Can I get approved for a Canada eTA with a criminal record?

Updated: Dec 09, 2023 | Tags: Canada eTA Criminal Record, Canada Entry Requirements

Applicants with previous criminal history who wish to enter Canada for tourism, business or transit purposes by using the country’s electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) should be aware of the relevant form questions on criminal history. Fortunately, unlike other online travel authorizations, allows applicants greater flexibility in how they can clarify their answers to the questions and provide supporting evidence when requested.

Can I get approved for a Canada eTA with a criminal record?
Can I get approved for a Canada eTA with a criminal record?

The eTA background question on criminal history

The background question on the Canada eTA application that is relevant to individuals with previous criminal history is as follows:

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

Any arrest, charge, conviction or criminal conviction will require applicants to answer ‘yes’ to the question and provide additional information to IRCC for consideration. Additionally, IRCC asks eTA applicants to disclose previous criminal activity that may not have resulted in an arrest, charge or conviction. Applicants should bear in mind this question is intended to cover criminal activity in any country, not only their home country or Canada. Canadian authorities have access to numerous criminal record databases such as those managed by Interpol as well as security and law enforcement entities in the United States, European countries and others. Thus, applicants are advised to not mislead nor provide false information on their applications regarding previous criminal history.

After answering “yes” to the above question, applicants will be prompted to provide clarification of their criminal history in a text field. However, an applicant’s remarks about their criminal history may not be sufficient to process the application. In such instance, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will contact the applicant to provide evidence of any spent convictions. IRCC sends this notification through what is called a GCKey request.

The nature and severity of the crime play a significant role. Crimes involving physical harm, theft, and serious traffic violations (like DUIs) are considered more serious.

Common questions and answers when getting an eTA with a criminal record

What is a GCKey request and why may I be required to create one?

A GCKey is the digital identification used by the Canadian Government to manage Canadian eTA and visa applications. A GCKey enables applicants to use IRCC online services for submitting documents and other information. IRCC will be specific in their request for documents in the GCKey request. For instance, IRCC may ask for proof of a spent conviction or a certificate of clear criminal record from the police department of the applicant’s home country or city. Applicants can go beyond the minimum requirements specified in the GCKey request. In some instances, applicants have submitted independent legal opinions to IRCC around the nature of their crime to help support their applications. You should aim to respond to a GCKey request as soon as possible. Not responding within the designated deadline will result in the cancellation of your eTA application.

Can you travel on a Canada eTA with a previous drug conviction?

Yes, your eTA application may be approved. You will need to specify the circumstances around the conviction, such as if you were using the drug or involved in the distribution and sale of any drugs. You can mention details regarding any sentencing however it is likely you will need to provide further evidence in the GCKey request.

Can you travel on a Canada eTA with a drunk driving conviction?

Yes, even if you have a previous drunk driving conviction your eTA can still be approved. You can specify the details of the conviction when prompted on the application form. You may still receive a GCKey request if your answer on the form is not sufficient.

Can you travel on a Canada eTA with an assault charge?

Yes, your eTA may still be approved depending on the circumstances around the arrest or conviction. It is likely you will receive a GCKey request but you should still describe the details of the assault on your application to the best of your ability.

Can you travel on a Canada eTA with a suspended or spent sentence?

Yes, you will need to specify the actual crime which you were convicted of committing. IRCC will most likely email a GCKey request for additional information on the criminal charges based on your answer.

How can I obtain a Police Certificate to show my criminal record?

The Canadian Government website provides an online tool for information on how to get a police certificate for most countries. You will need to follow the instructions and submit a police certificate with a GCKey request, or link to the certificate using a cloud storage account (e.g. DropBox or GoogleDrive) and include the link on your eTA application form.

Can I travel to Canada without an eTA or visa if I don’t get approved?

No, if you do not hold a valid Canada eTA or visa you will not be allowed to board a plane to Canada.

Factors affecting Canada eTA approval when an applicant has previous criminal history

The list below is not exhaustive yet provides indication of the factors IRCC is considering when considering an eTA application.

  • Repeat offender - does the applicant have multiple convictions or a pattern of criminal behavior?
  • Date of the conviction and how many years have passed since last instance of criminal activity - if the crime was recent it could negatively impact IRCC's decision. Canada often applies the “rehabilitation period” concept, so the more time since the conviction the better. In some cases, if enough time has passed since the completion of your sentence (usually 10 years for one non-serious offense), you might be considered rehabilitated by the passage of time.
  • Applicant’s age at the time of the arrest or conviction - was the applicant a minor at the time of the crime?
  • Existence of criminal record on INTERPOL or other international databases - has the applicant committed a crime serious enough to warrant INTERPOL interest?
  • Societal impacts of the crime - to what extent were others negatively impacted by the crime?
  • Violent nature of the crime - serious crimes, especially those that equate to serious criminality under Canadian law, may lead to ineligibility for an eTA.
  • Monetary value of criminal activities or damages - if the crime was financial fraud or embezzlement, what was the total financial loss to victims?
  • Rehabilitation of the applicant after the conviction - has the applicant been able to show they have moved on from their criminal past?
  • Contribution to society or community after the conviction - has the applicant been able to demonstrate they can contribute to society in a positive manner?

Alternative Options

Temporary Resident Permit (TRP): If you are ineligible for an eTA, you might still be able to enter Canada with a TRP. This permit is for individuals who are otherwise inadmissible but have a justifiable reason to travel to Canada.

Legal Consultation: Consider consulting an immigration lawyer who specializes in Canadian immigration law, as they can provide advice tailored to your specific situation.


Canada eTA applicants with a criminal record have a considerable chance to have their eTA applications approved. IRCC allows applicants to specify the circumstances of their criminal history on the eTA application form. The answers submitted on the eTA form, along with any evidence submitted via a GCKey request, will be considered by IRCC when processing the eTA application.