Can you go to Canada if you have a DUI?

Many believe that having a DUI, especially if it is a first offense misdemeanor, does not affect your ability to travel to Canada. Unfortunately, getting into Canada with a DUI is not as simple as arriving at the border with a valid United States passport. 

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Can You Go to Canada If You Have a DUI?

If you were ever convicted for driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs and/or alcohol, you may be deemed “criminally inadmissible” and denied entry to Canada through car, boat or plane. However, this does not mean entering Canada with a DUI on your criminal record is impossible.

To overcome criminal inadmissibility, you must apply and receive permission from Canadian legal authorities to visit the country. 

Receiving Permission to Enter Canada

Receiving such permission can be highly complex legally and can easily overwhelm anyone without a lawyer present. You can gain legal entrance into Canada in the following ways:

Temporary Resident Permit

Perhaps you have a wedding or birthday celebration to attend in Canada. Either way, you can go to Canada if you have a DUI with a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP). A TRP allows a person to stay or enter Canada for a specified range of time if they have a valid reason to visit. 

This can be immensely useful for those who are not yet eligible for a more permanent solution. Additionally, a TRP can be valid for multiple visits for as long as three years (provided the individual’s application is compelling enough). A Canadian TRP can take a while to obtain, so it’s best to apply far in advance of your anticipated travel date.

Permanent Permission to Enter Canada

The second, more permanent route to take is called Criminal Rehabilitation (CR). This is where an individual petitions Canadian immigration officials to forgive their prior DUI/OWI conviction forever. To be eligible, five (5) years must have passed since the sentence was fully completed (i.e. fine payments, community service, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or substance abuse classes, probations, etc). 

In Canadian immigration authorities’ eyes, successfully completing these sanctions makes an individual “rehabilitated” and therefore, can enter Canada freely again. Unlike a TRP, a CR never needs to be renewed and provides lifetime access to traveling Canada. This is especially useful when an individual has family in Canada or travels to Canada often for business or pleasure. 

Prior to December 2018, if a traveler could prove it had been more than 10 years since the completion of a sentence, authorities could disregard an “old” DUI and grant that person entry into the country. That policy has since changed. A DUI is now considered a serious crime in Canada and therefore, no longer qualifies for automatic Deemed Rehabilitation after 10 years.

Nevertheless, you should always consult a Canadian immigration lawyer to determine your eligibility. 

Types of Criminal Offenses in Canada

Summary Offenses

Similar to misdemeanors, summary offenses are the least serious offenses in Canada. These include procuring or soliciting prostitution, unauthorized use of a bodily substance, and theft under $5,000. 


Indictable Offenses

In Canada, indictable offenses are the most serious offenses under their Criminal Code. Essentially, they are Canada’s version of a felony charge. Examples of these type of offenses include theft over $5,000, aggravated sexual assault and murder. 

Hybrid Offenses

A hybrid offense is a criminal offense in which the prosecutor has the option of charging the individual with a summary offense or an indictable offense. Some examples include simple assault, sexual assault, and operating while impaired (OWI) and causing bodily harm. 

Why is Canada Denying Entry to People with a DUI?

The Canadian border now has full access to the FBI criminal database. In fact, even a past acquittal may cause a US resident to be rejected at the Canadian border since the original DUI arrest will still be visible to border staff. Therefore, the visitor will need to prove his or her admissibility. 

If you have any criminal record at all; a bounced check, possession of a controlled substance, disorderly conduct, domestic violence, etc., you may not be admitted to Canada. Additionally, your DUI does not have to be alcohol related in order for border authorities to deny entry to you. 

What If I’m Not Driving?

Canadian immigration laws do not distinguish whether a person intends to drive while visiting or not. Even if you only plan on using RideShare apps (Uber, Lyft) or public transportation during your trip, a DUI could still forbid you from entering the country.

If you are attempting to enter the country by car, for example, just because you are a passenger in the vehicle does not mean border agents will forgive a DUI charge or conviction. 

How to Get Into Canada with a DUI

A DUI is a serious crime in Canada. However, you can go to Canada if you have a DUI by following these steps: 

  • Contact an experienced immigration attorney.
  • With the assistance of an attorney, apply for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) or Criminal Rehabilitation (CR). Make sure to apply well in advance of your intended travel date. 
  • Do not attempt to cross the border before receiving clearance.