Flying to Canada with a DUI
Every year millions of Americans and Canadians transit back and forth between the U.S. and Canada. Much of this traffic takes place at land borders, but air travel comprises a large percentage of visitations between the two countries. This is in a large part determined by the vast areas of the U.S. and Canada. At times, air travel is the only feasible option.
Upon arrival at an international Canadian airport, you will be required to transit through customs. Whether it is to transition to a connecting flight to another destination or you intend on staying in Canada, you are essentially crossing the border. This is often referred to as the port of entry. When you arrive at a Canadian port of entry you will be required to produce documents verifying your identity and answer any questions that the officer may have, just like at a land border. If you have a DUI arrest or conviction on record, you run the risk of being denied entry to Canada. Even though a DUI is not considered to be a serious criminality, it is interpreted under Canadian Law as a criminal inadmissibility.
According to the Canadian Criminal Code, every one who commits an impaired driving offense is guilty of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction. An indictment would be similar to a felony in the U.S. and is more serious that a summary conviction. The problem is, under Section 36 (3) (a) of the Immigration & Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), it states: "an offence that may be prosecuted either summarily or by way of indictment is deemed to be an indictable offence, even if it has been prosecuted summarily." Basically, even if you were charged with a relatively minor DUI in the U.S., under the Canadian system it could still be treated as an indictable offense. If you have a DUI on record, it is up to the discretion of your attending officer if you will be allowed to enter Canada.
Requirement to Answer Truthfully
If you arrive at airport customs and the officer asks: "Do you have a criminal record?" you are obligated by law to answer truthfully. If you attempt to conceal your DUI and the officer screens you, he or she can quite easily discover that you have an arrest or conviction on record. At this point the consequences can be quite severe, as you have essentially misrepresented yourself to an immigration officer. At this point you may be detained and questioned further, barred from entering Canada for an extended period of time, and sent back to the U.S. Because you have arrived at an international airport, you will be sent back on the next available flight at your own expense.
The other scenario is that the officer doesn't ask you about your criminal record. If you do not disclose your DUI charge to the officer and he or she doesn't screen you, you might be able to successfully enter Canada. The problem is a lie of omission is still misrepresentation. The next time you travel to Canada, if the officer screens you and discovers that you previously entered the country with a DUI charge on record, the same consequences apply: a denial of entry and possible ban from entering in the future.
How Can I Travel to Canada with a DUI?
If you have booked or are planning to book a flight to Canada, you will need to be prepared to overcome your criminal inadmissibility before getting on the plane. It is still possible to travel to Canada, but you are legally required to ask for "special permission" first. There are two common avenues that you could choose to pursue:
Temporary Resident Permit (TRP)
This is the most common way to overcome a DUI inadmissibility for those who have upcoming travel plans to Canada. A Temporary Resident Permit (TRP), if granted, allows you multiple entries into Canada until it expires. The issued expiration date varies from one case to the next. It could be as little as 1 day or as much as 3 years depending on the circumstances of your DUI and the strength of your application. The advantage of applying for a TRP is that it can be processed relatively quickly and allow you to continue with your trip. If you do receive a TRP, remember, you will be required to show it to the officer every time you enter Canada, whether at a land border or at an international airport.
If you are planning a one-time trip to Canada, it is possible to apply at the port of entry. Quite often if your application is well prepared and you have a valid reason for entering the country, the officer will grant you a TRP on the spot and you can continue on your way. The risk here is that if your application is not accepted, you will be denied entry and sent home on the next flight. It could work out to be an expensive risk. Regardless, sometimes travelers have no choice but to apply this way if time is limited.
If you are planning to visit Canada frequently or over an extended period of time, or if you have some time left before your trip, you have the option of submitting a TRP application at a Canadian Consulate. The advantage here is that you can receive a valid TRP before you travel, thus eliminating the stress associated with getting one at the border or port of entry and facing rejection. Furthermore, TRP applications submitted beforehand at a Canadian Consulate have a higher likelihood of being issued for longer than 1 year (sometimes up to 3 years).
The most important part of assembling a strong TRP application is the documentation that you provide. Some things that are required for a TRP application are:
F.B.I. clearance check
State clearance check (for any states you have lived in for over 6 months since the age of 18)
Documents that show you are complying with or completed the conditions of your sentencing
A personal statement about your DUI offense, why you regret it, and how you have changed
Letters of reference from friends, family, or professional ties
This is by no means an exhaustive list of documents, but it does illustrate that you will need to convince the officer that you are not a threat to Canada. The complexity of a TRP application varies according to individual circumstances.
If 5 years have passed since the completion of your DUI sentencing, you may have the option of applying for Criminal Rehabilitation. The documentation required for this type of application is similar to the Temporary Resident Permit list of documents above. The disadvantage of applying for Criminal Rehabilitation is that it takes a while to process. The application must be submitted at a Canadian Consulate and you make not receive a decision for up to a year or more, depending on the circumstances. This is why many people apply for both a TRP and Criminal Rehabilitation simultaneously. That way they can get the TRP quickly and wait for the Criminal Rehabilitation to come through.
If your Criminal Rehabilitation is granted, the advantage is that your need for special permission to enter Canada is gone, permanently. This means that you can fly to Canada just like any other U.S. citizen and not have to present special documentation like a TRP to get in. If you are planning to fly to or cross the border into Canada on a regular basis, it is in your best interests to pursue Criminal Rehabilitation if possible.
What if I'm not Driving in Canada?
This is a valid question. If you are flying into Canada and have no plans to operate a motor vehicle at any point during your stay, does a DUI really matter. Unfortunately, this is not a consideration and there is no legislation in place for this sort of scenario. Regardless of whether you will drive in Canada or not, you are still criminally inadmissible and will need to take steps to receive special permission.
Whatever option you decide to pursue, consider getting assistance from our team of Canadian immigration lawyers and consultants. Whether it be preparing a complete application, providing a consultation, or writing a legal letter to assist you with your entry to Canada, we are ready to help you. Let our experience and knowledge work for you!