What to know about travelling with a criminal record

November 12, 2015

If you’ve got a Canadian criminal record, always check if you could have problems at your intended destination before you board the plane.
You’re looking forward to your first vacation out of the country with a mixture of anticipation and dread, with dread getting the upper hand.

Since you last travelled, you’ve managed to acquire a criminal record. You don’t want to arrive at customs and find yourself denied entry, or worse, arrested.

So how do you know if it’s safe to board your plane?

What to know about travelling with a criminal record

Start with the government

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Different countries have different rules, which means some might be fine with your record and others a lot less so.

A good place to start discovering which country is OK with what is the Passport Canada site. It has travel advisories with the entry and exit requirements for countries worldwide. They are also good to check for warnings about natural and manmade travel dangers, such as hurricanes and war.

Getting a Canadian passport

While having a criminal record doesn’t prevent you from obtaining a Canadian passport, there are circumstances where you may find it difficult or impossible to lay your hands on one. These might include if you have been charged with an indictable offence, or you are currently in prison or on parole. If the judge responsible for your sentence placed a travel restriction on you, you will likely be denied a passport.

And of course, having a Canadian passport doesn’t mean you can get into countries that have restrictions because of criminal records.

Entering the United States

Since our large neighbour is a popular destination for Canadians, its restrictions and policies deserve special consideration.

With a criminal record you could be in trouble if you try to enter the U.S. or even fly over its airspace. Even if you have received a Canadian pardon, also known as a record suspension, this won’t help you down South.

While some offences will be treated more seriously than others by the U.S., it’s best to err on the side of caution when making travel plans. You or your lawyer could apply for a U.S. Entry Waiver to avoid detainment, arrest, or prosecution.

The waiver application process can be lengthy (up to a year) and there is a cost of US$585 per application, no matter what they decide.

Reasons you can’t get a waiver

Of course, applying for a U.S. Entry Waiver is no guarantee that you’ll get it, especially if your record has something to do with drug trafficking or terrorism.

Reasons you might be denied include:

  • Having a communicable disease
  • A record for crimes of “moral turpitude”
  • Possessing or trafficking in controlled substances
  • Any involvement at all with terrorism or terrorist activities
  • People trafficking
  • Money laundering
  • Having insufficient funds to cover your stay
  • Having been previously deported from the U.S. or overstayed a period of admission

The moral is, don’t do the crime if you want to do your travel time.

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