While California’s driving under the influence laws are quite strict, Canada’s DUI laws are much harsher. In Canada, driving under the influence is considered an “indictable offense,” meaning that it is comparable to a felony offense in the United States. In fact, you may not even be able to enter Canada – even on business – if you have a conviction for DUI or DWI in any of the fifty United States.

How strict is Canada about denying entry to those with DUI or DWI convictions? It does not matter if you are attempting to enter Canada as a passenger in another person’s car or if you have no intention of driving in Canada. It does not matter if your DUI or DWI conviction was considered a felony or a misdemeanor.

Even former President George W. Bush had to obtain a special waiver to enter Canada due to a 1976 misdemeanor conviction for operating under the influence in Maine. Anyone with a DUI or DWI conviction can potentially be denied entry into Canada.

However, not every person with a DUI or DWI conviction will be refused entry. It’s also entirely possible that someone who entered the country last year may not be allowed to enter Canada this year. Why? Because Canadian border officers have the absolute authority to deny or allow entry to anyone. You may be allowed to enter Canada, or you may be detained for questioning and subsequently either allowed to enter Canada or told to return to the United States.

IS THERE ANY WAY TO KNOW IF YOU’LL BE ALLOWED INTO CANADA?

In many instances, if your DUI or DWI conviction is more than ten years old, Canadian border authorities will not hold it against you, but you can’t be sure. In fact, there is usually no way to know in advance what will happen if you attempt to enter Canada with a DUI or DWI conviction, unless you have either applied for and been approved for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP), or you’ve been formally deemed “rehabilitated.”

Since 2012, Canada has permitted the TRP exception for certain one-time DUI and DWI offenders. A TRP will not help anyone who has a second or subsequent DUI or DWI conviction, and it doesn’t help much if you want to come and go, to and from Canada, on any regular basis.

Anyone with only one DUI or DWI conviction in the United States, who did not serve time behind bars as part of the sentence, and who has no other criminal convictions or pending charges, can apply for – and probably be approved for – a Temporary Resident Permit.

Approximately 10,000 TRPs are approved every year. Anyone with a single DUI or DWI conviction may apply in advance for a TRP at any Canadian visa office in the United States, or in urgent circumstances, when you arrive at the Canadian border.

Of course, anyone seeking to enter Canada from the United States needs to meet all of the other requirements of Canadian immigration law before he or she will be permitted entry. TRPs may be good for as little as one day or for as long as three years, depending on someone’s reasons for entering Canada and the strength or weakness of that person’s TRP application.

WHAT IS THE REHABILITATION EXEMPTION?

The alternative to acquiring a TRP is to demonstrate to Canadian authorities that you have been rehabilitated. If you are deemed rehabilitated, you may be allowed unlimited access into Canada despite your single DUI or DWI conviction. It’s a complex legal procedure; in Southern California, ask an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer to handle it on your behalf.

Your DUI or DWI conviction must be at least 5 years in the past before you can file for the rehabilitation exemption. After your attorney has helped you complete the paperwork, it must be filed with the nearest Canadian visa office.

Canadian border officials now have full access to all U.S. criminal records thanks to criminal database sharing between the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police. If you have a second or subsequent DUI or DWI conviction in the United States, and you absolutely must enter Canada, you are going to face a great deal of paperwork and expense, it’s not going to happen quickly, and in the end there are no guarantees. Canada strongly frowns on intoxicated driving and aggressively enforces DUI laws, and Canadian officials want to be certain that everyone who enters Canada knows it.

WHAT CAN GET A PERSON BARRED FROM CANADA FOR LIFE?

If you have a DUI or DWI conviction and you need to enter Canada, what you should do is see an experienced DUI attorney and stay out of any additional legal trouble. There are also some things that you should not do and that will not help you. For example, do not lie, exaggerate, or misrepresent the truth in any way in any of your efforts to enter Canada.

If you are caught distorting the truth in any way about yourself and your record, your chances of ever entering Canada will dwindle substantially. You could be barred from the nation for decades – or for life.

If you are denied entry at the Canadian border, do not try to enter Canada the same day at a different crossing. You won’t gain any advantage. Denials into Canada are immediately updated and available to authorities at all ports of entry. If you behave as if you are trying to evade the rules, it will only hurt your ability to enter Canada in the future.

If you have any DUI or DWI conviction, Canadian authorities could conceivably bar you from the nation for life, and they don’t have to explain why. But if you follow the procedures and apply for rehabilitation status or a TRP with your attorney’s guidance, you will very probably be allowed to enter Canada.

If you have any questions or concerns about travel restrictions or the other ramifications of a California DUI conviction, have those questions and concerns addressed by an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer. Travel restrictions are just one of the many “hidden” consequences of a driving under the influence conviction. Those hidden consequences – along with the not-so-hidden legal penalties – can be entirely avoided when drivers adhere to one simple piece of advice: Don’t Drink and Drive.