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Have a Fun & Successful Vacation – Regardless of Your Criminal Record

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Pegah Memarpour, freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, explores how Canadians are caught off guard by strict border crossing regulations, and what can be done to ensure family vacations and travel are successful.

Summertime is the hot bed for travelling: families go on vacations, couples take weekend getaways, and many take business trips.  In light of all the traveling that happens around this time of year, it becomes vital to be aware of any provisions that may or may not restrict entrance into a country.

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Specifically, Canadians with criminal records should be aware of laws that render them unable to enter other countries – most notable the United States.  Something seemingly as simple as a weekend trip across the U.S. border can be made difficult with a record.

Canadians are subject to the Immigration and Nationality Act of the U.S. which restricts foreign nationals who have been convicted of a criminal offence from entering into the states. Generally, the act limits those who have been convicted of crimes involving “moral turpitude”, drugs, prostitution and other serious offences.

Although not all criminal convictions create an ineligibility to enter the U.S. (e.g., having one single D.U.I, or one single common assault charge may not preclude your entry), unfortunately there are never any guarantees when crossing the border.

Interestingly, criminal records may not always appear when attempting to enter the states and some may only appear during secondary screening. This means that some Canadians may have passed through the border with a record and allowed entrance.  Basically, they got lucky.

Many with minor or older criminal records may feel as though they have a less chance of being identified, or will be allowed entrance even if they are, due to the specifics of their record.

However, attempting to cross the border without informing U.S. authorities of your criminal convictions, old or new, may result in you being denied entry into the U.S., detained, or worse barred from ever entering the states again.

Not only could this ruin any trip, family vacation, or travel plans, but it can also impact ones employment – if training or business trips are frequently in the states.

One Canadian citizen I interview, who asked to remain anonymous, explained how her record that had no hindrance on her life for almost 15 years, became a problem when needing to travel.

“I needed to visit the states for training for my new job, but I had a record that I got when I was 18. It had been almost 15 years since I even thought about my record. I never really looked into travelling to the states but at that point I had no idea what to do. I didn’t want to risk being arrested at the border or losing my job. I felt kind of stuck”, she said.

“…attempting to cross the border without informing U.S. authorities of your criminal convictions, old or new, may result in you being denied entry into the U.S., detained, or worse barred from ever entering the states again.”

The U.S. embassy advises potential travelers to take precautionary measures before attempting to enter the U.S. with a record. The embassy advises Canadians to contact the port of entry before crossing into the states as one way to find out if there will be any difficulties.

However, the embassy also explains that the final decision is left up the discretion of the customs officer when you are already at the border. Meaning there are no guarantees when trying to enter the states with a record unless you receive a U.S. entry waiver. The officer can dictate and has full control over who enters the states and this may vary based on the officer.

Even individuals who have applied for Record Suspensions, or hold Pardons are not guaranteed admission across the border.

So how can you ensure that your travel plans are not impacted by your record?

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The only guarantee Canadians have when wanting to travel to the U.S. is a U.S. entry waiver issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Record holders may use an accredited firm such as Pardon Applications of Canada to apply for an entry waiver which will allow them to go into the states for a period of time (typically 1-5 years).

Waivers generally take anywhere from six to eight months to obtain, so planning in advance becomes very important. Waivers do require renewals, therefore, potential travelers should keep theirs up to date.

Having a family vacation interrupted or a business trip terminated due to a criminal record is probably one of the worst experiences. Taking precautionary measures, such as applying for a waiver to guarantee access, and planning ahead can ensure that travelers have a fun and safe trip where ever the destination.

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 email info@pardonapplications.ca