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Being turned away at the border is inconvenient and embarrassing, but being denied entry at an airport can be much worse. Some people with criminal records don’t bother to get the necessary travel waivers before travelling between Canada and United States. However, this can be costly. There are many reasons Canadians and US residents don’t bother to get waivers to travel with a criminal record:

  • They don’t realize that Canada and the United States share criminal record databases
  • They have travelled before and gotten through because they weren’t sent to secondary inspection
  • They have a pardon or expungement and believe that the record has been sealed
  • Waivers are expensive
  • They didn’t have enough time to get a waiver
  • They think an airport customs officer won’t have the heart to turn around someone who has spent money on tickets

These assumptions can be costly. Customs officials turn away people from all over the world every day, including people who have spent their life savings hoping to get into the United States or Canada. In comparison, your situation will appear minor.

What happens when you are denied entry at the airport?

If you attempt to drive across the border with a criminal record, you can be detained, questioned and turned around. If you have hotel reservations this could be expensive, but usually, they will only charge you for one or two nights.

If you are arriving by plane, the stakes are higher. You have spent more money on your ticket and may have reasons for travel that are more important than a cross-border shopping trip or night on the town.

If the initial customs officer suspects that you have a reason for inadmissibility, they will send you to secondary inspection. Sometimes this happens for random reasons. Sometimes it is because they don’t believe you have sufficient ties to your own country or they think you may be arriving to work without a permit.

A secondary screening interview can take hours. It can cause you to miss connecting flights. If the officer discovers your criminal record, they will likely deny you entry. You can be fingerprinted, photographed and asked to sign a statement.

They will then call the airline and tell them you need a seat on the next flight home. The airline is legally compelled to take you. If you are travelling between Canada and the US you don’t usually need to wait too long for another flight. If you are coming from a far away country, they may only have weekly flights. In this case, you could be jailed until the flight leaves.

Some visitors who have been denied entry to the US and Canada have reported being escorted to their flight in handcuffs and shackles, even for minor visa technicalities. Others find being escorted by an officer humiliating even if this is not the case.

When you get to the airline counter, three things could happen:

  • They apply your return ticket to your flight back
  • They add a fee to change your return flight date
  • They require you to buy a full fare ticket

Don’t expect a refund. Airlines can be fined for transporting people without necessary documents. If you can’t afford to pay, they will still allow you on the flight, but they may try to collect from you later. If you are doing a stopover on the way to somewhere else, you can still be sent back to your original destination. For example, a Canadian wishing to travel to Mexico will be sent back to Canada if the flight stops in Los Angeles.

What can you do?

Getting denied at the airport can be a very stressful and scary experience that is best avoided. In order to prevent or minimize this:

Get the proper travel documents: For Canadians with criminal records, you can get a US Entry Waiver. US residents can get a Temporary Resident Permit or apply for Criminal Rehabilitation. Americans can be deemed rehabilitated 10 years after the completion of a sentence. However, they may need to bring proof.

Try preclearance: If you live in Canada, you can book a flight that leaves from an international airport with US preclearance facilities. These airports are available in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg. By being prescreened before you get on the plane you won’t need to pay for a flight back, but you will still lose out on the flight you paid for unless the airline is willing to give you a credit. Keep in mind that US Customs has advanced screening capabilities under a new preclearance bill and can still search and detain you.

Get travel insurance: This may be possible, but if you bought a ticket to a country that you are inadmissible to enter, the insurance company can deny your claim.

Drive: Driving allows more flexibility and involves less expense, but you can still be searched and detained. Your car or digital devices can be seized, at least temporarily.

Of these options, getting the right documents for your situation is clearly the best option. It may take longer and involve fees, but it will pay for itself by helping you avoid a denied entry. To find out if you need a US or Canadian Waiver contact AllCleared for a free consultation at 1-866-972-7366.