If you enjoy traveling or spend a lot of time on the road for business, a DUI conviction can ground you indefinitely. Aside from the obvious ways that a DUI will prevent you from traveling freely—such as license suspension, limited driving privileges, and ignition interlock devices—a conviction can even keep you from traveling to other countries, including Canada.

Since the United States and Canada share a border, many cultural similarities and even a language, it is not uncommon for tourists and business travelers to pass between the two countries. Because our countries are so linked, America and Canada even share access to the same criminal databases and are able to search for individuals in either country who have been convicted of any crime.  Entrance into America and Canada for citizens of either country is granted at the discretion of border officials.

Canada takes drunk driving very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the country regularly denies entrance to Americans who have been convicted of a DUI in the States. Is it possible to travel to Canada for business or pleasure if you have a DUI on your record?

In a word: yes. Because our two countries have an amicable relationship that includes lucrative trade, Canada has made some options available for Americans with a DUI who wish to enter the country.

Understanding Canada’s DUI Sentencing Structure

In order to understand why Canada takes such a tough stance on admitting convicted drunk drivers, it is helpful to examine how our northern neighbors view and prosecute this offense when it occurs within Canadian borders.

As in the US, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration in Canada is 0.08%. Drunk driving can be charged as either a summary offense (similar to a misdemeanor offense in the States) or indictable offense (the equivalent of a felony in America). Even a first offense summary conviction carries a hefty maximum penalty: a maximum fine of $2,000 plus 18 months of incarceration followed by a three years of driving probation. A first offense indictment conviction could result in a five-year incarceration and a fine, to be determined at the discretion of the judge.

The maximum penalties for a DUI conviction in Canada are indicative of that country’s low level of tolerance for those who commit this infraction. Furthermore, the government is sending a strong message to discourage would-be repeat offenders. Understanding, however, that these crimes do occur—and in the interest of maintaining the amicable relationship between their country and ours—the Canadian government offers some options for those who wish to enter the country with a criminal record. The two most common are rehabilitation and a temporary resident permit.

Deemed Rehabilitation

Deemed Rehabilitation is one of the most straightforward ways to determine your eligibility for entrance to Canada. In the eyes of the Canadian government, being Deemed Rehabilitated is an indication that you are not likely to re-offend.

If you were convicted of a DUI related offense and received a sentence similar to a Canadian indictable offense in America, you can qualify for Deemed Rehabilitation if it has been more than 10 years since the completion of your sentence. If your charge was similar to a summary offense (or misdemeanor), it must be five years since the completion of your sentence before you can be Deemed Rehabilitated.

Individual Rehabilitation

If you need to travel to Canada and it has not been 10 years since the completion of a DUI sentence for an indictable-equivalent offense, you may explore the option of Individual Rehabilitation.

Eligibility for Individual Rehabilitation requires that five years have passed since the completion of your sentence. In addition, you must also provide evidence that you have a stable lifestyle and that your infraction was a one-time-only occurrence.

Applying for a Temporary Resident Permit

If it has been less than five years since the completion of your sentence, it may still be possible to enter Canada by applying for a Temporary Resident Permit, or TRP. A TRP can be awarded for the length of your desired stay in Canada, even if you only intend to be in the country for one week.

In order to be eligible for a TRP, Canadian immigration or border services must determine that your admittance to the country does not pose a risk to the health or safety of the Canadian population. If you are granted a TRP, it may be revoked at any time and you must either leave the country or apply for a new TRP before yours expires. A non-refundable deposit must also accompany your TRP application.