“Can I go to Canada if I have a DUI?”
We get this question from time to time, sometimes from a person who is very surprised to find out that tomorrow’s trip to the border isn’t going to go so well.
Generally, if you have been convicted of a criminal offence (no matter how minor), you can be prevented from entering Canada. The only way around this is to file for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) or, if the conviction happened more than 5 years ago, apply to be considered rehabilitated. You can also be “deemed rehabilitated” if more than 10 years have elapsed since your conviction, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Canada And DUI Convictions
A TRP will allow you to enter for one visit, or an otherwise limited amount of time. Rehabilitation is more permanent. While it does not remove the offence from your record, it does remove the problem it would cause at the border.
Though criminal offences vary in severity, all convictions carry the same immigration baggage: they get you stopped at the border and, in most cases, cause you to be turned away. Drunk driving convictions are no exception. And while you can file for a permit, note that a criminal record is severely limiting and the Canadian government doesn’t have to give you a permit just because you file for it.
Do Not Tell A Lie At The Border
Since drunk driving cases can cause you to be considered “criminally inadmissible” to Canada, some people may lie to border guards that they have never had a criminal conviction. This is a serious mistake.
Anyone entering Canada has a legal obligation to answer any questions truthfully. Border guards on both sides of the Canadian/US border share criminal databases. If someone lies about a past criminal conviction when trying to enter Canada, they can be barred from Canada for 5 years.
Temporary Resident Permits and Rehabilitation
Although a DUI conviction is considered a minor offence in some US states, Canada takes a more hard line.
As I mentioned, Canada requires people with a DUI on their record to have a Temporary Resident Permit to enter Canada. This is for individual trips. If you were convicted over 10 years ago (including probation, and any other conditions imposed) Canadian border officials may deem you rehabilitated, provided you can prove that you do not have any further convictions of any kind. However, I strongly recommend against going to the border in hopes of being found “rehabilitated” of an old criminal offence.
You can, though, be proactive and apply for a rehabilitation certificate. You are able to do this if it has been at least 5 years since you completed all sentences and probation. Obtaining a rehabilitation certificate does not happen overnight. You must obtain it from a Canadian consulate by providing:
- evidence for the conviction
- proof of a stable lifestyle
- residency and employment details
- letters of reference about your good character
The process takes many months, so individuals are encouraged to apply as soon as possible if they intend to travel to Canada in the next year.
Exceptions To The DUI Rule
In some cases, depending on the reason for the criminal conviction as well as the urgency for the visit to Canada, border officials have the authority to issue a one-time permit to allow entry, provided they have all the information mentioned above to make the decision.
There is also a one-time exception to the “one and done” conviction rule for DUIs, which was established due to the large number of American tourists who were having trouble coming to Canada on fishing and hunting trips. This was brought into effect a few years ago. From the government’s website:
Normally, if you have been convicted of an offence, such as mischief or driving under the influence, you cannot enter Canada without a permit that has a processing fee of C$200.
However, as of March 1, 2012, you may be able to get a temporary resident permit for one visit without having to pay the C$200 processing fee if you:
have served no jail time, and
have committed no other acts that would prevent you from entering Canada.
All well and good, but I strongly recommend against just “showing up” at the border when you have a criminal conviction. Talk to a lawyer or professional immigration consultant first.
Klaudios Mustakas is a retired former Manager of Enforcement Operations with the Canada Border Services Agency. He travels extensively in the Middle East to counsel individuals on immigration issues.