Canada turns away Americans and travelers from other countries at the border every single day due to criminal inadmissibility based on a criminal conviction on their record. There are a wide range of criminal offenses that can prevent your entry into Canada. Given the difference in laws between the United States and Canada, it is often very difficult to figure out how Canada will interpret your U.S. conviction. A conviction that prohibits entry into Canada may not prohibit entry to the U.S., and vice versa. You should also realize that border officers are not trained as lawyers. It is therefore certainly possible that they may misinterpret the law or misapply it to your situation.
We have a short video you can view which provides an overview of your options to enter Canada with a criminal record.
What if I Have only been Convicted of a Misdemeanor?
Many travelers make the mistaken assumption that, because their conviction was for an offense that is considered a misdemeanor in the United States, it will not cause any complications at the border. When considering whether a person is inadmissible to Canada based on a criminal conviction, only the crime’s equivalent statute under Canadian law is considered.
This can be a good thing for individuals who were convicted of a crime that is not considered to be a crime in Canada. For example, solicitation is not a crime in Canada, so a U.S. conviction for this offense will not prevent someone from entering Canada. On the other hand, some crimes that are considered misdemeanor offenses in the U.S. – such as driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) – are considered to be significantly more serious in Canada, and will very likely make you inadmissible to the country.
Comparing U.S and Canadian Law
To determine whether you may be inadmissible to Canada on the basis of a past conviction, you, or an attorney, must consider the equivalent Canadian statute for the crime you were convicted of in the United States. See our table that shows common U.S. crimes and their Canadian statute equivalents. The United States classifies crimes as either misdemeanors or felonies, and Canada uses a similar system of classification. Canadian crimes can be classified as:
- summary offenses, which are minor offenses roughly equivalent to misdemeanors;
- indictable offenses, which are more serious offenses and are roughly equivalent to felonies;
- hybrid offenses, which can be considered either summary or indictable based on the context.
If you were convicted of any of the offenses in the Canadian Equivalents Table which are considered to be hybrid or indictable offenses you will be considered criminally inadmissible to Canada.
Acquittals and Non-Convictions
As we explained on our general page about Prior Criminal Offenses, if you have an arrest record for a crime and were charged but never convicted, or if you were acquitted, you should technically be deemed admissible to Canada. However, this information will be on your criminal record, and the Canadian Border Services Agency will have access to this information when you try to cross the border. If the border agent is concerned about something on your criminal record, even if it is not a conviction, you may have a problem gaining entry into Canada.
Pardons and Expungements
Canada and the United States generally do not recognize each other’s pardon and expungement policies. This means that having an American offense expunged will not erase the conviction for the purposes of Canadian immigration or travelling to Canada. See our page on Prior Criminal Offenses for more discussion on this topic.
What do I do?
Fortunately, there are options available that enable you to enter Canada with a prior criminal conviction. See our page on Resolving Inadmissibility to Canada for detailed information on how you can gain the right to enter the country. Pursuing these options can be a long and difficult task. As a result, some people will be tempted to take a shortcut – lying. Bad idea. If a Canadian border official catches you misrepresenting yourself or lying about your criminal record, you are likely to be denied entry to Canada altogether and could also be banned from entering the country in the future on the basis of that misrepresentation.