Many people learn the hard way that travel to Canada with a criminal record can be very difficult. Many people have actually arrived at Canada with a criminal record and been turned away because of their record. As a California licensed attorney, I have helped hundreds of people repair their criminal records so they can travel to Canada. I want to address what types of records will prevent you from traveling to Canada and how you can fix it. Even though I am most familiar with how California law functions, the key solutions are very similar no matter what part of the United States your criminal record is from.
I am a California-licensed attorney. This article is meant to be a free educational source to assist you to travel and live your adventures. I want to help you learn how to travel to Canada with a criminal record. It should not be construed as legal advice. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I have helped numerous people and I am very familiar with most of the reputable record clearing law firms in the United States.
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How do foreign countries, like Canada, get your Criminal Record?
The United States believes very strongly in sharing data in order to prevent crime. As parts of various treaties and agreements, some other countries are able to see parts of your criminal history record. When they see these records, it is up to the country how they will respond.
Canada has access to the nationwide criminal history database in the United States maintained by the NCIC, short for the National Crime Information Center. This database shows almost everything on your criminal history record that the FBI believes to be criminal. This means that everything should be included on the report except minor traffic offenses like speeding.
Travel to Canada with a criminal record can be frustrating. Countries like Canada have a list of offenses which disqualify you from entering Canada if you are not a Canadian citizen, meaning that if they see one of these cases on your NCIC record you may not be able to travel to Canada and you could be turned away at the border.
What types of criminal records will stop you from traveling to Canada?
Even though Canadian immigration officials can technically turn you away for any type of criminal activity, minor offenses under Canadian law are unlikely to result in denial of entry. The most common type of record that surprises people at the Canadian border is any driving under the influence case, whether it is a DUI or DWI. Canada’s rule is actually very broad and prohibits anyone from entering the country who has a serious offense. Serious offenses include all offenses, that if they occurred in Canada, could be punished by over 10 years in jail. Offenses such as assault and dealing drugs are examples of crimes in Canada which would fall under this exclusion.
Canada may also count offenses which are dismissed after a guilty plea and a deferred adjudication period as offenses which make you ineligible for entry.
How to Travel To Canada With a Criminal Record
There are two ways to resolve your travel restriction based on your criminal history record. The first is to petition to the Canadian government to waive the restriction. This can be challenging and would require that you consult with a Canadian immigration attorney. The better option is to expunge your criminal record in the United States.
You always have to expunge your record in the place where it happened. For example, if your case is in Texas you would have to clear your record in Texas. Even if you move to California, California can not clear it.
The type of record clearing which has worked for travel to Canada is anything that dismisses the conviction, sets aside the plea, or expunges the criminal record. Expungement is not available in every state. The best way to find out what is available is to contact an experienced attorney who practices record clearing law in the state where your record originated.
State Specific Services to Clear Your Record:
While I am not familiar with all 50 states, here are brief summaries for the States I am familiar with. Generally, these expungement services allow you to travel to Canada with a criminal record.
Expungement under California Penal Code section 1203.4 is the main avenue to clear your record so that you can travel to Canada with a criminal record. Penal Code 1203.4 dismisses your case and sets aside your guilty plea for most purposes and most criminal records are eligible as long as you have completed your sentence, did not go to prison, and as long as your case is not on the list of ineligible serious cases. DUIs are eligible for this type of expungement, making California expungements a great way to clear your record so you can travel to Canada. To see if you are eligible, you can take a free eligibility test here.
Arizona has a set aside process under Arizona Revised Statutes 13-907. An Arizona set aside dismisses the conviction and sets aside the guilty plea. Certainly, this is very similar to a California expungement. It also has allowed many people to travel to Canada successfully, even after a DUI.
Washington allows for a record to be vacated under Washington Revised Code section 9.96.060. This makes it no longer a conviction, but you only can have one case on your record. Unfortunately, you cannot vacate a DUI case.
In Oregon, you can apply to a Court to set aside a criminal convictions under Oregon Revised Statutes section 137.225 and reduce certain felonies to misdemeanors. Unfortunately, Oregon does not allow for the set aside of DUI convictions.
In Utah, a person can apply to expunge and reduce cases on his or her criminal record (Utah Annotated Code section 77-40-105). However, there a limits on the number of each type of case that can be expunged. You can even expunge a felony from your record. Utah even allows for the expungement of misdemeanor DUI convictions after 10 years. You will need to check with an attorney because there are limits on the number of cases you can expunge. With multiple cases, you may need to reduce some to a lower level to make your DUI eligible.
Nevada allows for criminal convictions to be sealed from your record under Nevada Revised Statutes sections 179.245 and 179.255. This sealing is very similar to an expungement in that the record cannot be seen for most purposes. Luckily, Nevada allows for certain types of DUI cases to be sealed from your record.
You can seal a Texas record with an order of nondisclosure under Texas Government Code sections 411.0731 and 411.0735. Simple DUIs are eligible for a nondisclosure after 5 years from completion of your sentence.
You may be eligible for a Canadian immigration application
I am not a Canadian attorney so I will keep this section brief. In short, if you are unable to clear your criminal record, you can apply to the Canadian government to bypass the travel restriction. You will probably want to hire a Canadian attorney for assistance.
If your offense was between 1-5 years ago, you may be able to bypass the Canada travel restriction by applying for a Temporary Resident Permit, or TRP. Generally, you need a good reason to visit Canada to be able to obtain a TRP, and people have been able to obtain them after having a DUI when they need to visit Canada for work.
Likewise, if your offense occurred between 5-10 years ago, you may be able to travel to Canada with a criminal record by applying for a “Criminal Rehabilitation.” Criminal Rehabilitation is more challenging to get so applying for TRP simultaneously is a good idea.
Alternatively, if your case was non serious (less than 10 years possible jail sentence), you are deemed rehabilitated at the 10 year mark. This means that you would be able to enter Canada freely at this point. Of course, you should consult with a Canadian attorney to verify it will work before you travel. The laws are complex and there is not much worse than arriving in Canada only to be turned away.
Wishing you all happy travels!
I recently wrote a post about 4 Things To Know About Obtaining Global Entry. Check that article out here.
Disclaimers: I am not your attorney unless you hire me or my firm and you sign a contract for services. This information is educational and not legal advice. I do not intend for this article to be an advertisement. However, I have helped clear California criminal records so people can travel to Canada with a criminal record. I am happy to provide referrals to reputable firms to assist you in any states where I know experienced attorneys. Any referrals I give would not benefit me financially in any way. You should always consult with a Canadian attorney to make clearing your record will allow you to travel to Canada.