Can you visit Canada with a DUI?

Matt Hendler
Published: August 8, 2021

While Canada is an open country, it does have strict rules that it enforces at its borders. You can be considered inadmissible to Canada based on a criminal conviction. Even a single driving under the influence can lead to you being denied entry to Canada.

This common situation arises as a result of Canada’s strict laws on driving under the influence (DUI). Canada strengthened these laws in 2018 when it legalized marijuana. The maximum time in prison for a DUI doubled, from five years to ten years. The goal was to stop Canadian citizens from driving impaired. DUI applies not only to alcohol but also cannabis or any other substance known to intoxicate.

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All travelers coming to Canada from the U.S. must show a U.S. passport or other U.S. travel document to an immigration officer. Your American passport has a direct link to an FBI background record. This report can feature recent or past DUIs. Even if the driving under the influence conviction is from many years ago, it can still show on this criminal record and create issues for you when trying to enter Canada.

If you are a U.S. tourist with a criminal record, you are strongly encouraged to plan in advance, to avoid any surprises at the Canadian border. Speaking with a Canadian immigration law firm about your status and options for entry is always a helpful option.

How do I visit Canada with a DUI?

The Canadian government offer several options for overcoming inadmissibility to a traveler with a past DUI:

Temporary Resident Permit (TRP)

If it has been less than five years since the completion of the DUI sentence, you must apply for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) in order to enter Canada. The TRP is a temporary waiver of inadmissibility that can allow someone who would typically be inadmissible to Canada to enter the country. If approved, the TRP may be valid for up to three years.

In order to be granted a TRP, you must have a strong reason for coming to Canada. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) must make sure the applicant is not a threat to Canadian society. The applicant should also show how their visit will benefit Canada or Canadians. Because processing can be subjective, it is important for people to submit a well-prepared and compelling TRP application package.

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Criminal Rehabilitation

If it has been more than five years, but less than 10 years since completion of a sentence, you may be eligible to apply for criminal rehabilitation. If the application is approved, the applicant will have a clean slate and be eligible to enter Canada. There will no longer be any obstacles relating to the previous conviction. This means that the traveler will be able to enter and leave Canada provided that they do not commit another offence.

If it has been 10 years or more since completion of a DUI sentence, an inadmissible person could be deemed rehabilitated simply as a result of the passage of time. This path would also allow them to Canada. This solution is only possible in cases where someone has a single, non-serious conviction on his or her record. If you have more than one conviction, you must apply for criminal rehabilitation to clear your criminal record to enter Canada without issue.

Legal Opinion Letter

If you are currently facing a charge of DUI with no prior criminal history, you should not be considered inadmissible to Canada. Canadian immigration officers have discretion in these situations, weighing the benefits and risks of allowing entry. Canadian law, not U.S. law, applies when you are attempting to enter Canada. A Legal Opinion Letter from a Canadian immigration lawyer can be helpful in the event you are looking to enter Canada with a pending charge. The lawyer can explain any important facts in the pending case, and explain why you should not be considered inadmissible.

Canada’s rules for foreigners with criminality issues are complex, and tough. The security of the country and its citizens is always a priority, especially at Canadian borders. A thorough knowledge and understanding of criminality issues, and how they apply to you, can be the difference between entering Canada and being denied at a border.

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