Flying to Canada After a Criminal Conviction

Every year, thousands of Americans who possess criminal histories successfully fly into Canada. Our neighbors to the north have much to offer in the way of leisure, business, and travel, but navigating the border can be especially tricky for someone with a criminal record; pilots are perhaps the most affected by these regulations because of our shared border with Canada. 

Marisa Feil is a member of both the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Quebec and has been practicing law since 2008. As the legal representative of all FWCanada clients, Ms. Feil has established herself as a respected authority on Canadian immigration law.  She specializes in all aspects of inadmissibility to Canada. Ms. Feil has contributed to books and other written works outlining the consequences of DUI convictions on entry to Canada. You can learn more about Ms. Feil by visiting her law firm website

Past convictions don’t necessarily bar you from entering Canada, but anyone with past arrests, charges, or convictions should do proper research before attempting to enter the country by flight.

Your passport, which will be reviewed at any Canadian border, allows border agents to access a full FBI criminal record. Convictions that are especially recent or particularly violent in nature (including traffic offenses such as DUI/DWI, reckless driving, etc.) may deem a person “criminally inadmissible” to Canada. Attempting to fly into Canada while inadmissible will result in border officials denying you entry and escorting you back to the aircraft for an immediate return to the U.S. at your personal expense or risk detention at the airport until a return can be secured. Rest assured, however, there are certain applications that allow individuals with criminal records to freely travel around Canada. Depending on your reason for travelling to Canada, your planned duration of stay, and your offence(s), you have a few options:

Criminal Rehabilitation

“Criminal Rehabilitation” (CR) is an application that allows the Canadian government to wipe your criminal record clean for the purposes of travelling to Canada. Criminal rehabilitation can also be achieved if at least five years has passed since the end of your sentence, by applying for “individual rehabilitation” with all necessary documents, which can be found on the government of Canada’s website. Although the documents are available electronically, many people choose to hire representation to assist them with this type of application as it can be complex.

Depending on the crime, you can be “deemed rehabilitated” and admitted into Canada without going through a formal application process with the Canadian consulate under certain circumstances. For example, the burden is on the individual to prove that at least 10 years has passed since the completion of your sentence, and that it is the only offence on your record. Then this process of being “deemed rehabilitated” happens automatically by the passage of time.

Temporary Resident Permit

If your conviction is less than five years old, or if you only need to enter Canada for a specific time period, a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) is a quick fix. Applying to a Canadian consulate by mail can take up to a year - TRPs are convenient because American citizens are permitted to submit their application at a Canadian border and be approved on the spot. A TRP is issued on a temporary basis – you can reapply and be issued multiple TRPs, but they cannot be used for the permanent residency process. To increase your chances of TRP approval, make sure to have proof of your intent to leave Canada, including a transportation plan, with you.

It’s important to keep in mind that Canadian border agents retain the right to deny entry for any reason; even if you fly into Canada with all the required documentation, you can still be turned away at the airport. Be advised that it’s against the law to misrepresent oneself on any application: in other words, if border officials discover a lie, you’ll be automatically refused.

If you are interested in finding out more about gaining admissibility to Canada, PPS participants can call AOPA’s Legal Services Plan at (800) 872-2672 to request a free half-hour consultation with a Canadian Panel Attorney.

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