How a DWI can impact your ability to enter Canada

Recently, we discussed some of the potential consequences of a DWI conviction in New York, such a jail time, fines, and loss of your driver’s license. Here’s another one that could impact your life and career for a long time: You may not be able to travel to Canada for years.

Canada takes drunk driving seriously. Their legal limit, like ours, is .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Also like the U.S., however, anyone driving impaired due to alcohol or drugs can face serious charges.

What does Canadian law say?

Under Canadian law, a U.S. citizen who’s had a DWI or DUI conviction over the past decade may be prohibited from entering the country. Since the U.S.-Canadian border is just a short drive for people in our area, Toronto has always been a popular destination for a weekend getaway and a regular destination for doing business.

How long a person is barred from entering Canada depends on the severity of the offense and the sentence they faced. A person may be considered “rehabilitated” and allowed to enter after a certain number of years (five to ten) have passed since they’ve completed their sentence. This includes any driver’s license suspension. A person also has the option to apply for “criminal rehabilitation” five years after the date of their conviction.

Can you just hide your conviction?

If you think the border agent you encounter can’t possibly know about your conviction, you may be right. However, if they ask whether you’ve been convicted of a crime (which is one of the routine screening questions) and you lie or “forget,” you could end up banned from Canada for many years.

What if you want to fly somewhere overseas that doesn’t care about your drunk driving conviction? Be aware that if you change planes in Canada, you could find yourself detained by customs officials at the airport if you have a drunk driving charge on your record.

Before you decide that it’s not worth your time and money to fight a DWI, consider all of the potential impacts on your life if you plead guilty, including impediments to travel if you have family, friends or business interests in Canada (not to mention other countries). That’s why it’s wise to seek the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.