Canada has some of the most friendly and open immigration policies among western, developed nations, but it’s not a complete free-for-all. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) still has certain standards and requirements for individuals wishing to live, work and study in the country. One of those requirements says that immigrants should have a clean criminal history. So if you’re wanting to move to Canada with a criminal record, you may find it difficult.

Is it possible to move to Canada with a criminal record?

Yes, even with a checkered past, you might still be able to immigrate to Canada. Of course, it will depend on the details of your criminal history and the specific nature of your infractions. With the help of an attorney, you may qualify for Criminal Rehabilitation.

What if I try not to disclose my criminal record?

Through the convenience of modern technology, Canadian immigration officials need only scan your passport to access your criminal record from your home country. This makes it all but impossible to keep your criminal history a secret. Immigration officials can retrieve your record when you submit your application, and at the port of entry as well.

To learn more about the requirements and procedures for moving to Canada, you may want to take a look at some of these other in-depth articles.

Types of crimes that could affect your eligibility for Canadian immigration

A criminal record could include any number of offenses, ranging from failure to pay a parking ticket, to Driving Under the Influence (DUI or DWI), to participating in a terrorist plot. Naturally, the IRCC will consider the seriousness of the crime(s) when deciding whether to accept or reject your immigration application.

Unlike the United States, Canada does not use the felony and misdemeanor classifications. Canada has its own system for determining the severity of a crime, and whether an offense is considered a felony or misdemeanor in the U.S. will be irrelevant in Canada. Canadian law identifies minor crimes as “summary offenses” and more serious crimes as “indictment offenses“. They also have “hybrid offenses” which fall into a kind of grey area.

If a person has indictment offenses on their record, this will make them inadmissible for immigration. This applies to all types of visas to live, work and study in Canada. So even if you’ve been accepted to a prestigious university or you’ve received a great job offer, you may have to miss out on a rare opportunity. Criminal inadmissibility can also extend to tourist visas. So even before you plan to visit Canada, it will be necessary to consider your criminal record. And it’s highly recommended that you contact an attorney if you have any doubts.

To know whether a crime committed outside of Canada is considered a summary, an indictment or a hybrid, you will probably need to consult a Canadian attorney. If you have an indictment or hybrid that makes you inadmissible, you can go through Criminal Rehabilitation to have the offense permanently removed from your record. You might also be able to have the offense temporarily ignored with a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP).

We strongly advise anyone in these situations to speak with a Canadian attorney to get a clear and thorough overview of their options based on their specific circumstances.

Drinking and Driving and Reckless Driving

DUIs (Driving Under the Influence) and DWIs (Driving While Intoxicated) are some of the most common infractions that can affect a person’s ability to move to Canada. The IRCC does not look favorably on these sorts of crimes, and they could spoil your chances for immigration. In fact, Canadian law considers drunk driving (regardless of what it’s called in your home jurisdiction) to be an indictment offense. Along with hit and runs and vehicular manslaughter, these are the most serious types of driving violations.

Other forms of reckless driving can also fall in the category of indictment offenses. Different countries and different states have a variety of names for the driving offenses, and you will probably need an attorney to tell you whether they are serious enough to make you inadmissible. Generally, any violation that shows a blatant disregard for public safety can render you ineligible to immigrate. Some of these offenses could include speeding, racing, disobeying police, refusing to take a breathalyzer, and driving with a suspended license.

Violent and Drug Related Crimes

Crimes of violence will almost definitely fall in the class of indictment offenses. Assault and/or battery, as well as domestic abuse, can greatly hinder a person’s chances of moving to Canada. Theft and burglary can also affect your eligibility for immigration. Drug related crimes, including possession and distribution, might also be considered indictment offenses, depending on the details. Again, you are best advised to speak with an attorney to determine the severity of a crime under Canadian law.

NOTE: Cannabis became completely legal throughout the country in October 2018. Therefore, most cannabis related crimes will no longer be considered very serious according to Canadian law.

Immigration Alternatives for the Criminally Inadmissible

If your criminal record has rendered you inadmissible for Canadian immigration, you may still have alternatives. Specifically, you could be eligible for Criminal Rehabilitation, and you might be able to obtain a Temporary Resident Permit.

Criminal Rehabilitation

If you paid your penalties, either as fines or as time served behind bars, and enough time has passed, you could be considered rehabilitated. In the case of a single DUI, for example, the period of time is 10 years, to be deemed rehabilitated by virtue of time.

For more serious crimes, however, such as multiple or more recent DUIs, you will have to apply for criminal rehabilitation. Essentially, this is like a written apology and a request for forgiveness from the Canadian authorities. A minimum of five years must have passed since the completion of any criminal sentence, including jail time.

If the government approves the application, the crime is permanently removed from your record, at least in the eyes of the Canadian authorities. But first, they may require you to take other actions, like taking driving classes, performing community service, or paying additional fines.

Temporary Resident Permit

While Criminal Rehabilitation offers a permanent solution, this is a quick and temporary solution to the issue of entering Canada with a criminal record. If you have a strong and legitimate reason for coming to Canada, you can get a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) to stay in the country for a fixed amount of time. Once you have a TRP, you may wish to start an application for Criminal Rehabilitation in order to extend your stay in the country.

TRPs come in different varieties, valid for different amounts of time. Some are good for multiple entries, others only once. In some cases, you may be able to obtain a TRP at the port of entry. But it is highly recommended to apply for this permit well ahead of your arrival in Canada.


A criminal record can indeed be bad news for your chances of moving to Canada. But it doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility. First, it will will depend on the severity of the crime(s) according to Canadian law. And for that, you will need to consult with a Canadian lawyer. Secondly, even if you do have a criminal record that makes you inadmissible, you can probably have it expunged from your record through Criminal Rehabilitation. A Temporary Resident Permit will also give you the chance to spend a short time in Canada and/or go through the process of rehabilitation.

In any case, Canada is a land of great opportunity, including for those who may have made some mistakes in their past. To learn more about how we can help you make a smooth transition to this wonderful country, take a look at our range of Canadian relocation services. ARIANNE has been helping students, families and professionals relocate to Canada for more than 20 years.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Oxford (Unsplash)