In this article, we highlight the existence and expansion of so-called ‘collateral consequences’ (CCs) of criminal records in Europe to challenge the prevalent view that these are features of the claimed ‘American exceptionalism’ within the penal field. First, we consider how CCs have been widely presented as a quintessential example of American penal exceptionalism within extant scholarship before problematising the adoption of such a framework from a European perspective. Second, we demystify the issue of CCs within Europe by highlighting the deleterious effects which CCs have on the lives of European people with a criminal record. Third, we consider precisely what can be regarded as ‘exceptional’ about CCs in the United States as compared to Europe by analysing key areas of possible differentiation. We conclude by cautioning against the view that European penality is necessarily – and always homogeneously and consistently – ‘progressive’ in relation to its treatment of criminal records and criminal record subjects. We also suggest that far greater attention and vigilance is required from criminologists and criminal justice scholars regarding the expansion and operation of CCs in Europe.