A criminal record can affect many aspects of your life, and travel is no exception. Every country has the discretion to refuse entry to an individual for any reason they choose, so it is difficult to say with certainty whether you may have issues if you have ongoing criminal matters. For countries for whom tourism is a large part of their economy, they may be more willing to allow entry despite criminal charges, but other countries may be more strict on who they allow in.
If you have been convicted of a criminal offence, you should talk to the embassy and consulate of the country you wish to visit in order to determine their entry requirements. To gain entry into Canada, for example, officials will equate the offence to one listed in the Criminal Code of Canada, and use that to determine whether they will allow entry. A person is likely to be denied entry to Canada if they have been convicted of one of the following offences: assault, impaired driving, resisting arrest, possession, trafficking, or fraud, although ANY criminal charge may result in a denial of entry. Similarly, when traveling from Canada to another country, the officials will examine the offence, looking at a number of factors including severity of the offence and how long ago it was committed.
For travel to the United States, you may apply for an entry waiver, which is a process that can take between 6-12 months and consist of completing forms, submitting fingerprints, and supplying a record of your offence committed in order to gain advanced permission to enter the country for a specified number of years. If you have contacted the embassy of a certain country you wish to visit and have determined that you will be allowed entry, it is still best not to book a flight that connects through the US to avoid potential problems. Unless you have an entry waiver or have already spoken to US customs and border protection to confirm you will be allowed entry, booking a direct flight to the country you wish to travel is the ideal route.
Even if your matter is ongoing and you have not yet been convicted but have been charged with an offence, you may still encounter problems with travel. Once you have been fingerprinted and photographed, even if the charges were later withdrawn, the US border protection has access to that information, so a destruction of your records is highly recommended.
Ron Ellis is a criminal defence lawyer based in London, Ontario and practices criminal defence law all over Southwestern Ontario, including Grand Bend, Sarnia, Woodstock and Kitchener.