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Sorry in advance for the lengthy post.

I'm an American citizen who spends most of my time outside of the United States traveling for fun. I've never had a problem and I have no criminal history. I've never overstayed a visa. I own a business with employees that allows me to work from anywhere. As a result, I don't have a permanent residence anywhere and I very rarely need to be in the United States for work.

A couple weeks ago I drove to Canada for the first time to go skiing in Whistler. I had a couple boxes of unused ammunition in the car from a recent visit to a gun range (but no gun). My plan was to give the ammunition to the US border exit gate before I reached the Canadian entry gate.

Well, there's no US exit gate - it's just the Canadian entry gate. I declared the ammunition, the Canadians searched my car, and they found a marijuana vaporizer with two cartridges of oil and a small tin of coffee beans. Marijuana is legal in all the western coastal states and I had forgotten it was in my car.

Anyway, they turned me away at the border because:

  • They found drugs
  • I couldn't provide proof of permanent residency in the USA
  • I had too much stuff in my car for my intended length of stay (I said two weeks because I was going to come back to visit family in Seattle)

The Canadian officer told me the primary reason for entry denial was the lack of permanent residency.

The Canadians put a seven year flag on my passport for the drugs which means I'll be searched every single time I try to enter. The USA guys searched me on my way back and confiscated the ammunition and they have on record that the Canadians found marijuana.

The very next day I signed an apartment lease in Seattle, printed off all my current bank statements, cleaned out the car, left some stuff behind at the new apartment, and entered Canada without an issue after providing all the supporting documents. The officer again reiterated that for future visits they want to see things like utility bills sent to my Seattle residence and they granted me a 2 week visa.

Will this visa denial on my record negatively affect my chances of entering other countries? The marijuana thing seems very serious to me, even though I wasn't arrested for anything.

I feel like when I answer "yes" to "have you ever been denied entry" in future entry documents to other countries I will just get an instant denial and be stuck in limbo at an airport, and this instant denial will only serve to be yet another entry denial on my record. I think that even if I manage to get into Canada a million more times in the future this one incident will haunt me forever.

I know that countries like Japan really don't like marijuana so I feel like perhaps I screwed myself really badly this time. I assume that all countries can see this visa denial in a permanent database. My passport doesn't have a denial stamp from the Canadians but I assume this doesn't mean anything - it's somewhere in a database that all countries can now see.

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    For future reference, even if there had been a US exit gate they won't just take your stuff and keep until you come back. – DJClayworth Feb 2 '18 at 19:17
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    Huh? I wanted to get the ammunition taken permanently. It was either that or toss two boxes of bullets into a trash can at midnight. I never said I wanted to use them as a storage unit for the duration of my vacation... – fuzzybabybunny Feb 2 '18 at 23:49
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    For future reference, marijuana is not legal in any state. Federal law preempts, Canada was entirely right (in a legal and diplomatic sense) to ping this. – Nij Feb 3 '18 at 6:09
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    I'm just going to go check my vehicle for drugs and ammunition... Nope. Neither. Now I feel like I'm missing out on all the fun. – Strawberry Feb 3 '18 at 11:20
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    "I own a business with employees that allows me to work from anywhere." That alone could be an immigration problem almost anywhere in the world. If you're working remotely while visiting country X, that's often classed as working in that country, which is illegal on a tourist visa. – David Richerby Feb 4 '18 at 12:16
56

Were you really “denied entry” to Canada? Check your paperwork and your passport carefully.

Often what Canada does for minor offenses is to allow you to “voluntarily withdraw” your application to enter Canada. You still get turned back at the border and a strike in your record on the Canada side but as you voluntarily withdrew your request to enter, it does not count as an entry refusal.

update: note that being given an “allowed to leave form” isn’t necessarily the same as a voluntary withdrawal. Some “allowed to leave” forms will specify that you were found inadmissible, give the section of the immigration act you violated or didn’t meet, and note that you are leaving voluntarily (ie not in handcuffs) -- in these cases, you were denied entry and should declare this when asked. Other "allowed to leave" forms do indicate that you voluntarily withdrew your application and there is no declaration of inadmissability. You need to check whatever paperwork you were given carefully.

For the OP, that you don’t have a denial stamp in your passport and that you were let into Canada a few days after strongly suggests voluntary withdrawal. But you need to double-check especially if you plan on traveling to other countries as visa-waivers often require no denials on your record. If you’re unsure and don’t have the paperwork, ask the CBSA agent next time you pass through or ask your local Canadian consulate.

Voluntary withdrawals are not entry-denials and so do not have to be listed when asked if you've ever been refused entry or had a visa denied. However, if you are explicitly asked whether you've ever voluntarily withdrawn an application to enter at the border, you do of course have to respond affirmatively.

As far as the weapons and drug charges, you again need to be certain of what happened: were you arrested? were you charged? did you plead guilty? were you sentenced or fined? or did you voluntarily give up the contraband in lieu of being charged/arrested/fined? These distinctions make a big difference to other countries when using visa waivers or making visa applications.


For example, in the specific case of Japan, they ask whether you have ever:

  • been deported or removed from Japan or any country for overstaying your visa or violating any law or regulation?
  • been convicted and sentenced for a drug offence in any country in violation of law concerning narcotics, marijuana, opium, stimulants or psychotropic substances?

Based on what you've said, it sounds like your answer to both is "no."

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    Thanks for the advice. The immigration officer made it abundantly clear that I wasn't being arrested or charged for anything, but that I had come close due to the marijuana. As for the ammunition, it's not considered a weapons thing since I didn't have a gun and I never have. The Canadians didn't think much of it, but told me I would have broken United States laws by exporting ammunition without an export permit, which is also why the Canadians refused to confiscated the ammunition. They actually let me keep it and the US border confiscated it when I declared it on my U-turn back into the USA. – fuzzybabybunny Feb 3 '18 at 0:08
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    Sounds like you really dodged a bullet, so to speak. – RoboKaren Feb 3 '18 at 0:09
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    Yes, the US will do the same for Canadians: "Look, this entry application you're about to make is doomed to fail. So I suggest you withdraw it, and you won't get a refusal on your passport. That means you did not enter the US today. To be clear, crossing the national border solely to visit this office here does not count as "entering the US". Important part here: if in the future you are ever asked if you entered the US, you did not. Come on back when <condition for refusal> no longer applies." – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 3 '18 at 6:05
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    IMPORTANT: THIS IS FALSE. I was in this exact situation, and I was given an "Allowed to Leave" form, which stated that I voluntarily withdrew my request to be admitted into Canada. However, when later applying for immigration, I answered a question "Have you ever been refused entry into any country?" as "No". Well, apparently, US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand all share the same information system. Because lo and behold, I got charged with misrepresentation. They listed the date, and that I've been refused to Canada. And it took a LOT of trouble getting out of that case. A lot. – Alex Nov 12 '18 at 17:30
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    If you're interested, I can find some instances online where others have been in this exact situation (apparently, a lot of people believe this post ;) Or, I can upload a copy of the PDF from the Government of Canada, where I got charged with misrepresentation. I just wouldn't want anyone else getting into the same can of worms that I got myself into by not reporting the Allowed to Leave's. – Alex Nov 12 '18 at 17:33
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When you are asked whether you have ever been denied entry, the correct answer is Yes. I was turned back simply because I carried too much things in my car for my intended duration of trip. Nothing stamped in my passport, no implicated crime committed, no inadmissibility or anything like that -- just an "Allowed to Leave" form given, which says "I hereby voluntarily withdraw my application to enter Canada and agree to leave Canada without delay." Scroll forward a bit, when I subsequently applied for Permanent Residence, I had a question, "Have you ever been refused entry into Canada?", "Have you ever been refused entry into any other country?" I answered No to both, and lo and behold, they served me with a Procedural Fairness Letter, which comes before a Misrepresentation charge. I attach the image of the PDF of it, with my information whited out.

Notice of Misrepresentation

In the end, they gave me 7 days to provide them with additional documentation/explanation to allay their concerns, or else face the charge of misrepresentation. God has helped me, to where this refusal was recent enough, and my photographic memory worked well enough, that I could quote how the border officer explained this Allowed to Leave for me -- and also, they had record of the conversation in their system, to where they confirmed that the border agents messed up when explaining to me how I should fill this out on future applications; I also had records of the phone calls where I called the embassy to ask about this -- so after doing their investigation for almost 4 months, they decided not to raise the charge of misrepresentation. But the point is, if you are asked about being denied, the truthful answer would be Yes. So that's the bad news.

The good news is, that Japan does NOT share the same immigration system. The countries able to see this refusal are, US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Hence, unless they found out about this refusal in another way (e.g., the "Drug watch" flag might be visible to all countries; I don't know), the Japanese wouldn't know that you have been refused from entering Canada.

  • Hi Alex, thanks for your answer. I've edited it to remove a word that is often considered offensive. – MJeffryes Nov 12 '18 at 18:11
  • Is there any way to remove the first edit in that history? I took a second look, and it had some personally identifiable information, which I fixed with my second edit. I am looking for this on the FAQ, but I thought I'd ask in case a wrong person sees it first. – Alex Nov 12 '18 at 18:20
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    Yes, you can flag and select "in need of moderator intervention" and explain why you want the history removed. – MJeffryes Nov 12 '18 at 18:25
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    @RoboKaren After spending quite a lot on this issue, it's actually the omission of it in my application that was the problem. If you're interested, I'll find some links on the internet with other people in the same situation -- I saw quite a lot of such cases while searching for the right attorney. – Alex Nov 12 '18 at 18:52
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-4

Nobody hardly anybody is ever "stuck in limbo" at the airport. That happens only in movies. If you are not allowed in, you will be put on a plane to your country of departure even if you have no return ticket with you. You might get a hefty bill for that flight, however.

If you want to minimize the risk of being held on the border or the airport, you can often apply for a visa in advance even if you could get a visa on arrival instead.

Generally there is no instant denial. Each country will evaluate your case against their priorities. I think parts of Europe would be much more upset about the arms smuggling charge than the drugs.

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    Some of these people might disagree with the claim that nobody is ever "stuck in limbo" at the airport. – Michael Hampton Feb 2 '18 at 20:01
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    Not necessarily the country of departure; it has to be a country that's willing to admit the person, which might not be true of the country of departure. – phoog Feb 2 '18 at 21:52
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    @MichaelHampton, perhaps "nobody" should be "hardly anybody." And look at the cases -- mostly those people wanted in and refused to go home. – o.m. Feb 3 '18 at 6:13
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    @MichaelHampton OK, the literal claim is false. But doesn't the fact that getting stuck at an airport for a long time is significant enough to get you mentioned on Wikipedia indicate strongly that it's an exceedingly rare event? Wikipedia lists fifteen people, of whom three were "stranded" at airports in their own country of citizenship and two more were stuck simply because they'd ran out of money. So we're looking at ten people stranded by immigration issues, which is a completely negligible proportion of international travellers. More people must die of heart attacks in airports each year. – David Richerby Feb 4 '18 at 16:52
-8

The Canadian immigration authorities don't store American citizens' fingerprints. Without fingerprints, no other country will know about your denial of entry to Canada. For citizens of some countries for which Canada collects fingerprints, any denial of entry or visa refusal could potentially be found out by members of the FCC--UK, USA, NZ and Australia.

However, it would be an entire different ball game if you were arrested or charged with a criminal offence.

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    This is terrible advice. You should never lie on an application even if you’re sure they can’t find out. – RoboKaren Feb 2 '18 at 21:07
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    They don't store American citizens' fingerprints under any circumstances? I find that difficult to believe. Besides, it's possible to match biographical data siren in the passport without having the bearer's fingerprints. – phoog Feb 2 '18 at 21:49
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    United States criminal records are visible to border officers through the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). Operated by the RCMP, the CPIC central police database is interfaced with the United States National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which is the FBI CJIS database interlinked with all federal, tribal, state, and local agencies in the US. – Giorgio Feb 3 '18 at 1:38
  • @RoboKaren who said anything about lying? Only a handful on countries ask about denial of entry in other countries. With an American passport, the OP doesn't need to worry about application forms for the countries that do. – greatone Feb 3 '18 at 4:45
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    An American passport does not entitle persons to visa-free entry when the bearer doesn't meet the conditions. Being refused entry elsewhere generally means you don't meet the conditions. You are recommending lying-by-omission. This may work, of course, just like other lies, but it is not lawful and could risk more refusals. – Andrew Lazarus Feb 5 '18 at 20:31

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