS introduces checks for criminal records for Schengen visa-free travel

The ETIAS has been introduced to help improve security to monitor who is travelling into the Schengen Zone but to also make travel purposes such as tourism and business easier for low-risk travellers. Part of the assessment process for the ETIAS application is to check for any previous criminal records, to allow the authorities to determine whether an applicant is deemed to be a high risk to the Schengen Zone.

Requirements for entering Europe with a criminal record

If you have a criminal record, it does not mean that you will automatically get declined for an ETIAS, as it depends on the details of your criminal conviction and when it occurred. There is no exact list of which criminal convictions will prevent you from obtaining an ETIAS but you can assume that crimes of a more serious nature are likely to lead to a declined application.
Traffic offences of a minor nature are less likely to affect your ETIAS application, compared to crimes that involved violence, for example. The whole purpose of the ETIAS is to make sure that the people within the Schengen Zone are protected as much as possible from the threats posed by high-risk people entering the area.
Any of the following serious criminal offences in the last ten years will need to be reviewed and likely to be declined:
  • Terrorism (in the last 20 years)
  • Sexual exploitation of children
  • Trafficking of human beings
  • Trafficking of drugs
  • Murder
  • Rape
Even if an applicant lies on their application, the ETIAS authorities will screen their details across a number of security databases to check whether any serious crimes have been committed. Being dishonest will most certainly lead to the application being denied.
If your ETIAS is denied but you still want to visit the Schengen Zone, the other option is to apply for a Schengen Visa. In this scenario, you would need to attend the Embassy in your country for an interview and to provide further details regarding your criminal conviction and any other documents and information that is requested. Following the interview, the officials will decide whether to issue a Schengen Visa based on the details of your criminal conviction and the level of risk that it poses to the Schengen Zone and people living within it.

European criminal records databases

The countries within the Schengen Zone operate with a shared set of databases, to help to monitor criminals and to prevent them from being able to enter the Schengen Zone border.
The European Criminal Records Information System on convicted third country nationals (ECRIS) has been created to help countries to exchange data regarding existing criminal records for non-EU and stateless people.
Data stored on ECRIS will include fingerprints where available, as well as facial images. The system will be managed by the eu-LISA agency who manages the ETIAS system.
The introduction of ETIAS enables the Schengen Zone officials to pre-screen travellers and therefore boost security measures involving people entering the area. In some cases, if the crime has been regarded as spent, it will not affect the ETIAS application, so even if you have an ETIAS declined, there may be an opportunity to apply for an ETIAS at a later date in the future. This will depend on the seriousness of the conviction, with the worst level of crime preventing offenders from obtaining an ETIAS to enter the Schengen Zone.

Can I travel to Europe with a serious criminal record?

It is unlikely that you will be allowed to travel to Europe with a serious criminal record. Anyone who has spent more than 3 years in jail or has been convicted of trafficking or drug offences with over two years of jail time will usually be declined.
There are different rules across the member states, so there could be a possibility of applying for a Schengen visa for the specific country you are visiting and the embassy will review your criminal record and make a decision whether to issue a visa.
Spent convictions will not usually impact travelling to Europe, unless the offence included over 30 months’ of imprisonment.
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