Crossing the Canadian border with a DWI, DUI or Other Drunk Driving Offense
An offense of driving under the influence will not cause any problems for Canadians entering the United States.
the biggest surprise for most Americans is that they may be turned away at the Canadian border if they have any type of alcohol related offense.
- It does not matter if you are arriving as a passenger in another person’s car.
- It does not matter if you have no intention of driving in Canada at all. The Washington State Ferry reports that during peak tourist season the Canadian border patrol in Victoria turns back 4 to 5 passengers a week for DUI / DWI offenses.
- It does not matter if your offense was classified as a misdemeanor or a felony.
- There are no exceptions for fans, guests, officials, or anyone else entering Canada for special events. Former U.S. President G.W. Bush had to get a special waiver to enter Canada because of his 1976 drunken-driving offense in Maine.
“But my Friend Got Across …”
You may hear stories of people who were allowed to cross the border even though they had a drunk driving offense. Others will say that they were allowed to into the country 2 or 3 times but were then stopped the next time they tried to cross. Why? Because border officers have complete discretion to allow, or deny, entry to anybody. You may get across, or you may be stopped. You may get pulled in for interrogation, and then allowed to cross, or you may be sent back. The simple fact is – Canada considers drunk driving to be a serious offense.
As a general rule, it appears that the older your conviction, the better the chance that you have to being allowed to enter Canada. Border officers seem to be pretty strict if your offense was less than 5 years ago. They seem to be much more lenient when convictions are more than 5 years old.
Should I lie?
Routine screening upon entry into Canada includes the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” Think carefully. Even if you are not sure whether your conviction will show up on their screens, you need to realize that lying (forgetting) about a conviction could get you barred from entry into Canada for many years.
Entering Canada with a Temporary Resident Permit
There are 2 ways to obtain permission to enter Canada despite having a DUI or DWI on your record.
Your first option is to file for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) at a Canadian visa office or when you arrive at the border. This is how American athletes get into the country despite DUI’s or other convictions. About 10,000 TRP’s are granted every year and many are to people with less than stellar pasts.
The filing fee for a TRP is around $200. A Canada Customs and Immigration officer will review the TRP and decide if you will be allowed to enter the country. The permit is then valid for up to one year.
The TRP can take up to 6 months for processing and a personal interview may be required. In theory, you can just head out on your trip and file for the TRP when you reach the border. However, given that the Canadian Customs and Immigration official has complete discretion as to whether to approve your deny your application you may be much better off filing it in advance.
Canadian Customs and Immigration will consider the following factors to decide whether to approve your application:
- The nature of conviction
- The date of the last conviction
- What type of sentence you were given
- Your reason for the travel to Canada
IMPORTANT UPDATE 3/1/12: Canada has enacted a temporary policy OB 389 which may allow some U.S. travelers into the country via a TRP despite having a criminal conviction on their record. See our post “New Canada Criminal Record Policy” for updated information.
Obtaining a Rehabilitation Document to Enter Canada
Your second option is to prove to Canada that you have been rehabilitated. If you are deemed to be rehabilitated, you will be granted lifetime access into Canada despite the offenses. A rehabilitation document does not need to be renewed. The process is somewhat complicated so you may want to have it handled by an experienced immigration lawyer.
Your offense must be at least 5 years old to apply for rehabilitation. To obtain this approval you will file the Canadian rehabilitation forms with the nearest Canadian visa office. Fees range from $200 to $1,000 depending on your offense.
You should expect that it will take at least 6 -12 months obtain this waiver so apply well before your intended Canadian border crossing.