Can I Go To Canada with a DUI?

In 2011 when I got a DUI, I was in one of my darkest depressions and made the absolute worst mistake of my life. As I look back on that time in my life, I realize that I was not in a good state, and I was making bad choices such as getting behind the wheel that night. As a self-proclaimed “good girl” through high school and even college, I was shocked to end up in the back of a cop car because I let myself make such a horrible choice.

Over the years, it’s been interesting to see that my posts on my DUI are still the #1 top traffic source for my blog. That’s not why I’m writing this, it’s just that before my DUI I admittedly looked down on people who drove over the limit and figured that “they” deserved whatever punishment “they” got. And then “they” was me. And I learned very quickly how harsh the laws are and how the punishment continues to pop up and haunt you no matter how much you want to get away from that one moment.

One of the lesser-known punishments of getting a DUI is that you’re inadmissible to Canada for about 10 years after you finish your probation (meaning that although I received my DUI in 2011, completed all programs and paid my fines, I didn’t actually end probation until late 2014 since it was three years post my sentencing.) Until 2024 I won’t be able to enter Canada without dealing with a very complex system first.

Although I openly admit my guilt (a concerned citizen called 911 on me while I was walking to my car talking to my boyfriend on the phone in a tispy fashion, which gave the cops the legal right to pull me over – and my BAC clocked in at .11 (.03 over the legal limit) — so I should not have been driving) it is challenging that, now much older/wiser/after completing probation and paying over $10,000 in fines and legal fees, still dealing with this moment that I acknowledge, regret, and try hard to forget outside of making a point to never, ever drink if I have my car with me.

Other than harsh “second DUI” penalties (which I don’t worry about because I won’t be getting a second DUI), the only continued punishment after you complete your probation is the lack of admissibility to Canada. Canadian citizens with one DUI on their record can enter the US, but US citizens with one DUI on their record cannot enter Canada. While I’ve dreamed

While I’ve dreamed of visiting Vancouver and Montreal, I decided it’s not in the cards for any of my upcoming vacations. I just hoped I would never have to go to Canada for work…

Now, there is a pressing reason that I need to go to Canada for my job, and I’m not sure what to do. I’ve read a variety of things online as the laws seem to keep changing – and even Canada realizes that turning away every person with a DUI is hurting their tourism industry (and hopefully they realize that every person with a DUI from 6 years ago is not a threat to their society.) But I cannot fly to Canada only to be turned away on a work trip. Nothing would be more humiliating. I’m trying to see how I can get out of this trip, but in the meantime also trying to figure out if there’s anyway I would be admitted. Again, the laws are so confusing and unclear – it’s hard to know what’s accurate. I think the latest is the following:

  • If you have been convicted of a DUI, you are “criminally inadmissible” to Canada.
  • Temporary Resident Permits may be granted to allow individuals to gain admission to Canada for a specific purpose. These cost $200 and only are valid for the visit.
  • Under some circumstances, you may also be offered a fee-exempt temporary resident permit for ONE visit to Canada under CIC’s new policy on criminal admissibility.
  • Travelers who require in-depth information regarding the process of applying for a waiver or other admissibility questions can reach the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) during regular business hours, Monday to Friday (08:00 – 16:00 local time, except holidays) by calling either (506) 636-5064 or (204) 983-3500.
  • You can apply for criminal rehabilitation 5 years after you finish your probation (so 2019 for me) or you can wait 10 years and enter Canada for free. The fee is either $200 or $1000 depending on the crime committed (I’m guessing misdomenors would be $200)
  • To apply for a temporary residence permit or rehabilitation, you’ll need to pay the fee and:
    • have two passport sized photos taken within the last 6 months
    • obtain an FBI police certificate / federal police clearance
    • obtain a state police certificate from all states you have resided in for the last 24 months
    • compile all court documents and certificates of disposition for any changes or convictions, as well as evidence showing when you completed sentences, including a record of payment of any fines.
    • get documentary evidence supporting your statements regarding your rehabilitation  – letters from professionals who participated in your rehabilitation, letters of employment, evidence of therapy our counseling, information about your family circumstances, et al.
    • write a detailed personal statement describing the circumstances leading to each arrest
    • write a personal statement describing the purpose of your trip to Canada
    • documentary evidence supporting your statements regarding the purpose of your trip to Canada (a letter from employer for example, or travel itineraries) – for TRP only

Or, I can just show up at the airport and hope they let me in, with or without a $200 fine for the “one-time TRP” pass that they now supposedly offer. That will be my “get into Canada free” pass used up for a 24-hour work trip, and I won’t be eligible to enter again until 2024 unless I go through all the steps above.

For my future reference, and your current reference – here is a quick guide to applying for rehabilitation:

  1. FBI Clearance can be requested here for $18 processing fee plus the cost of obtaining a set of fingerprints. (link)
  2. State police clearance also requires a set of fingerprints at least in CA (link)
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6 comments

  1. David says:

    I know a lawyer in Canada who may be able to help you although my situation is a bit different from yours. I got a DUI in San Mateo County; however I’m a dual American-Canadian citizen so I’m still able to cross the border. My status as a dual citizen takes precedence over the DUI so I can still freely cross the border (in either direction).

    However I got into trouble when it came time to renew my NEXUS card. NEXUS as you may know is a trusted traveler program permitting expedited clearance through customs when crossing the US-Canada border. It also includes Global Entry and TSA PreCheck as additional privileges. Both the Canadian and American authorities denied the renewal of my NEXUS card because, although I am still admissible to both countries as a dual citizen, due to my DUI I am apparently no longer seen as low risk enough to qualify for NEXUS.

    Earlier this year I got an expungement of my DUI in San Mateo County. I retained a Canadian lawyer who was able to get the Canadian authorities to recognize the expungement, reverse their earlier decision, and approve the NEXUS card. Unfortunately to actually renew my NEXUS card I would similarly need to file an appeal on the American side too, which involves additional hoops to jump through (and, of course, additional legal bills). I’m not sure whether it is really worth the trouble just for a NEXUS card. I may just apply for TSA PreCheck as a standalone program–my understanding is that TSA PreCheck as a standalone program has somewhat less stringent criminal background requirements than do NEXUS or Global Entry. I may find that TSA PreCheck is sufficient for my needs–even though I’m a dual citizen I’m not sure I cross the border enough to make it worth jumping through any more hoops to get NEXUS or Global Entry.

    However the point here is that my Canadian lawyer did get the Canadian authorities to recognize the expungement of my US DUI, so she might be able to help you as well. Her name if you wanted to contact her and get a quick consultation is Cyndee Todgham Cherniak. She is with the firm LexSage (appears to be a one person company) and her phone number is +1 416 307 4168.

    1. Joy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thank you. At this time I arranged a workaround where I am sending someone else to the Canadian project. In the future, I may contact your lawyer if I need to go to Canada. The whole one DUI no entry to Canada thing is really upsetting. I am fine with my penalty and payment of fines and such, but it’s been years since my first and only DUI and I’m seen as a massive criminal. I won’t even be driving in Canada but it doesn’t matter. I don’t think it would work though to get Canada to recognize expungement I just think at the border you pay their fee to get in each time you go if they like you that day.

  2. Jax says:

    Is there any way you could “asking for a friend” ask HR about it? For future reference? I had no idea that Canada had this rule and it seems really ridiculous. Maybe if you have 2 DUIs but definitely not for 1. I second talking to the Canadian Consulate if you ever are interested in going to Canada or have another work trip before 2024.

  3. NZ Muse says:

    Seriously?! That is so harsh and seems way too OTT. How stressful. Is there nobody you could ask directly about it (not sure how the North American system works – Canadian embassy? Internal Affairs?)

    1. Joy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I decided to send another team member for this assignment. It’s not worth the risk and embarrassment of being turned away at the border.

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