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7 Myths About Crossing Over to the U.S. with a Criminal Record

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Pegah Memarpour, freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, explores some of the most common misconceptions about attempting to enter the United States with a criminal record.

Over the last decade or so, Canadians have experienced stricter regulations when attempting to cross the United States border.

Things have especially become difficult for those Canadians who hold a criminal record.

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With the introduction of new legislations and policies, there are many myths and misconceptions around how to cross the U.S. border with a criminal record. These false notions have consequently resulted in many Canadians being turned away, arrested or detained at the U.S./Canadian border.

Whether entering by sea, air, or land, those who hold a criminal record are generally not allowed to enter into the United States without a U.S. Entry Waiver.

The United States Department of Homeland Security has restricted access into the states for all non-U.S. citizens (called “foreign nationals) who have been convicted of crimes, especially those that fall under the category of “moral turpitude”.

Myth#1:  “My Crime Doesn’t Involve Moral Turpitude”.

A second misconception is that if your crime does not fall under “Crimes against Moral Turpitude” (e.g., 1 single DUI), you will not be withheld from entering the United States.

However, this is not guaranteed because U.S. border officials are given full discretionary authority over who may enter and who may not.

Border officials have denied entry to Canadians with a criminal record, no matter what the offence.  Even those with criminal records for offences that may not appear serious can still be denied entry.

Myth#2:  “My Criminal Record is Minor…it Won’t Be a Big Deal”.

There is a general understanding that moral turpitude involves common elements such as fraud, larceny, and intent to harm persons or things.

However, this still leaves many Canadians unaware of whether their record falls under those categories, and also forces some to risk entering the U.S. regardless.

Any criminal record could be denied entry into the United States.

Myth#3:  “My Charges are so Old…They Won’t Show Up”.

The notion that having old charges will not appear, or will not matter to border officers when crossing into the states, has landed many Canadians in trouble.

Even if a charge is 40 years old, individuals may still be denied entry into the U.S. Regardless of whether the charges seem dated, or a person’s record has been clean for decades, border officers can deny access to anyone.

Myth#4:  “I’ve Crossed Over Before with No Problem…I’ll be Fine”.

Some Canadians have crossed over to the U.S. with a criminal record on many occasions and have never been denied entry. This may lead individuals to believe they will not have any issues and will continue to plan trips for the states.

The idea that because you have never been denied entry into the U.S. in spite of your record, you will be fine next time, is a myth.  Often, border officers will do secondary screening on non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter. This is where your criminal history will appear, and at this point you may be denied entry, barred, or detained.

Myth#5:  “My Charges were Withdrawn… I’ll be Fine”.

One issue that has caused many Canadians issues at the border when attempting to cross over is the fact that withdrawn charges, a discharge, or a stay of proceedings, will still appear on a criminal record.

Many individuals who may have had their charges withdrawn and no sentence are still experiencing issues when attempting to cross over to the U.S.

Myth#6:  “I Doubt the Border Officers Would See My Record”.

The United States border officials do have access to the CPIC database, which holds all Canadian criminal records. The border officers may access your record within CPIC by entering your name and date of birth.

Only those records who have not been pardoned may be accessed.

Once border officers have pulled up your criminal record, they have the ability to see your convictions, sentence, and any charges which resulted in withdrawn charges or stay of proceedings. They also have the ability to save the file within their own database, meaning that they may access it if you attempt to cross into the U.S. again from any port of entry – even if/after you’ve been pardoned.

Myth#7:  “A Pardon Will Guarantee My Freedom to the U.S.”

Obtaining a Canadian Pardon (Record Suspension) is an important step for all Canadians with a criminal record, however, the U.S. does not recognize foreign pardons.

The U.S. will always have your criminal record within their files.

These uncertainties and myths should persuade many Canadians with a record to apply for a U.S. entry Waiver before making any plans to visit the U.S.

Is it Worth the Gamble?

Taking chances with U.S. border officials when attempting to enter the U.S. without a waiver can cause many issues, and put an end to any planned vacations.

Taking the time to apply for a U.S. waiver in advance, and crossing into the states

with the proper documentation will save Canadians from being denied, arrested, detained or worse. 

Pegah Memarpour is a freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, the nationwide processing firm for Canadian Pardon (Record Suspension) & U.S. Entry Waiver applications.  The opinions expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Pardon Applications of Canada.  For a list of statistical references used in this article, or more information on Pardon Applications of Canada, call 866-383-9744 or