Canada

Character Concerns

Character Concerns
 

All potential visitors, whether applying for a temporary resident visa or requesting landing permission at the border must be of good moral character, and under Canadian law this means having a completely clean criminal history. Immigration authorities take character concerns of visitors very seriously and any offence, misdemeanour or felony, regardless of how minor or how long ago it took place can exclude you from Canada for a period of time, indefinitely, or permanently. This also includes US citizens, some of whom had to be turned back while attempting to drive across the border. In fact, even former U.S. President George W. Bush needed to apply for a waiver to enter on an official state visit during his term in office because of a conviction for drunken driving. There are a few exceptions, and if you are inadmissible because of a criminal conviction, you do have some options.

As a general rule, a conviction for anything more serious than a speeding ticket will keep you out of Canada for at least five years from the date you finish your sentence. More serious offences such as felonies may require you to wait up to ten years, or in the most serious cases obtain a pardon or other civil relief locally before applying for entry. In addition to criminal convictions, certain "summary offences" which include minor drug possession tickets that are not handled through the criminal system are considered criminal convictions for the purpose of immigration law, even if you were never arrested, charged with a crime or sentenced. Additionally, you cannot enter Canada if there are current charges pending against you or a trial is underway.

Although unlikely as a visitor who meets all other entry requirements, you may also be refused if you have significant unpaid debt, have an active civil judgement against you, or have recently declared bankruptcy. In these cases, you can regain your ability to enter Canada by either paying the debt in full, showing evidence of a payment plan in good standing or after a bankruptcy showing a history of financial solvency over the period of a few years.

Offences committed before the age of 18, parking tickets, local ordinance violations and crimes of conscience such as publishing statements critical of the government in China generally do not result in inadmissibility. Similarly, non-criminal traffic tickets usually do not result in inadmissibility, although if you were ever required to appear in court over a traffic violation not simply going to court to challenge a ticket or you accumulated enough points that your license was summarily suspended or revoked, you may be inadmissible and should contact a Canadian embassy or high counsel for advice.

Character Concerns
 

If you have a single misdemeanor or summary offence on your record and it's been at least five years since you finished your sentence, and your offence would be punished with a prison term of 10 years or less in Canada, you can be deemed rehabilitated on the spot by an immigration officer without formally applying in advance. That being said, you have one chance in your entire lifetime at this type of rehabilitation and the border officer has the absolute final decision on your fate. The burden is on you, the visitor, to provide proof that you have indeed reformed and are unlikely to re-offend. Possible proof includes but is not limited to:

Police "good conduct" reports

Character references

Letters from employers, pay stubs, tax returns or other documentation showing that you have steady employment

Evidence of any educational, volunteer or treatment experience that you've completed since your conviction.

Bring everything and anything you have that suggests you're living a stable and crime-free life. The more documentation you have and the less the officer has to rely on your word that you've turned your life around the stronger your case is for being admitted.

If you are turned away, or if your offence makes you ineligible to be deemed rehabilitated, you can apply for individual rehabilitation directly to Citizenship and Immigration Canada CIC. Again, at least five years must have passed since you completed your sentence. An application for individual rehabilitation has onerous documentation requirements, costs between $200 and $3000 depending on the nature of the offence and whether the application requires approval from the Minister of Justice most do and can take up to a year to get an answer. While you can compile the documentation and submit the application yourself, both CIC and many who have gone through the process highly advise retaining an immigration attorney to complete and file the application on your behalf. If you are denied rehabilitation, there is no right of appeal, you will not be given specific reasons as to why your application was denied, and you must wait at least one year before applying again.

Character Concerns
 

If you aren't qualified for either type of rehabilitation or are turned down, another option is a temporary resident permit, a one-time waiver for an inadmissible person to enter Canada. This is not the same as a temporary resident visa, but the two can be applied for together if you are from a country requiring such a visa. These used to be relatively easy to obtain with documented good behavior and a good enough reason for traveling besides going on vacation, but today they are only issued for "exceptionally compelling humanitarian grounds" or "reasons of significant national interest." The website of the Canadian Counsel General Office in Buffalo states that temporary resident permits will not be issued for "sightseeing, visiting friends or relatives, attending cultural or sporting events, attending business meetings or conventions, hunting or fishing trips, or going to the family cottage" (http://www.canadainternat...). Unless you're visiting a dying relative, attending a funeral, or can afford to hire a Canadian immigration lawyer, don't even bother applying for one of these. In the unlikely event you're successful in procuring a TRP - it will state exactly where you're allowed to go and for exactly how long usually a few days to a week - enough time to get in, do what you need to do and leave right away. Unlike visas, immigration authorities are much less forgiving with TRP holders, so don't expect to be granted time extensions or much leeway with your travel plans.

Character Concerns
 

Obtaining a pardon or unconditional discharge will generally restore your ability to travel to Canada, and depending on your circumstances you may have much more luck going this route. If the crime was committed in Canada, there's a centralized process you can go through and odds of success are fairly high if you've shown commitment to turning your life around and kept your nose clean since then.

If your pardon or discharge was issued for a crime outside Canada, be sure to bring documentation to that effect with you to the border or when applying for a visa.

Character Concerns
 

Canada may consider your credit history as part of the character and risk assessment when applying for a visa or landing permission at the border. Whether a credit check will occur and what role if any it will play into your admissibility decision depends largely on what immigration status you're applying for.

As a temporary visitor especially from a country that doesn't require a temporary resident visa merely having bad credit should not affect your entry to Canada as long as you can show means of supporting yourself. If the visa or border officer doubts your ability to maintain yourself whilst in Canada then a credit check can be used to support a decision to grant or refuse entry or a visa for financial reasons based on the totality of the circumstances.

If you are applying for a work permit, a long term visa of any kind or are immigrating to Canada, expect your financial history to be heavily scrutinized and be prepared to explain any exceptionally bad marks i.e. chargeoffs, repossessions, etc... if asked. This does not apply to family stream immigrants as long as the sponsor is financially solvent, nor does it apply to refugees or asylum seekers.

Bankruptcy and debt related litigation are public records that will come up in background checks and are considered character concerns - refusal is very likely unless you can make and prove a highly compelling case for it to be set aside such as if the judgement resulted from identity theft or a disability. If this describes you, and you can afford it - discuss your situation with an immigration attorney prior to making travel plans or applying for a visa. Keep in mind also that depending on the jurisdiction where the bankruptcy or litigation occurred such as Australia and the United Kingdom you may not be allowed to travel internationally at all, or may require a waiver or permission from the court.

In mainland China, most Gulf Cooperative Council nations Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as a handful of US States such as Minnesota certain types of unpaid debt may be treated as a criminal offense punishable with a jail term, and standard rehabilitation procedures would apply prior to entering Canada.

Character Concerns
 

Besides a criminal record, CIC lists a host of other situations that may prevent admission into Canada. While most of these shouldn't be an issue for the average traveller e.g. previously overstayed or violated visa conditions, human rights violations, involvement with terrorism or organized crime, etc..., there are a few that do occasionally complicate or bar entry for visitors:

Purpose of visit
The days when you could simply walk over the Rainbow Bridge with your driver's license, telling customs that you wanted to see the other side of the city are long gone. If you're visiting as a tourist including day-trip pedestrians from Niagara Falls, NY or Detroit, border officers expect that you have a clear idea of what you plan to do and see while in the country. Vague answers and those such as "I'll see when I get to this city" will only invite further scrutiny of your case. They are going to want a detailed itinerary of the places you'll be visiting. It's a good idea to research the places you intend to tour and have all the pertinent information written down ahead of time, and to include contact information if any of your destinations aren't standard tourist attractions or more off the beaten path. Also be prepared with a physical street address at which you will be staying a hotel name by itself is not acceptable if you'll be in the country for more than a single day.
Letter of invitation
In absence of a visa authorizing employment, long-term residency or study, a letter of invitation sometimes called a "letter of introduction" is required for persons visiting for any reason other than tourism including visiting relatives or friends. For business visitors, there is specific information this letter must contain including a statement of financial support, but for everybody else something in writing e-mail or hard copy along with contact information from the person you're visiting is sufficient. You must bring the letter with you to the port of entry, even if you used it to apply for a temporary resident visa. The letter of invitation requirement is strictly enforced. If you are a business visitor and show up without one you will be denied entry. Others may or may not be admitted after significant delays and additional rounds of unpleasant questioning while border officials attempt to verify your story.
Health concerns
If you are very sick, to the point where the border officer has to consider whether you might burden the healthcare system during your visit, you will be denied entry.
Support funds
You need to prove you have enough funds to support yourself and dependants while in Canada. For most Western tourists a major credit card not a debit, ATM or bank card is sufficient.
Inadmissible family members
If you have an immediate family member who is deemed inadmissible, you may also be disqualified from entry based on that fact, although this is at the discretion of the border or visa officer. It seems to be a problem more for persons with known terrorists, members of the Mafia, or other high profile criminals in their family, not just a sibling with a misdemeanour conviction.

As a general rule, admissibility and rehabilitation decisions cannot be appealed beyond a supervisory review at the visa office or border. The only exception is if you can prove the decision was based on wrong information for example you were acquitted of a crime, but that fact was never properly recorded in Canada's database. That being said, you are usually allowed to apply again once any specific issues relating to a refusal have been corrected, once the requisite time has passed for rehabilitation, or one year after being denied rehabilitation.

Starting March 15, 2016, most travellers entering Canada will need an Electronic Travel Authorization eTA or a visitor visa. Canada has introduced eTA for visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling to Canada by air. Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travellers with a valid visa. Entry requirements for other methods of travel land, sea have not changed. Travellers can obtain an eTA online as of August 1, 2015.

Those who do not need an eTA will be required to obtain a Temporary Resident Visa to enter the country. This can be done at the applicants' nearest Canadian Visa Office. Applicants are required to submit, as part of their application:

A valid travel document such as a passport

Two properly-formatted, passport-sized photos for all applicants

The application fee The fee per person is $75 for a single entry visa, $150 for a multiple entry visa or $400 for a family (multiple or single entry

Reservation confirmation for tourists or letter of invitation for everybody else.

Proof that you have enough money for your visit to Canada. The amount of money may vary, depending on the circumstances for your visit, how long you will stay and whether you will stay in a hotel, or with friends or relatives. You can get more information from the visa office.

Other documents as required. These documents could be identification cards, proof of employment, or a proposed itinerary. Check the website of the visa office responsible for the country or region where you live for more information.

If you plan to visit the United States and do not travel outside the borders of the US, you can use your single entry visa to re-enter as long as the visa has not passed its expiry date.

Working while in Canada is forbidden without a work permit, although Canada does have several temporary work permits for youth from specific countries. See "Work" below.

United States/American Samoan citizens to Canada need only proof of citizenship and identification for short-term visits. In addition to a driver's license, a number of other documents may also be used to cross the border:

United States Passport Card issued by the Department of State

United States Passport Book issued by the Department of State

Enhanced Drivers License or Non-Driver Photo ID card currently issued by Michigan, New York, Vermont, and Washington State

Enhanced Tribal ID Card

Trusted Traveler Cards issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the Canadian Border NEXUS and FAST.

DHS issued cards for the Mexican Border SETRI and for international air travelers Global Entry cannot be used to enter Canada, but they are acceptable to re-enter the United States and may be used in the dedicated NEXUS lanes into the US, where available.

Prior to 2009, it was possible to travel across the US-Canada border with just a driver's license. Birth certificates are technically still acceptable to enter Canada, but United States Customs and Border Protection stopped accepting birth certificates when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative WHTI went into effect. This is due to the fact that many especially older certificates are little more than a typewritten piece of carbon paper with no security. If you try to re-enter the United States with a US birth certificate, you will eventually be let in, but only after significant delays while CBP verifies the information on it with the issuing department, you may also be fined or prosecuted for non-compliance, although anything more than a written warning is unlikely for a first time violator. Since after 2009 a normal driver's license will still get you in Canada but will not be accepted coming back into the US.

Upon entry to Canada, the standard questions will include your intended itinerary, if you have visited Canada before, and if you are in possession of any firearms. Under no circumstance is it a good idea to try to carry weapons over the frontier. If you are driving you should have proof of insurance coverage ready to go and you should have some listed hotels or places to stay ready to present if asked.

Residents of Greenland, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and some Caribbean nations are not required to present a passport if they can prove nationality and identity via some other means.

Residents of Greenland, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and the United States also benefit from arrangements where applications for work and study permits can be made upon arrival in Canada at the Immigration Office at the port of entry without the need for an advance Temporary Resident Visa or advance application at a consulate. However, all the paperwork normally needed for such a permit has to be submitted at the port of entry as it would at a consulate, including a letter of introduction/invitation, the appropriate paperwork issued by the institution/employer, and the appropriate fees.

By train
By train

Via Rail (http://www.viarail.ca) is Canada's national passenger rail service. Amtrak (http://www.amtrak.com) provides connecting rail service to Toronto from New York via Niagara Falls, Montreal from New York and Vancouver from Seattle via Bellingham. The train is an inexpensive way to get into Canada, with tickets starting from as low as US$43 return to Vancouver. There is also thruway service between Seattle and Vancouver.

Be wary though: Not many private citizens in Canada take the train as a regular means of transportation. Most citizens simply drive to where they want to go if the distance is short which in Canada can still mean hundreds of kilometres!, or fly if the distance is long.

Important: If you're traveling cross-border on Amtrak service, you must have your tickets validated prior to boarding. Pick up your tickets from the window not the Quick-Trak kiosk and show your passport or travel document to the agent your travel document information is sent ahead of time on a manifest to border services to facilitate crossing procedures. Some stations, such as New York City have a dedicated window for international passengers.

See also: Rail travel in Canada

By bus
By bus

Greyhound Canada serves many destinations in Canada, with connecting service to regional lines and U.S. Greyhound coaches. Be sure to inquire about discounts and travel packages that allow for frequent stops as you travel across Canada. Many routes connect major Canadian and American cities including Montreal - New York City which is operated by New York Trailways (http://www.trailwaysny.com/), Vancouver - Seattle operated by Greyhound and Toronto - New York City via Buffalo, this route in particular is operated by a number of bus companies: Greyhound, Coach Canada (http://www.coachcanada.com), New York Trailways, Megabus (http://us.megabus.com), and Ne-On (http://www.neonbus.com).

By plane
By plane

You are likely to arrive to Canada by air, most likely into Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver the 5 largest cities, from East to West. Many other cities have international airports as well, with the following being of particular use to visitors: Halifax, St. John's, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna, and Victoria.

Air Canada (http://www.aircanada.com) and WestJet (http://www.westjet.com) are the country's only national air carriers, covering the entire country and international destinations Note that a number of regional domestic airlines also exist as well as charter airlines serving only international destinations.

As a rule of thumb, all Canadian three-letter IATA airport codes start with a "Y".

Luggage allowance for flights to or from Canada usually operates on a piece-wise in addition to the weight system even for foreign carriers. This means that you are allowed a limited number of bags to check-in where each bag should not exceed certain linear dimensions computed by adding the length, width and height of the bags. The exact restrictions on weight, linear dimension and number of baggage allowed are determined by the carrier you are flying with and the class of service you are travelling in, usually individual bags may be up to 23 kilos 50 lb if traveling in economy class.

Additionally, if you are coming from the United States, be advised that Air Canada on transborder itineraries only - not Canadian domestic service as well as all US based carriers that operate transborder service Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways charge checked bag fees. Typically $25 for a single bag of up to 23 kilos/ 50 pounds, and $35-50 for a second bag, unless you qualify for a fee waiver based on elite status or class of service.

From The United States

If you are travelling to Canada from the United States and you are not a permanent resident of either country you need to be careful to satisfy the U.S. authorities on any subsequent trip that you have not exceeded their limits on stays in North America. Your time in Canada counts towards your maximum allowed United States stay if you are returning to the US prior to your departure from North America.

If you are returning to the US in this trip, keep your visa documents. Do not hand over your US visa or visa waiver card I-94 or I-94W to border control. You can enter the US multiple times during the time allocated to your visa for Western tourists, normally 90 days, but you need to have the immigration document as well to validate the visa. If you come back from the US without that document, you will not only have to apply again for a visa or visa waiver but also will also need to satisfy US immigration of the validity of your trip meaning to show them that you will not intend on immigrating there.

If your default US time is going to run out while you are in Canada, and you want to return to the US direct from Canada, you need to apply for a US visa with a longer time period eg B-1/B-2, or a C-1 transit visa before your first trip through the US. For example, if you are going to stay in Canada for six months, and you transit through the US on a visa waiver, then the US will regard your six months in Canada as not allowing you to return to the US without leaving North America first, as you have stayed more than 90 days in North America in total. Note that in this scenario, you have not done anything wrong by visiting the US and then staying in Canada for a long time, simply that the US will not allow you to return directly from Canada, you have to reset their clock by leaving North America. Visa waiver travellers may be able to avoid this by returning their I-94W green form to their airline upon departing the US, or to the Canadian immigration inspector if entering Canada by land; since the US has no outbound immigration check, it's up to the traveller to remember this.

If you are intending to leave North America entirely without returning to the US on this trip, return any visa documents at the time of leaving the US for Canada. This means handing over your I-94 or I-94W card to airline staff at the check-in counter if departing by air, or to the Canadian immigration inspector if departing by land. If you do not, you will need to prove to the US that you didn't overstay to be admitted on future trips the US CBP website has information on how to correct this mistake.

If you leave Canada to briefly visit the United States and wish to re-enter Canada in a short period of time, you generally may do so without getting a new Canadian visa as long as you return within the initial period authorised by the immigration officer or have a valid temporary residence permit authorising you to re-enter, and you do not leave US soil before returning to Canada eg, not even during a cruise which begins and ends at a US point but crosses international waters in-between. If you leave US soil for a third country for any reason on a single-entry Canadian visa, you will have to apply for a new visa before re-entering Canada.

By ship
By ship

In British Columbia, you can enter Canada by ferry from Alaska and Washington. Alaska Marine Highway serves Prince Rupert, whereas Washington State Ferries serves Sidney near Victoria through the San Juan islands. There is a car ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles run by Black Ball; there are also tourist-oriented passenger-only ferries running from Victoria to points in Washington.

There is a passenger ferry running from Fortune in Newfoundland to Saint Pierre and Miquelon.

A small car ferry operates between Wolfe Island, Ontario near Kingston and Cape Vincent, NY.

A small car ferry operates between Pelee Island Ontario, Kingsville Ontario and Sandusky Ohio when ice and weather allows.

The CAT car ferry between Rochester, NY and Toronto, Ontario was discontinued in January 2006 because of poor ridership. The Bay Ferries route from Bar Harbor in Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, also called the CAT, was discontinued in 2010 due to a lack of funding. Bay Ferries does still run a New Brunswick to Nova Scotia ferry.

Several cruise lines run cruises between the eastern United States and Halifax. Most freight routes run to Montreal on the east coast and Vancouver on the west coast. International passengers will be required to pass through customs in their port of arrival.

By car
By car

Canada has a land border with only one country - the United States. See the "from the United States" subsection for more information on what to do when leaving the US.

You might also enter the country by road from the United States through one of many border crossing points. Obviously, the same rules will apply here, but if your case is not straightforward, expect to be delayed, as the officials here especially in more rural areas see fewer non-U.S. travelers than at the airports. Also expect delays during holiday periods, as border crossings can become clogged with traffic.

Drivers of American cars will need to carry a Canadian Non-Resident Insurance Certificate in addition to their standard insurance card and must be prepared to present both documents for inspection. The Certificate comes in the form of a yellow paper card which can only be issued by foreign insurers who are authorized to do business in Canada.

Canada has some of the highest levels of minimum auto insurance coverage in the world: $200,000 in all provinces except Quebec and Nova Scotia which are $50,000 and $500,000 respectively.

Since most US states have insurance minimums under $50,000 and some states do not require insurance at all, the non-resident certificate signifies that your insurance company will cover you up to provincial mandatory limits while driving in Canada which the company was required to agree to as a condition of doing business in Canada. Rules regarding the issuing of this certificate vary widely depending on which carrier you have. GEICO and AAA will issue a certificate valid for the entire term of your policy if you ask for it. Liberty Mutual and Progressive will only issue a certificate with advance approval for a specific date range, and some insurance companies especially smaller local insurance companies in non-border states will not cover you in Canada at all. If you are planning on driving into Canada, its very important to talk to your insurance company as soon as you know you'll be going so they can print up the certificate if they offer it and mail it to you.

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and travel to Canada frequently, you may consider applying for a NEXUS card. NEXUS allows pre-approved, low risk travelers to use expedited inspection lanes both into Canada and the United States at many land crossings with minimal questioning. You can also utilize kiosks to make your customs declaration and clear the border at major international airports if you opt for an iris scan. The application fee is $50 and requires being legally admissible to both nations, thorough background investigation, fingerprinting and an interview with both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency. See (http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgo...)

If you intend to enter Canada using a U.S. car, take note that after crossing the border going north, the road signs change into metric units i.e. distances are in kilometres and speed limits posted are in kilometres per hour. The usual speed limit on U.S. freeways is between 65-75 miles/hour, but you will need to read your speedometer in kilometres for the speed limit in km/hour once past the border, ie. 100 km/h = 62.5 mp/h. One mile is equivalent to 1.6 km so divide what you see on the road signs by 1.6 to get its equivalent in miles ie. 40km = 25 miles. If you plan on renting a car from the U.S., be sure to rent one with a speedometer that has both metric and U.S. units a standard feature on modern U.S. cars; in this case, U.S. units are on top or outward while metric units are below or inward.

When driving within Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto keep in mind that these cities are densely populated and parking can be difficult to find and/or expensive. All three cities provide extensive public transit, so it is easy to park in a central location, or at your hotel or lodging, and still travel in the metropolitan area. You can usually obtain maps of the public transit systems at airports, subway kiosks, and train stations.