Planning to travel as a felon? Consider this list of countries that you cannot visit.

A felony conviction makes life more difficult.  Unfortunately, it also impacts your ability to travel.

A felony conviction does not mean the end of your life.  But it does mean some things will be more difficult.  Applying for a new job, or a new apartment, and maintaining certain rights as a citizen of the United States are all impacted by a felony conviction.  But many people don’t realize that a felony conviction also impacts your ability to travel to certain foreign countries.

State, federal, and international laws are constantly updated, so it’s important that you check with the specific country you’re planning to travel to for the most updated laws and information.  Our law firm does not keep this information and cannot provide you advice on this issue.  This blog post is simply a recitation of publicly available laws and policies regarding criminal convictions and international travel.

For your best chance at avoiding a felony conviction, we think it makes sense to hire the top criminal defense attorney in your area.  If you’re facing any criminal charges in Wisconsin, contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. at (414) 270-0202 to figure out whether we can help.  Initial consultations with our firm are free.

How a felony conviction impacts travel to Canada.

Canada has strict immigration laws covering the admissibility of travelers into the country.  The relevant law states the following:

(2) A foreign national is inadmissible on grounds of criminality for

(b) having been convicted outside Canada of an offence that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offence under an Act of Parliament, or of two offences not arising out of a single occurrence that, if committed in Canada, would constitute offences under an Act of Parliament; or
(c) committing an act outside Canada that is an offence in the place where it was committed and that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offence under an Act of Parliament.

The term “indictable offence” refers to the most serious crimes in the country, similar to our classification of felonies. Alternatively, “summary conviction” offenses are similar to misdemeanors in the United States.  Individuals convicted of indictable offenses are considered “inadmissible” under Canada’s immigration law.  Individuals deemed inadmissible are not allowed to enter Canada, but in extreme circumstances can be granted a temporary resident permit.

Unfortunately, the scope of this article doesn’t allow us to discuss every felony conviction in the United States and determine whether it’s an indictable offense.  While it’s certainly conceivable that certain U.S. felonies are not indictable offenses, it’s up to you to determine whether your specific conviction is included.

Finally, it’s important to note that not all offenses lead to a lifetime of inadmissible status.  Canadian law allows for a process called “criminal rehabilitation” that reverses inadmissible status and allows individuals convicted of certain felonies access to the country.

The Canadian border
Felons will have a difficult time entering Canada.  This is the case regardless of the purpose of your visit and how long you plan on staying.  But after a certain amount of time, individuals may find that “criminal rehabilitation” allows them to visit.

What about our other neighbor?  Can I visit Mexico?

If you’d prefer beaches to tundra, you’re in luck.  Mexico’s immigration and travel laws are more forgiving than those in Canada.

According to the State Department, “Mexican law permits Mexican immigration authorities to deny foreigners entry into Mexico if they have been charged with or convicted of a serious crime in Mexico or elsewhere.”

Looking at Mexican law, Article 194 of the Federal Code on Criminal Proceedings defines serious crimes as all crimes that have a significant effect on the fundamental values of society.  Although that definition is nearly worthless, the statute goes on to describe various examples of serious crimes:

… manslaughter; terrorism and international terrorism; sabotage; piracy; genocide; prison break; attacks on public thoroughfares; drug-related crimes; corruption of minors; child pornography; exploitation of minors; falsifying and counterfeit of currency; rape; highway robbery; trafficking in minors; trafficking in undocumented persons; aggravated robbery; vehicular theft; extortion; crimes against the environment, committed with intent; forced disappearance of persons; bearing arms reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy or Air Force; smuggling into the country firearms not reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy or Air Force; smuggling and comparable crimes, and; tax fraud and comparable crimes.

Importantly, many felonies in the United States do not qualify as “serious crimes” and a conviction for them will not prohibit entry into the country.  While it’s important to recognize the restrictions that apply to you, many travelers report that neither customs forms or border agents regularly ask questions about criminal convictions.

Can I travel to Japan as an American felon?

While it’s possible to get lucky and simply drive into Canada or Mexico, that’s not the case for Japan.  Obviously many visitors to Japan arrive on an airplane, ensuring border control officers have more time to research the records of visitors.

The Japanese Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act indicates the following individuals will be denied permission to land in Japan:

  • Individuals convicted of any criminal offense that has been sentenced to a penalty of 1 year or more.  This does not apply to individuals convicted of political offenses.
  • Individuals convicted of any criminal offense relating to the control of narcotics, marijuana, opium, stimulants or psychotropic substances.  The penalty for these offenses is not relevant to whether you can enter the country.
    • Individuals who possess these substances.
  • Individuals engaged in prostitution, or intermediation or solicitation of prostitutes.

Drug offenses, prostitution offenses, and sentences of longer than a year will all result in a traveler’s inability to enter Japan.  In other words, a felony conviction does not result in an automatic ban on your ability to travel to Japan.  Instead, your sentence length is what determines your admissibility for general felonies.

Japan does not have a criminal rehabilitation law like the one in Canada.

New Zealand – one of the tough ones

New Zealand frequently pops up on lists as the most difficult country for felons to travel to.  Individuals considering travel to New Zealand must provide all criminal records, including spent convictions, when applying for a visa or entering New Zealand.  Border officials can deny entry to individuals they suspect have “criminal tendencies.”

Individuals who fall under any of the following categories will not be allowed entry into the country:

  • A prison sentence of 5 or more years.
  • A criminal conviction within the last 10 months that resulted in a prison sentence of at least a year.

While these requirements don’t sound too bad, there’s a lot of wiggle room that gives officials the opportunity to turn down anyone with a criminal conviction.  It’s certainly conceivable that two convictions could lead to the conclusion that someone has “criminal tendencies.”  That will result in a denial.

Which countries should felons consider for travel?

While many countries are difficult for felons to travel to, there are still a few great options.  We’ve listed a few:

  • France – France is part of the Schengen region, meaning you’ll need to obtain a Schengen visitor or business visa to visit the country.  The visa application does not include questions on criminal convictions, and French border agents do not ask about these issues.
  • Germany – Individuals convicted of offenses related to public order that are subsequently sentenced to over three years prison, or two years jail, are often denied entry.  Drug and human trafficking offenses are also likely to result in a denial.
  • Spain – Spain considers the severity of the offense, where it was committed, and how long ago it was committed.  Spain does not refuse entry to those convicted of minor offenses.  Travelers with a recent criminal history are less likely to gain entry.
  • The Netherlands – Felons can enter the Netherlands like any other traveler.  Like most other countries, entry will be denied to individuals with active warrants or individuals on the TSA “no fly” list.
  • Poland – Poland’s policies mirror those of the Netherlands.
  • Italy – Felons who have completed probation or any sentence are not barred from traveling to Italy.  Individuals on active supervision – probation, extended supervision, and parole – will be denied.
  • South Korea – 

What if you’re charged with a felony?

If you’ve found your way to this page, it’s safe to say that you’re an individual interested in traveling around the world.  And maybe you’re facing felony criminal charges.  If you were already convicted of an offense, we’d suggest contacting a criminal appellate law firm to see whether you have any post-conviction options.

But if you have an open case, there’s still hope.  We think that the best way to deal with serious criminal charges is to hire the best criminal defense attorney in your area.  At Van Severen Law Office, our criminal defense attorneys regularly fight tough criminal charges.  We’ve won cases for many of our clients.  And we’re certainly interested in protecting your ability to continue to travel to foreign countries.

Contact us at (414) 270-0202 to speak with our criminal defense attorneys about your open case.  We will only discuss your ability to travel to a foreign country if you’re a client of the firm.  We cannot give advice to non-clients and individuals outside of Wisconsin.

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