Can You Go to Canada With a Felony?

By Teo Spengler

Roads into Canada for those with a record

Can You Go to Canada With a Felony?

Canada's sophisticated cities, natural wonderlands and vast wilderness areas are within driving range of the United States. But if you have had a criminal conviction in the United States, getting across the border will be more difficult. Here are your options for gaining entry to Canada with a prior criminal record.

Trouble at the border

Time heals many wounds, but it doesn't erase the issue of a felony conviction when it comes to visiting Canada. Any foreign national (including U.S. citizens) with a felony conviction will have to jump through hoops to get into Canada even if the conviction is decades old.

Border agents have access to all U.S. criminal record databases as well as DMV records. That makes it very unlikely that you'll be passed through if you are a convicted felon. Even if you have a felony arrest on your record, the Canadian agents will probably stop you from entering.

Lesser criminal offenses

Canada doesn't limit its no-entry policy to felony offenses. If you have been convicted of any of a number of crimes you will be flagged at the border and prevented from entering. These include crimes that may not be treated as felonies in the U.S. system, like dangerous driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and possession of controlled substances. To determine whether your offense will keep you out of Canada, check the list in the Criminal Code of Canada.

Rehabilitation request

You have several options to try to overcome this inadmissible status. If your sentence for the conviction was some years back, you can apply for "rehabilitation." Essentially, Canada may let you in if you prove that your life is now stable and that you are not likely to be involved in other criminal activity.

If 10 years have passed since your conviction and punishment, you can ask to be "deemed rehabilitated." Bring all of your criminal status papers with you to the border and the agent will review them and decide if you qualify. Agents consider the type of crime, whether it would have been punished in Canada by a prison term of less than 10 years and the amount of time that has passed. There is no fee for this request, but you may be denied entry if you are not deemed rehabilitated.

Individual rehabilitation application

Alternatively, file an application for individual rehabilitation at a Canada visa office in the United States. Do this well in advance of your planned travel date, since it can take up to 12 months to process. You must show that at least five years have passed since the termination of any penalty for the conviction, including a prison term and probation. You also have to submit information showing that you are not likely to commit further crimes, and you must pay a fee. The fee ranges from $200 to $1,000 in Canadian dollars depending on how serious the crime was. Rehabilitation of either sort is valid for the rest of your life as long as you have no further criminal record.

Temporary resident permit

If you have a valid reason to visit Canada, like needing to attend a conference there, you can apply for a temporary resident permit. This document gives a visitor with a criminal record the right to enter Canada for a limited amount of time. Canadian immigration agents determine whether your need to enter Canada outweighs any risks to Canadian society. Apply for a TRP at a visa office in the United States. If you get a TRP, it will be valid only for the amount of time necessary for you to conduct the activity that brings you to Canada.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.