Updated on February 5th, 2024 at 08:51 pm

You’ve heard of people being turned away at the Canadian border for various reasons. Since you’ve been charged or convicted for impaired driving, you can’t help but wonder, can I enter Canada with a DUI?

DUI/OWI charges or convictions may render you criminally inadmissible to Canada. However, you can still enter Canada with a Wisconsin OWI by getting a Temporary Resident Permit or criminal rehabilitation.    

can i enter canada with a dui

Below is a deep dive into impaired driving offenses and entering Canada.

What are Canada’s border and DUI rules?

Canada DUIs and all alcohol-related crimes seriously, in some cases more than in the United States. Below are some fundamentals of Canada’s DUI border rules:

  • You can be dismissed at a Canadian port of entry by border officers
  • It doesn’t matter if you are flying in, driving, or a passenger. If you are criminally inadmissible to Canada, you’ll be refused entry
  • Although border officers can make exceptions, they rarely do
  • These border rules apply to every DUI crime, including felony and misdemeanor charges
  • It doesn’t matter how long ago the drunk-driving criminal convictions were

How will the border agent know I’m inadmissible to Canada?

Although mistakes are made occasionally, and some individuals with criminal records for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol make it through the border, Canadian border crossings are technical operations.

The border agents check the IDs of every person passing through and check their criminal history. The check takes a couple of seconds and shows everything US officers would see, including DUIs older than 10 years.

As such, you should not lie to the border agent. Lying includes:

  • Directly lying about your DUI history. During the check, the Canadian border officer will see the DUI charge or conviction. They can choose to issue a lifelong, long, or short-term ban on entering Canada.
  • Requesting friends to lie on your behalf. They too can be banned if investigations reveal they knew about the DUI and attempted to cover it.
  • Attempting multiple border crossing – every attempt to cross the border is documented on the computer immediately. A border agent at a different entry point will see your initial attempt and become suspicious.

How do I enter Canada with a Wisconsin OWI?

Options the Canadian immigration laws provide for individuals with past OWI include:

Obtaining a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP)

If you completed your DUI sentence less than five years ago, you need to apply for a TRP to enter Canada. A TRP entry waiver is a document that allows an inadmissible American citizen to visit Canada for a specified period of time.

You should only fill the TRP application form if you have a good reason for entering Canada. The Canada Border Services Agency officer that assesses your application will determine whether to grant the TRP and disregard DUI convictions or not. According to Canadian immigration laws, a TRP is only valid for three years, depending on your application.

Given the subjective nature of the TRP application process, you should consult with Canadian immigration lawyers to ensure you submit a compelling and well-prepared TRP application package.

You are encouraged to send your TRP application to the Canadian consulate via mail. But if this isn’t possible, you can submit it to Canadian immigration authorities at the border, seaport, or airport.

Criminal rehabilitation (CR)

If five years have passed since you completed your DUI sentence, but less than ten years, you can apply for criminal rehabilitation. Criminal rehabilitation is a petition to the Canadian immigrations to forgive past DUI convictions. Once approved, there are no obstacles to entering and leaving Canada.

Unfortunately, criminal rehabilitation application processes are lengthy. You are advised to make plans well in advance before the planned Canadian entry.

Deemed rehabilitation

If you only had one DUI criminal conviction, and it has been over ten years since you completed your sentence including jail time, you might be deemed rehabilitated. In such circumstances, the Canadian immigration officer can disregard prior OWI convictions.

Have your DUI records expunged?

If the government expunges your DUI criminal record, the Canadian border officials cannot see them and won’t deny you entry on this account. When a crime is expunged, it’s hidden from the public, although it may still appear in some background checks and be visible to courts. Moreover, it’s always available on your driving record.

Expunging a criminal record has advantages in the US, but it’s not accepted in Canada all the time. Canada has a similar process called record suspension. Talk to a Canadian visa office about your OWI record to determine if the expunction shall count as a record suspension and lift your inadmissibility.

What documents do I need to apply for a TRP or criminal rehabilitation?

To submit a TRP or criminal rehabilitation application, you need court records, identification documents, police clearance certificates, a copy of the law used to charge you, and other relevant documents relating to your parole, sentence, pardon, or probation.

Will the people you travel with know of your past DUI offenses?

The people you are traveling with might find out about your past DUI criminal offenses. Even if you have an approved TRP, you still must carry the application with you. This increases the chances of those you are traveling with knowing about your past OWIs.

However, if you are granted criminal rehabilitation, your refusal of entry is lifted, and you don’t have to present your application at the point of entry. In this case, those you travel with won’t know about your OWIs.

Note: if you are denied entry into Canada, your family members may also be inadmissible and may not be legible for a TRP. Issuance of their individual TRPs is at the discretion of the Canadian border agents, who needs to determine if their circumstances warrant entry into Canada.

Can you enter Canada with a DUI misdemeanor conviction?

Canada doesn’t classify offenses as felonies or misdemeanors. Instead, they are either an indictable offense or summary offenses. Summary offenses are most like misdemeanors, while indictable offenses are similar to felonies. In Canada, DUIs are hybrid offenses and left to the Crown attorney to decide.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act 36(3)(a) whether an offense is prosecuted as an indictment, or a summary is an indictable offense. So, whether an OWI is a misdemeanor in the US, it can still make you criminally inadmissible to visit Canada.

Am I inadmissible to Canada if my OWI charges were dropped?

You can visit Canada if you can prove that the criminal charge against you was never filed or that it was dropped without leading to a conviction. A criminal record is made whenever anyone gets arrested, and their fingerprints are taken. This record is accessible at the border, where they don’t presume your innocence.

Can you have a layover in Canada if you have a DUI?

At Canadian airports, you must go through Canadian customs to connect a flight. However, flights on some airlines coming from outside Canada and the United States of America and with their final destination in the US are exempted from this.

Does it matter which city you want to travel to?

Criminal inadmissibility doesn’t matter with the part of Canada you wish to visit or the port of arrival. This is because inadmissibility to Canada is determined by Canada’s federal government.

Hire an attorney to help

You’ve been arrested and charged with an OWI in Wisconsin and need to travel to Canada; you should contact a Milwaukee DUI lawyer before disposition. But if you’ve been convicted for OWI and need to visit Canada, contact our criminal defense attorneys or a Canadian immigration attorney for help.