Can You Travel to Ireland With a Criminal Record?
Traveling to foreign countries, Ireland included, with a criminal record can sometimes be risky. If you’re not sure about your rights and the country’s rules and regulations, as well as how they work in practice, going back home without ever entering the destination country becomes a plausible scenario. That can mean anything from a failed business deal to wasted vacation time.
So can you travel to Ireland a possibility for people with a criminal record? Travelers who have a valid passport or national identification document of Ireland, an EU/EEA country, or Switzerland, can enter Ireland even if they have a criminal record. Travelers who are not citizens of any of these countries might be refused entry if the crime they were convicted for resulted in a punishment of a year or more of prison time.
This is, of course, only a short answer. As is often the case with immigration policy and traveling, much is left to the discretion of the immigration officers. And there’s always a catch or two that might ruin the trip to Ireland. So, it’s best to do some research before you book a flight or a cruise.
Traveling to Ireland With a Criminal Record
People who travel into Ireland can be divided into two broad groups. In one group, you have the citizens of Ireland, citizens of member-countries of the European Union or the European Economic Area, and the Swiss. We’ll call that group ‘group A’. Citizens of all the remaining countries in the world are in the other group — ‘group B’.
For the purposes of entering into Ireland, members of the two groups get very different treatments. In general, it’s easier for group A members to get into the country, as there are fewer things that might prevent them from entering. Some group A members might be in an even better position than others, as Irish nationals will never face denial of entry into their country, while the rest might under very specific circumstances.
Group B members have to get a permission to enter Ireland. This means that, whether you need a visa to enter Ireland or not, as a group B member you will have to undergo the same interview with an immigration officer as anyone else from the group. And during that interview, the immigration officer might ask questions about your criminal record.
It’s important to understand that your country might not readily share criminal records information and that it might be impractical for the immigration officer to request a check in the timeframe of an interview. However, it would be in your best interest to tell the truth if the officer asks about past convictions. If caught lying, there might be consequences.
If you’re a group B member who needs a visa, the choice might not even be there as some visas require applicants to get a police certificate that contains information about their record. In that case, your best bet would be that the certificate shows either no jail time or less than a year of it.
Are EU/EEA and Swiss Citizens With a Criminal Record Completely Safe to Enter Ireland?
EU/EEA and Swiss citizens are in a better position than, for example, Americans, when it comes to entering Ireland with a criminal record. However, that doesn’t mean that Ireland is going to let just anyone cross its borders — especially if that someone is a possible threat to public safety.
According to Ireland’s regulations, if you are a citizen of one of the EU/EEA countries or Switzerland, you can be denied entry into Ireland in the following cases:
- You have a certain medical condition or disability, or
- You have displayed conduct that makes entry into Ireland an offense against public policy, or an endangerment of public security.
It might be hard to say what exactly would the latter mean for EU/EEA/Switzerland citizens. But we know from public records that this is an option Ireland can use to prevent persons with serious criminal records from entering the country. So even if the group A members who are not Irish are in a better position than the rest, they still can’t enter the country as if it was their own.
Do Spent Convictions Count?
Some countries have adopted the concept of a spent conviction. The logic is that, after a certain time has passed from the punishment from your crimes, criminals can be considered rehabilitated enough to keep those crimes to themselves. Ireland has that concept, and it comes into effect seven years after the beginning of the sentence.
The Irish view of spent convictions has several limitations. It applies only to several types of offenses. Minor public order offenses fall under it, for example, as do most motoring offenses. More serious offenses like sexual offenses don’t.
But the most important limitation for your traveling arrangement is that a spent conviction should still be subject to disclosure when applying to enter the country. It probably won’t make much difference to anyone looking to enter Ireland with a criminal record, though. Only convictions that resulted in a year or less of jail time can be spent, and those are not usually grounds for refusal of entry.
The Other Things That Can Make You Ineligible to Enter Ireland
You shouldn’t get too happy about your conviction record being too light to stop you from entering Ireland. Citizens of countries that don’t belong to the EU, EEA, or are not Switzerland — members of group B — have plenty more boobytraps they need to navigate before they enter Ireland.
These can vary from the painfully obvious reasons to refuse permissions to the very specific ones. Here is the full list:
- You don’t have a visa when you should have one;
- You don’t have a valid passport;
- You will not be able to support yourself and the dependents coming in with you;
- Your goal is to work, but you don’t have a permit;
- There is a deportation, exclusion, or similar order placed on you;
- You plan to go to the United Kingdom without having the legal right to enter there;
- You have certain medical conditions, including infectious diseases, drug addiction, and severe mental disturbances;
- Your presence in the country might be a threat to national security, or it might be against public policy.
In practice, the immigration officers are the ones making the decisions. And they don’t need solid proof that you are, for example, going to Ireland to work illegally. They just need a reason to suspect it, and they can deny entry. And none of the things that serve as proof of the true nature of your visit might not matter.
What Happens if You’re Denied Entry to Ireland?
What happens when you’re not allowed to enter Ireland is one of the major reasons why it’s a good idea to be as sure as humanly possible that the immigration officers will let you in. However, some reports show that even that might not help.
Ireland is notorious for placing immigration-related detainees into — prisons. That’s right, if you happen to head into Ireland and the immigration officer judges that your past criminal record precludes your entry into the country, you might spend a night or two or more in a prison. And that’s a problem that could have affected up to 4,000 people in 2017 alone.
This isn’t the only scenario possible, of course. You might also end up spending the night in a police station jail in Ireland. That’s where you’ll have to wait for the first flight back home that has a free seat. The best-case scenario is, of course, that there’s a flight on the same day and you can avoid spending a night in a jail or a prison for a minor visa issue.
Once home, you must decide whether trying to go back is an option and whether it’s worth the trouble. In some cases, like if the reason behind the denial was an invalid passport, you can just get a new one and try to go back to Ireland. But if you’ve been deported from the country or you’re unable to get a visa, it can be significantly more difficult, or even impossible, to enter Ireland.
Do I need a visa to travel to Ireland?
To find current information about visa requirements for foreign nationals, visit the Irish Naturalization and Immigration Services (INIS) website at http://www.inis.gov.ie/. The visa requirement depends on the traveler’s home country, but also the reason for visiting Ireland.
Do I need a different visa to travel to Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are two separate countries and require different visas. Even though there is no border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, travelers should not cross between the two countries if they don’t have the legal right to do so.