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Travelling to Canada

Aim of this information

This information forms part of our travel section and focuses specifically on those people travelling to Canada for 90 days or less for leisure purposes who have a criminal record. It sets out the various processes that the Canadian authorities have in place and helps you identify which programme you should follow to travel to Canada.

Why is this important?

Changes to the visa exempt travel process means that those travelling to Canada will be asked for details of their criminal record at the time they apply for their Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA). It’s important that you know if you will be eligible to travel under the eTA and what you will need to do if you’re not eligible.


As of the 15th March 2016, British Citizens visiting or transiting Canada by air will require an Electronic Travel Authorisation. Exceptions include US Citizens and travellers with a valid Canadian visa.

If you travel by land or sea, you won’t need an eTA when entering Canada but you’ll still be required to present acceptable travel documents and identification. For a list of these, see here.

The Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA)

You can apply online for your eTA, it should only take a few minutes to complete. You will be asked to provide details of your passport, your email address and your credit card details. In most cases, your eTA will be approved within minutes of applying.

The question on the eTA around criminal records is as follows:-

Have you ever committed, been arrested for, been charged with or convicted of any criminal offence in any country?

Select ‘Yes’ if you have ever committed, been charged with or convicted of a crime in any country. Please provide as many details as possible. Failure to include additional and sufficient details may result in slower processing.

If the above statement applies to you, then you’ll need to answer ‘Yes’ (even if your conviction is spent). However, on receipt of your application, the Canadian Embassy will process your eTA using the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as a basis for deciding whether you would be ‘deemed rehabilitated’. If this is the case, then you will be issued with an eTA.

If the eTA is declined, you will need to apply for a visa.

It’s important to note that the eTA follows the concept of ‘deemed rehabilitation’ as outlined below but does not take into account changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which came into effect in March 2014 and still relies on the 1974 Act.

If you’re unsure of the details of your criminal record, then you should get a copy of your Subject Access Request so that you’re very clear about what you need to disclose.

What should I do if my eTA is refused?

If you are refused an eTA because you have committed or been convicted of a criminal offence, you will need to apply for criminal rehabilitation under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Under this Act, if you have committed or been convicted of a crime, you will have to apply for a Visa. As a result, in their words, you may be “criminally inadmissible”. Criminal offences include both minor and serious offences, such as theft, assault, manslaughter, dangerous driving and driving whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For a complete list of criminal offences in Canada see the Canadian Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Depending on what crime you committed, how long ago it was and your behaviour since, you may be admissible to Canada.

Your options

You may be allowed to go to Canada if:

  • you are able to satisfy an immigration officer that you meet the legal requirement to be deemed rehabilitated or
  • you apply for rehabilitation and are approved or
  • you are granted a record suspension (formerly known as a pardon) or
  • you get a temporary resident permit.

Deemed rehabilitation

Deemed rehabilitation, under Canada’s immigration law, means that enough time has passed since you were convicted that your crime may no longer bar you from entering Canada.

You may be deemed rehabilitated depending on:

  • the crime you committed
  • how serious the crime was
  • how much time has passed since you completed the sentence (10 years for one indictable offence, 5 years for two or more summary convictions)
  • whether you have committed more than one crime

In all cases, you may only be deemed rehabilitated if the crime would be punishable in Canada by a maximum prison term of less than 10 years.

Also, in accordance with a Canadian decision, Burgon (case dated 21st February 1991 in the Federal Court of Appeal in Canada), criminal convictions obtained in the UK are generally assessed under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 instead of under the Immigration & Refugee Protection Act. As a result, once your criminal record becomes spent under the 1974 Act, you cease to be inadmissible to Canada and are regarded as ‘deemed rehabilitated’.

It should be noted however that there are exceptions to the above. We’ve recently had sight of a letter from the High Commission of Canada to an individual who was refused entry to Canada, despite his conviction being spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which stated:

The Saini decision [Saini v MEI 151 NR 239 CRCA] allows discretion to  a visa officer (or port of entry officer) not to give effect to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of the UK when looking at all the facts of a case.

In addition, based on the Saini decision, a visa officer needs to be satisfied that a pardon under a foreign jurisdiction is similar to one in Canada. For some offences, it is not possible to apply for a pardon under the Criminal Records Act in Canada and therefore in some instances the ROA will not be applied to a particular situation.

You do not have to apply to be deemed rehabilitated, but you should be sure you will qualify before you try to enter the country.

You are able to get assessed by the Canadian embassy, to ensure that you are not refused entry or subject to other enforcement action. To be assessed, fill out an application for Rehabilitation, but in Section A, check the box “for information only”. You will not have to pay a processing fee. An officer will review the form and tell you what to do next. More information on this process is available here.

There is a useful video below which sets out the status of ‘Criminal rehabilitation’

Individual rehabilitation

‘Rehabilitation’ in this context means that they feel you are not likely to commit new crimes. If you are not eligible to be ‘deemed rehabilitated’ you must apply for individual rehabilitation to enter Canada.

To apply for individual rehabilitation , you must:

  • show that you meet the criteria
  • have been rehabilitated, and
  • be highly unlikely to take part in further crimes

Also, at least five years must have passed since:

  • the end of your sentence (including probation), and
  • the day you committed the act that made you inadmissible

You must apply to the Canadian visa office and pay a processing fee. Note: Applications for rehabilitation can take over a year to process, so make sure you plan far enough in advance.

Record suspension

If you have been convicted in Canada and wish to apply for a record suspension, check with the Parole Board or Canada. If you get a Canadian record suspension, you will no longer be inadmissible.

If you received a pardon or a discharge for your conviction in a country other than Canada, check with the visa office closest to you to find out if the pardon is considered valid in Canada. This will help ensure you do not travel to Canada only to be refused entry or subject to other enforcement action.

In the UK, once a conviction is spent, you become ‘deemed rehabilitated’ under the Canadian process (see above).

Temporary resident permit

A temporary resident permit lets you enter or stay in Canada if:

  • it has been less than five years since the end of your sentence, or
  • you have valid reasons to be in Canada

You can apply online. The current cost is £125. Visit the Canadian Embassy website for the UK for more information.

If you have a valid reason to travel, but you are inadmissible, they may still issue a temporary resident permit. Even if the reason you are inadmissible seems minor, you must show that your visit is valid.

More information about temporary resident permits is available on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

Other information

An article about travel restrictions based on a criminal record can be found on the Collateral Consequences Resource Center website.  Although this is written with an American audience in mind, the information is still relevant to travellers from the UK.

Personal experiences

The personal stories below have been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

For more information

  1. Practical self-help information – More information on travelling abroad with a criminal record here.
  2. Discuss the issue – Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Get involved

  1. Comment on this information (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us.
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online peer forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.



Add Comment
  1. Hi i wait my canada ETA from uk last 9 week, but not get approval. They still saying it is in processing. Please could u advise me what i can do?

      1. Did you manage to get your eta and go to Canada so sent mine of back in march 4 months ago and am due to fly next Friday and still no response

  2. Does anyone know how long it takes for IRCC to come back to you after submitting the police certificate? It’s no trace. But we fly out in 10 days. Will this be enough time for them to review the case and give us our answer?

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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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