Can You Go to Canada with a DUI Conviction in the US?

Updated on October 25, 2016- With the recent DUII arrests of Timbers players Jake Gleeson and Liam Ridgewell, many fans are wondering how this will affect their ability to travel to away matches against the Whitecaps, Impact, and Toronto FC. This post will hopefully answer those questions.

People often ask: Does a drunk driving conviction mean I can’t travel to Canada?

A DUII conviction or diversion on your record makes you inadmissible to Canada, because the Canadian equivalent of a DUII is an indictable offense in Canada. If you have a DUII in your past, don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you can never visit Canada; there are several ways you may still be able to gain entry.

Today, I’ll answer some of the most important questions you may have about getting into Canada with a DUII on your record.

Photo:  David Herrera

What if My DUII Was Dismissed?

This is an important question, and the answer is: it depends.

An outright dismissal without a change of plea will not be held against you. If you have paperwork showing that your DUII charge was dismissed, I advise you to bring that paperwork with you. Just keep in mind that, ultimately, it’s up to the Canadian border control officer to decide whether to let you in.

Unfortunately, if your charge was dismissed after you completed a DUII diversion program, you will likely still be refused entry. If that sounds like you, keep reading to learn about your other options.

How Can I “Undo” My Inadmissibility?

There are two ways:

1. Temporary Resident Permit

  • Cost: $200
  • If it has been less than 5 years since the end of your sentence, a temporary resident permit is your best option.

A temporary resident permit is a one-time permit, so it’s only good for one trip into Canada. Once you leave, you will need to apply for another permit before entering Canada again. To get a temporary resident permit, you’ll need to provide a reason for visiting Canada and demonstrate that your visit is justified. After you’ve submitted your application, the wait time can be a few weeks or a few months.

How to Apply: It is possible to apply at the border; however, your chance of success is much higher if you apply at the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles or New York. The Canadian Government's website has instructions for applying here.

2. Rehabilitation

  • Cost: up to $1000
  • You can only apply for rehabilitation if it has been more than 5 years since the end of your sentence (including payment of fines, community service, driving courses, probations, and any other conditions).

Rehabilitation is more expensive and takes longer, but if your application is successful, your inadmissibility will be permanently removed. You won’t have to apply each time you want to enter Canada the way you would with a temporary resident permit. The wait time for rehabilitation can be several months.

How to Apply: You can only apply through the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles or New York. You’ll find application instructions here.

Should I Apply for Both Rehabilitation and a Temporary Resident Permit?

If you are eligible for both, it’s a good idea to apply for both (for example, if more than 5 years have passed and you have a specific reason for entering Canada).

This is a good idea because, while both processes can take a while, rehabilitation usually takes longer. Either way, your best bet is to apply as early as possible -- at least a few months before your trip.

What Mistakes Should I Avoid?

The following are a few things you shouldn’t do:

  1. Don’t lie on your application. If Canadian officers find out, you hurt your chances of ever entering Canada in the future. In fact, in extreme situations, you may be banned for life on the spot.
  2. Don’t try to cross again right after you’ve been turned away. When someone is denied admission to Canada, that person’s name goes into a database that all officers see. Trying to enter again hurts your chances and makes it look like you’re trying to evade the system.
  3. Don’t enter as a passenger without paperwork. The driver and other passengers in the car could be turned away or face criminal charges if they knew that you were inadmissible at the time.

What if I Don’t Plan to Drive in Canada?

If you have a DUII conviction or diversion on your record, you can expect to be refused entry to Canada even if you’re crossing the border as a passenger and have no plans to drive in Canada.

When you have a DUII conviction in the United States, you’re not allowed to drive a car until a certain amount of time has passed. So why can’t you visit Canada as long as you don’t drive? Because Canada’s immigration policies are simply based on the seriousness of the offence under Canada’s criminal code, specifically whether the crime is the equivalent of an indictable offence in Canada. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you don’t intend to drive.

Your best bet is to apply for a temporary resident permit or rehabilitation.

What if My DUII Didn’t Involve Alcohol or Driving?

You should know that these rules apply to all DUII offenses, not just those related to driving or cars. 

In Oregon, DUII stands for “Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants.” That refers to any intoxicant and any motor vehicle. For example, you may be denied entry to Canada for:

  • Driving under the influence of marijuana, illegal drugs, prescription pills, or other substances
  • Bicycling under the influence of intoxicants
  • Driving a boat while under the influence of intoxicants

Is There Anything I Can Do to Improve My Chances?

The best way to maximize your chances of getting into Canada is to work with an attorney who is experienced in DUII cases. I specialize in helping Oregon residents who have been accused or convicted of DUII understand their rights.

Call my office today at (503) 498-6985 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.