How to Enter Canada with a Criminal Record in 2021

If you have a criminal record and want 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. These are the crucial things to know when determining how to visit Canada with a criminal record. 

Having a criminal record is one of the most frequent reasons why foreign nationals are deemed inadmissible to Canada. The most common offences for deeming individuals inadmissible include:

Driving Offences Involving Alcohol or Drugs 

The most frequent U.S offences are those pertaining to operating a vehicle such as a car, motorcycle, or boat while intoxicated. Such offences have different designations, depending on the circumstances of the infraction.

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)

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 such as speeding, racing, tail gating and road rage. 

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. Fraud 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 $5000 is considered a serious criminality. Any theft that is performed with the aid of a weapon, with violence, or the threat of violence can increase the severity of the 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 bar fights and crimes of violence carried out with premeditation and intent. Whether or not a weapon was employed or whether or not bodily harm was inflicted will affect the seriousness of the assault in question. 

If a weapon was used and/or injury to the victim resulted from the assault, then this offence would be considered a serious criminality. Both serious assault and non-serious assault will 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 inadmissibility. The nature and context of the offence will impact both its level of seriousness and the likelihood of an individual being found inadmissible.

There are three pathways available to individuals who wish to enter Canada with a criminal record. 

1. Submit a Temporary Resident Permit Application

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. The duration of the TRP may be extended from inside Canada as well. 

A TRP is the right choice if you: 

  • Have been convicted outside of Canada for a criminal offense that, if committed in Canada, is equivalent to an indictable offence punishable by a sentence of less than 10 years.
  • Have 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.
  • Have been convicted of two or more crimes that, if committed in Canada, would be equivalent to two summary offences.

2. Submit a Criminal Rehabilitation Application 

Criminal rehabilitation is an application offered to those who are eligible for permanent clearance of a past criminal record once enough time has passed. If an individual receives an approval for criminal rehabilitation to enter Canada, they are no longer considered inadmissible and do not require a TRP for entry. The criminal rehabilitation application is a one-time solution that, unlike a TRP, never requires renewal.

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

  • Individual Rehabilitation
  • Deemed Rehabilitation

In order to be eligible for criminal rehabilitation you must

  • Have committed an act outside of Canada that would constitute an offence under the Canadian Criminal Code;
  • 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.

3. Get a Legal Opinion Letter

An individual with a criminal record can preemptively avoid being found inadmissible to Canada with a legal opinion letter that is  addressed to the judicial authority hearing the case.This letter is a document that is drafted by a Canadian immigration attorney, such as FW Canada. Just because a person has a criminal record in their home country does not guarantee that they are criminally inadmissible to Canada. In the letter, the lawyer draws on relevant sections of Canadian law to explain how the conviction does not have an equivalent crime in Canadian law.  This information can help the person decide how to respond to charges of a crime and how different outcomes would affect that person’s ability to come to Canada.