If you’re one of the four million Canadians with a criminal record, you know the complications they cause. From finding a job to enrolling in university or even getting insurance, a criminal record can inhibit or prevent you from doing many things that most Canadians take for granted.
But criminal record holders are often surprised to learn of the restrictions their records place on their freedom to travel. While every country has certain entry requirements, its restricted travel to the U.S. that usually causes the most problems.
Canadians usually don’t think twice about going to the U.S. for a vacation, to visit family and friends or even just to shop. However, if you want to enjoy those privileges with a criminal record, you must be aware of the facts that can seriously affect your ability to do so.
1. You Should Check With the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Before You Travel
Your criminal record means you may be refused entry to the U.S. But not all criminal convictions lead to restrictions. Each person’s case is different. One way to know for sure is to contact the DHS or CBP at a local Port of Entry well before you intend to travel.
2. You Must Declare Your Criminal Record when Crossing the Border
If you attempt to cross the border without declaring any past criminal record, you may be barred from entering the U.S. and/or detained until your eligibility to enter is determined.
3. If you Managed to Cross Before, It Doesn’t Mean It’s OK
If you previously crossed the border with a criminal record, it does not mean you are exempt next time. It just means you got lucky.
4. A Canadian Pardon is Not Enough
When a criminal record holder is granted a Canadian Pardon, or Record Suspension, they are again able to take part in the freedoms that Canadians enjoy at home. But a pardon is not recognized by DHS or CBP as eligibility to enter the U.S.
5. A U.S. Entry Waiver Gives You the Right to Travel to the U.S.
If DHS and/or CBP has declared that your record makes you ineligible to enter the U.S., your only option is to apply for and get a ‘U.S. Entry Waiver’ (Waiver) from the U.S. government. But you need to start as soon as possible. The application process can be complex, sometimes involving personal history, police and court communications, financial checks and even drug tests. It can take anywhere from six to twelve months before your waiver is granted.
Pardon Applications of Canada is a third party service that helps expedite the U.S. Entry Waiver application process for Canadians. They also offer a free email qualification report that tells you if you need a U.S. Entry Waiver, so you don’t have to contact the DHS or CBP on your own.