Crossing the Canada-U.S. border with a criminal record

There are ways to legally cross the border when you have a criminal record, but it takes a bit of work. Canadian Press

Monday’s announcement of a customs pre-clearance agreement between the U.S. and Canada is expected to speed up those long lines at the border.

But let’s say in your younger years, you committed an offense that got you banned from crossing the border. What are your options?

READ MORE: 5 things you need to know about new Canada-U.S. border agreement

Here are some tips and guidelines for crossing the border with a criminal record.

  • What is your indiscretion? The U.S. Department of State website has an exhaustive list of infractions that could impede someone from crossing the border. Some of the main ones are having a criminal record for “crimes of moral turpitude” (age 18 or older), having a criminal record of multiple offenses, human trafficking, involvement with terrorism (there are no waivers available for this offense), possessing or trafficking controlled substances, money laundering, or having been previously deported or overstayed a period of admission. The term “moral turpitude” means behavior that goes against good morals. The U.S. government includes murder, rape, theft, fraud and prostitution in that list.
  • What is your legal status in Canada? If you do not require a visa (e.g. most Canadians) you can apply for a temporary Waiver of Inadmissibility to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). If you do require a visa (check the U.S. Visas site to find out if you qualify) and are ineligible because of a criminal record, contact a local U.S. Consulate to discuss your options.
  • Canadian record suspensions are not recognized by the U.S. It is important to note that even with a pardon, you may still be barred from crossing the border. America does not recognize Canadian pardons. While you might not have had a problem crossing the border in the past, this might not always be the case should the U.S. find out about your conviction. The Canadian Police Information Centre shares police records with the U.S. National Crime Information Centre. Even when the CPIC updates information once a record suspension is granted, the NCIC still has the information of past criminal record.
  • Filling out a temporary Waiver of Inadmissibility. The waiver is called Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Non-immigrant. There is an application fee of U.S. $585, which can be paid by checks made out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • Where to apply. You can apply in person at a major port of entry (listed here), at the U.S. border, or at a pre-clearance office in Canada.
  • Documents you need. In addition to the I-192 form, you’ll need a long list of documents, including evidence of citizenship, a copy of your police record, and for those with criminal convictions, a written statement explaining each arrest, conviction, and explanation of any rehabilitation you went through.
  • Checking waiver request status. The process can take up to a year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection asks that applicants wait at least 130 days before inquiring. To ask for an update, you can email, or call the land border port of entry you applied at.
  • Renewing waiver. The first Waiver of Inadmissibility is good for one year for Canadians, depending on the offense. A second waiver may be granted for a longer period of time, up to five years. Re-applying will include the same steps as the first application.

Safe travels!


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