Visiting Canada with a Criminal Record

Last updated: 20 January 2022

how to visit canada with a criminal record

If you are a foreign national with a criminal record that wants to visit Canada, you risk being denied entry by Canadian border services agents upon arrival. Fortunately, a criminal conviction from your past does not mean that you will never be able to come to Canada. 

The Cohen Immigration Law Firm can assist in your efforts to enter Canada. Simply complete our contact form and one of our experts will reach out to schedule a free consultation with you. 

Table of Contents

Reasons for Being Inadmissible

The most frequent reasons foreign nationals are deemed inadmissible to Canada include:

  • Possessing a criminal record

  • Being diagnosed with a contagious disease

  • Violating the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA)

  • Being deemed a security risk

  • Misrepresenting information in order to gain entry to Canada, or to maintain immigration status

  • Being unable to demonstrate that you can financially support yourself and your family during your time in Canada

As a general rule, any act that is an offence in the country in which it is performed, as well as an offence in Canada, has the potential to render an individual criminally inadmissible to Canada.

The following is a rundown of the principal offences for which most travelers may be denied entry. If you have been convicted of any of the offences listed below, the temporary resident permit (TRP) and criminal rehabilitation applications can serve as solutions.

United States Driving Offences Involving Alcohol or Drugs

In terms of inadmissibility, the most frequent U.S offences are those pertaining to driving or otherwise operating a vehicle (car, motorcycle, boat, etc.) while intoxicated. Such offences have different designations, depending on the circumstances of the infraction and where the offence was committed.

In the United States, these offences include:

  • DUI (driving under the influence)

  • DWI (driving while impaired/intoxicated)

  • DWAI (driving while ability impaired)

  • DWUI (driving while under the influence)

  • OWI (operating while intoxicated)

  • OUI (operating under the influence)

  • OMVI (operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated)

Learn more about entering Canada with a DUI.

Reckless Driving

Any serious driving violation has the potential of hindering an individual’s ability to legally enter the country, regardless of whether the individual in question will be driving in Canada. This includes convictions for dangerous or reckless driving.

Theft & Fraud

Fraud is a general category of offences that includes any violation committed with the intent of depriving another party of anything of which they are the rightful owner. This includes the unlawful use of credit cards or knowingly using bad cheques.

For theft cases, the nature of the theft and the amount stolen will affect how the offence will be considered by Canadian immigration authorities. For example, theft under $5,000 is considered a non-serious criminality, while theft over this amount is considered “serious criminality.”

Any theft is performed with the aid of a weapon, violence, or the threat of violence can be aggravating factors in determining the seriousness of an infraction.


Assault can refer to several different forms of threats and/or physical altercations between individuals. These can range from menacing words or gestures to spontaneous bar fights to passionate crimes of violence carried out with premeditation and intent.

There are certain mitigating or aggravating factors that affect the seriousness of the assault, mostly pertaining to whether or not a weapon was employed, and whether or not bodily harm was inflicted. If a weapon was used and/or injury to the victim resulted from the assault, then this offence would be considered “serious criminality.”

Both serious assault (using a weapon and/or inflicting bodily harm) and non-serious assault (no weapon and no bodily harm) result in inadmissibility to Canada.

Drug Offences

Any charge relating to drug trafficking (including production, possession, purchase, consumption, or distribution of drugs) can lead to a finding of inadmissibility. The nature and context of the offence will impact both its level of seriousness and the likelihood of an individual being found inadmissible.

What an individual must do in order to overcome inadmissibility and gain entry will depend on the classification of the offence and the length of time that has elapsed since the completion of the sentence. The associated application processing fees may also vary based on the offence classification.

Sentences can consist of many possible sanctions - sometimes used in combination - a judge might impose to punish the commission of an offence.

These can include:

  • Jail time

  • Probation

  • Fines

  • Licence suspension

  • Deportation

Note: When more than one such measure is imposed, it is the date of completion of the final one that is considered for the purposes of Canadian inadmissibility.

Who is Affected by Inadmissibility to Canada?

Inadmissibility to Canada may affect a broad range of people who desire to enter Canada as a visitor or permanently for a valid reason. However, individuals in certain situations may be particularly affected from a personal and/or professional point of view, including:

Ways to Overcome Criminal Inadmissibility

There are three pathways available to individuals facing criminal inadmissibility in Canada. For the purposes of entering on a temporary or permanent basis, you can:

  1. Submit a Temporary Resident Permit Application
  2. Submit a Criminal Rehabilitation Application
  3. Get a Legal Opinion Letter

    1. Submit a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) Application

    If you are a foreign national who has been charged or convicted in the past for a criminal offence, you may be considered criminally inadmissible to Canada. A temporary resident permit (TRP) can grant temporary access to Canada for people who are currently inadmissible due to their criminal records.

    A TRP application should only be submitted for significant travel, and can be granted for a duration of up to three years, depending on the reasons for entry. The duration of the TRP may be extended from inside Canada as well.

    Who Should Apply for a TRP?

    A temporary resident permit is necessary for entry to Canada in the following situations:

    • A person has been convicted outside of Canada of a criminal offense that, if committed in Canada, is equivalent to an indictable offence punishable by a sentence of less than 10 years.

    • A person has been convicted outside of Canada of a crime that would be equivalent to a hybrid offence punishable by a sentence of less than 10 years. A hybrid offence is one that can be prosecuted in Canada either by summary process or by indictment.

    • A person has been convicted of two or more crimes that, if committed in Canada, would be equivalent to two summary offences.

    Offences and criminal convictions that occur inside of Canada while here on a temporary stay may affect your ability to remain as a temporary visitor or the ability to obtain Permanent Residence (PR).

    How to Apply for a Temporary Resident Permit

    Canadian Consulate Applications

    If you apply for a TRP through a Canadian consulate, there is a significant processing time involved, however, it is considered to be the best approach to submitting temporary resident permit applications to Canadian immigration authorities.

    Although it could take six to 12 months to have your application processed, it often provides the greatest chance of success. When you apply through a consulate, the final decision will be made by an experienced immigration officer who understands the various reasons why your entry could be justified. Additionally, applying through a consulate will allow you to know whether or not you will be admitted before you arrive at a port of entry.

    To apply for a temporary resident permit (TRP), you will need to submit an application with supporting documents (criminal record(s), legal opinions, personal statements, references, etc.) explaining the reason for your inadmissibility and why you should be able to enter Canada.

    Port of Entry (POE) Applications

    These applications are designed to accommodate last-minute travel plans. POE applications are processed immediately at airports, land crossings or sea entry points.

    A Canadian immigration visa officer will consider the inadmissible person's need to enter Canada against the health and security risks to the Canadian population. Applicants must be able to demonstrate that their entry into Canada is justified.

    These applications are quite risky for most people, as they could be refused entry at the Canadian border, but some people are willing to take the risk because processing times can be very short. In some cases, Canadian border officials can make their decision to let the applicant enter the country within minutes. But, if denied, those who choose this pathway you will not be allowed to enter Canada until they have received an approval from a Canadian consulate.

    Note: If you are a citizen of a visa-exempt country, you will need to apply for a temporary resident permit based on the guidelines set out by your specific country, as the application form may be different.

    2. Submit a Criminal Rehabilitation Application

    Criminal rehabilitation is an application offered by the Canadian Government to those who are eligible for permanent clearance of a past criminal record, once enough time has passed, for the purposes of entering Canada.

    If an individual receives an approval for criminal rehabilitation to enter Canada, they are no longer considered inadmissible and would not require a TRP for entry. The criminal rehabilitation application is a one-time solution that, unlike a TRP, never requires renewal.

    Types of Criminal Rehabilitation

    There are two forms of criminal rehabilitation that can resolve inadmissibility to Canada:

    In order to be eligible for criminal rehabilitation, the following conditions must be met:

    • You must have committed an act outside of Canada that would constitute an offence under the Canadian Criminal Code;

    • You must have been convicted of, or admitted to, committing the act;

    • Five years must have passed since the full sentence or sentences were completed. This phase includes jail time, fines, and probation.

    Serious vs. Non-Serious Criminality

    Canadian immigration authorities distinguish criminal offences as being either serious or non-serious. “Serious criminality,” is defined by the nature and gravity of the offence, as per Canada’s Criminal Code.

    Those found to have engaged in serious criminality in Canada will have been:

    • Convicted of an indictable offence punishable by a maximum sentence of at least ten years; or

    • Received a prison term of at least six months.

    Those found to have engaged in serious criminality outside Canada will have been convicted of an act that, if committed in Canada, would be equivalent to:

    • An indictable offence punishable by a maximum sentence of at least ten years; or

    • A hybrid offence punishable by a maximum sentence of at least ten years.

    How Much Does It Cost to Apply for Criminal Rehabilitation?

    The criminal rehabilitation processing fees are $200 CAD for those with non-serious criminality and $1,000 CAD for those with serious criminality.

    How Long Does It Take to Process My Criminal Rehabilitation Application?

    The typical processing times are 6-12 months from the submission of your application.

    3. Get a Legal Opinion Letter

    An individual who has committed or been convicted of a crime can preemptively avoid being found inadmissible to Canada. One manner through which this outcome may be accomplished is a legal opinion letter addressed to the judicial authority hearing the case.

    This letter is a document that is drafted by a Canadian immigration attorney. In it, he or she refers to the relevant sections of Canadian law to explain the consequences in Canadian immigration law a guilty verdict or finding that a person has committed a criminal act would carry.

    This information can help the person decide how to respond to charges of a crime and how different outcomes (conviction, sentencing, etc.) would affect that person’s ability to come to Canada

    About Cohen Immigration Law

    Cohen Immigration Law is one of Canada's leading immigration law firms. We have over 45 years of experience and feature a team of over 60 Canadian immigration attorneys, paralegals, and other dedicated professionals.

    Cohen Immigration Law uses its expertise to help clients overcome inadmissibility issues. Our team of inadmissibility lawyers and professionals will work to understand your situation and then submit the strongest possible application to Canadian immigration authorities. was founded in 1994 as the online presence of Cohen Immigration Law. Since then, CanadaVisa has grown into one of the world's most trusted resources on immigration to Canada. Please connect with us so we can support your inadmissibility needs.

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