While Americans can generally travel freely to Canada, those with certain criminal offences on their record may be turned away from the border. In many states, an expungement or dismissal is a way to remove a guilty plea from a criminal record, however, expungements are not always deemed to be equivalent to a Canadian record suspension, which is what is required to prove you are not inadmissible to Canada. Luckily, for California residents with a PC 1203.4 dismissal for a prior conviction such as a DUI, travel to Canada should be possible by following the right steps.
Why Can’t I Travel with a DUI?
Canadian law prohibits entry to individuals with even a single DUI or “wet reckless” conviction on their record. A California DUI will render the offender inadmissible to Canada, and they will likely be turned away from the border. Canada and the USA have an information-sharing agreement, so when a Canadian border officer scans your passport, they will have full access to your record through the FBI criminal database.
When determining admissibility to Canada, the seriousness of the crime in California is not relevant; what matters is how the crime equates under Canadian law. In Canada, DUIs and driving offences involving alcohol or drugs are considered “indictable offences”, which are serious crimes roughly equivalent to felonies. Due to the seriousness of a DUI offence under Canadian law, anyone with a conviction will be inadmissible to Canada.
One of the exceptions to this rule is people who have received either a Canadian record suspension (which only applies to offences committed in Canada) or a foreign equivalent.
California residents who have a DUI conviction dismissed under PC 1203.4 may still be able to travel to Canada with the proper documentation because the Canadian consulate has begun to recognize these dismissals as equivalent to Canadian record suspensions.
What is a California PC 1203.4?
A dismissal in the state of California, under section 1203.4 of the Penal Code, is a legal process petitioning the Court to review a past conviction. In enables someone with a prior conviction to remove a guilty plea or finding from their record. To be considered for a PC 1203.4, you must meet these criteria:
- Completed probation; or one year passed since conviction, if no probation was given
- Fully paid fines, restitution and reimbursement
- Not currently on probation for another offence
- No new or pending cases
If granted, a PC 1203.4 withdraws a guilty plea or finding and replaces it with “not guilty” plea. Note that this is a dismissal of a guilty finding; it does not erase the record. The dismissed conviction is still “prior-able” should you commit another offence, meaning it may be used to increase the penalty for a future offence.
I have a PC 1203.4, Can I Enter Canada?
Yes, however, it is crucial to confirm that your California dismissal is equivalent to a record suspension under Canadian law. Not all United States dismissals and expungements enable travel to Canada, so if you have ever been convicted of a DUI or related offence, it is advised to speak with a Canadian immigration attorney before traveling. A lawyer with expertise on DUIs and criminal inadmissibility can assess your case to determine whether your dismissal will allow entry to Canada.
Fortunately, California PC 1203.4 dismissals are generally honored by Canadian border officers, however, admissibility is still always at the discretion of the individual officer. Their decision is dependent on many factors, including the nature of your offence and where you try to enter Canada. There is also the chance that they will not understand a PC 1203.4, or that their database has not been updated.
Therefore, it is advised to wait at least 30-60 days after the dismissal before trying to enter Canada and to carry a copy of the signed PC 1203.4. If you are stopped at the border and asked about your conviction, do not lie, but answer that your guilty plea or finding was withdrawn and replaced with a “not guilty” plea.
To avoid taking chances at the border, it is especially encouraged to seek confirmation of your admissibility to Canada, or a Legal Opinion Letter from a Canadian immigration attorney. A Legal Opinion Letter can help explain to a border officer why a PC 1203.4 is no longer a conviction in Canada, and thus why Canadian law considers you admissible to Canada. Better yet, obtaining an official finding of admissibility from the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles will provide you with peace of mind and ensure that you can travel freely to Canada.
At FWCanada, we are happy to offer free consultation to promptly provide honest assessment of your case and assist with travel after a California conviction. As one of the leading immigration law firms in the country specializing in criminal inadmissibility, we have extensive experience handling a wide range of cases. We prioritize detailed review of each client’s case to optimise application approval.
Please call on our toll free number: 1.855.316.3555 to ask all your burning questions and remedy confusions, because providing honest and accurate advice is our ethos.
FWCanada is a Montreal-based immigration law firm that provides professional legal services on Canadian immigration. For more tips and updates on Canadian immigration, follow FWCanada on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.