Traveling to our neighbors to the south? Wondering if your criminal record will get you turned back? Find out which charges will prevent you from crossing and which shouldn’t be an issue

Canadians have been visiting the USA in record numbers recently, with 2010 seeing a record-breaking 24.5 million same-day car trips across the border. In these volatile political times though, both of our nations are making it more difficult for those with criminal pasts to gain entry. You can be barred for seemingly minor offences with little need for justification by a border guard.

If you’re wondering whether or not you can cross the US border with a criminal record, here are some of the offences we know are tolerated and some that make you strictly inadmissible.

** please remember that border guards are not trained as lawyers and vice versa. This information could be misinterpreted or even disregarded by certain border guards. This should act only as a guide.

Offences that you can’t cross the US border with (inadmissible)

US laws can differ greatly from Canadian laws, and certain offences that we deem minor are considered severe. These usually involve crimes with controlled substances. However, the broadest category of inadmissible offences are crimes of “moral turpitude” or your character.

Read the US Immigration Services’ Definition of Moral Turpitude Here

A few of the most common charges that will bar you from entry are:

-Assault with a weapon
-Assault with intent to cause harm
-Sexual assault (and most sex crimes)
-Money laundering
-Controlled substance violations (though waivers could be available)
-Prostitution charges


This is a minor list of offences and should only serve as a guide for your decision to attempt a crossing. The full list is of course more comprehensive and, as always, open for interpretation (broad interpretation!).

Crimes that you should be able to enter the USA with

There are many terms and conditions that apply, such as the length of the terms, how old you were when it was committed, and many others. As always, please take this as only a guide for your decision making.

You should not have an issue with:

-A crime you committed when you were under 18 that was more than 5 years ago
-A crime where your sentence was not longer than 1 year
-Causing a disturbance
-Failure to appear
-Minor assault
-Impaired driving

Crossing the US border with a DUI

Canada, especially BC, takes this crime very seriously, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that our normally stricter neighbours are more relaxed. In general, a single DUI conviction will not be grounds to bar you entry from the US; however, multiple convictions or a DUI combined with other misdemeanors may be ground to prevent you from entering. Read more information here.

Read How BC Drunk Driving Laws Are Saving Lives In Our Province
If you are planning on taking a trip to the US with a criminal record, make sure you know which offences will not be tolerated by border guards. As always, the interpretations can be broad, so be prepared for refusal. In general, though, you shouldn’t have an issue as long as the crime was not severe.

A criminal record makes your life much more difficult than it has to be. Defend your rights with expert legal representation.

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