Europe is in general a tolerant region to travel to. Having a minor past criminal record will in most cases not cause travelers to Spain any problems. Similarly to other European Union member states, Spanish officials are concerned with crimes committed within the borders of their country or in other EU countries, rather than outside of the EU.
As a general rule, criminal record checks are not carried out at the Spanish border for foreign travelers. That means that most visitors to Spain are not asked questions about their past criminal convictions. In addition, travelers are not required to fill out any paperwork to present to border control officials upon entry.
Therefore, visiting Spain for a short trip that does not require a visa is a non-issue when a minor criminal offense has been committed outside of the European Union. However, it is important to keep in mind that lying to a border official gives immediate grounds for refusing to enter the country.
How Is Criminal History Within EU Detected?
All EU countries, including Spain, are connected to the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). ECRIS is a shared database through which member countries exchange information about criminal convictions within the European Union.
The purpose of having ECRIS in place in addition to the local security is twofold. First of all, it allows local security forces easy access to the full record of any previous convictions across the European Union. Secondly, it makes it impossible to escape convictions by moving to a different EU country.
Criminal Records on Convicted Third Country Nationals
In April 2019 the European Commission gave its final approval on a proposal to create a European Criminal Records Information System on convicted third-country nationals (ECRIS-TCN), including stateless travelers. The aim of this system is to improve the exchange of criminal records information on convicted non-EU citizens and to reinforce fight against crime and terrorism.
The ECRIS-TCN system will be managed by the eu-LISA agency. The same agency will manage the ETIAS system together with other large-scale information systems in the area of freedom, security and justice.
ETIAS Visa Waiver and Traveling to Spain with a Criminal Record
The ETIAS Visa Waiver will launch in late 2022. It will become a requirement for many non-EU nationals who can currently enter any of the 26 Schengen member states without a travel authorization or a visa. Once the ETIAS authorization system is implemented, travelers to Spain will be required to complete an online ETIAS application for stays up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
In addition to personal and passport details, some of the ETIAS program requirements will include answering a number of questions pertaining to security matters. Although these questions are yet to be finalized, the application will probably include questions regarding the criminal history of the applicant. All applicants will be screened by eU-LISA, the department of the EU responsible for criminal data management.
Remember: it is essential to tell the truth about any EU criminal record when applying for an ETIAS visa waiver.
It is worth keeping in mind that the system is geared primarily toward identifying terrorist threats. The EU has made it clear that only travelers responsible for a serious crime or acts of terrorism will be denied an ETIAS Visa Waiver. Therefore, non-EU nationals who wish to visit Spain with a criminal record for a minor offense are unlikely to face any issues with their application and should be able to get an ETIAS travel authorization approved.
Can I Travel to Spain with a Serious Criminal Record?
Travelers with serious criminal offenses may face problems entering Spain even for short stays. People who have served more than 3 years of jail time, or have been convicted of human trafficking or drug offenses with more than 2 years of jail time, may be refused entry.
Note that the final decision on entry to Spain is often in the hands of the border control official, so it is essential to be respectful and truthful when answering any questions about the criminal past.