Unless you live and work in the centre or near-suburbs of one of the few biggest Canadian cities, you will often need a car for both commuting to and from work and for daily errands and activities for your new life Canada. That means that you will need a driver’s licence almost as soon as you arrive in Canada. That means you have to think about a few important questions:
- What are the steps you need to take to obtain your diver’s licence in Canada?
- How do you go about buying, leasing, or renting a car?
- What about insurance? What kind do you buy and how much should you pay?
Let’s find out what the steps are to get you behind the wheel and on the road when you come to Canada.
Step 1: International Driving Permit (IDP)
You should obtain an IDP in your home country before you travel to Canada. IDPs they are valid across Canada and should be kept with your home-country, valid driver’s license so you can show both to police, or to any other authorities should the need arise. This will allow you to drive for a limited period of time in Canada while you obtain your driver’s license. Please note that driver’s licenses in Canada are issued by provincial and territorial governments so the rules may vary slightly from one province to another. You will have to apply to the provincial department of transportation (or similar department) in the province you will be living in. Here are the links to the official sites for obtaining an IDP in several countries that are major source countries for immigration to Canada.
Go here to the China Tourism Automobile and Cruise Association website for steps to obtain an IDP. The site is in Chinese.
In India you must apply at your local RTO (Regional Transport Office) with the following documents:
- Form 4 Form for the Issue of International Driving Permit completed. You can pick up a Form 4 at your local RTO. Go here to download a copy of the form.
- Copy of valid driver’s licence (Indian)
- Copy of passport and visa
- Copy of air tickets
- Copy of medical certificate (mentioned in Form 4)
- Application fee Rs. 500
- 5 passport-sized photographs
- Certified proof of Indian citizenship
- Copy of proof of address
- Copy of proof of age.
Please note that according to Indian law your IDP is valid for 1 year and cannot be renewed.
In the Philippines you must apply at an AAP (Automobile Association of the Philippines) office nearest you. Please bring the following:
- Original copy of valid Philippines Driver’s Licence
- 2 passport-sized colour photographs
- Photocopy of the OR & CR of your vehicle registration
- A completed AAP membership form (this can be done while applying for an IDP)
- A completed PIDP (Philippine International Driving Permit) application form which you can obtain and complete at any AAP office
- Pay the PHP 1800 Fee
- If you are an absentee applicant, you must provide an authorization letter to your representative along with a valid ID.
Make sure you aware of the procedure to apply for an IDP in your home country and make sure you apply for one before leaving for Canada.
Step 2: Apply for a driver’s licence in Canada
You have to apply at the provincial or territorial ministry of transport or similar institution in the province or territory where you live. The process usually involves two stages:
- A written test on the rules of the road in Canada and in the province/territory
- A practical driving test (or perhaps two separate tests) to ensure you know how to drive a standard vehicle/car.
You may choose to pay for private driving lessons before taking the practical driving test, especially if you are unfamiliar with winter driving.
Getting a Driver's Licence in British Columbia
In BC, driver’s licences are handled by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia or ICBC. This is what we call a crown (or state) corporation, or provincial crown corporation in this case. In BC, ICBC also handles insurance and various other aspects of road transportation in the province.
In BC your IDP will be valid for 90 days from the date you arrive in the province. You may have a period where you cannot drive if you choose to take driving lessons and are still completing the course when your IDP expires. The 90-day rule for new arrivals in BC is not applied in the following cases:
- If you are a tourist on a visitor visa you can drive for up to 6 months on your home country’s licence (assuming you have an IDP);
- If you are an international student on a study permit at a designated institution studying on a full-time basis;
- If you are a worker under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), you can drive in BC for up to 12 months. If you stay in the province for longer than 12 months you will have to apply for a licence at ICBC.
Please note that in BC, an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with your home country’s driving license is considered sufficient proof of your driving experience.
You should also obtain your Driving Record from your home country before leaving for BC. If you can’t obtain a driving record, try to obtain a Letter of Experience from the license-issuing authorities in your country. Either of the two should include:
- Name, address, and phone number of licensing authority in your jurisdiction
- Your name and birth date
- Your driver’s licence number (or another unique identifier)
- Your class of licence
- Date of issue of licence or length of time held
- If you submit a Letter of Experience, it must be signed by the licensing authority in your jurisdiction.
Let’s review the process for obtaining a driver’s license in BC:
- In BC you must be 16 years or older to apply for a driver’s licence. If you are less than 19 years old (16 to 18 years old), your parents or guardians must sign your application form.
- Unless you are confident you can handle all sorts of road conditions in the province (rain, freezing rain, snow, sleet, hail, wind, black ice, etc.) it is generally a good idea to take driving lessons to prepare for your driving test. Go here and click on the green button to find an accredited driving school in BC. ICBC-approved driver’s courses involve a minimum of 16 hours class time and at least 12 roads of road training in the vehicle. Because BC has a graded license system - you advance to higher “levels” as you accumulate a safe driving record and take the required driving tests - an ICBC-approved driver’s course can reduce your time to obtain an N-level license by about 6 months, assuming you have a safe driving record.
- Whether you decide to take a driving course or not, you will have to study the driving guides on offer by ICBC. Go here to download or read online the two guides which most likely will apply to you:
- Learn to Drive Smart (best for first-time drivers)
- Tuning Up for Drivers (for general applicants for passenger vehicle road tests).
In BC, you will most likely be applying for what is called a Class 5 Driver’s Licence which covers cars, vans, trucks, utility vehicles, and motor homes. A Class 7 licence involves graduated licensing restrictions, which you may have to apply for if you do not have the required driving experience of a minimum of 2 years as a fully licensed non-learner driver.
You should next go here to find your nearest Driver Licensing Office where you can:
- Book a road test;
- Take the knowledge test (written test) - If you are taking the knowledge test, be sure to arrive at the Driver Licensing Office at least 2 hours before closing time;
- Apply for a Driver’s Licence;
- Pay your fees:
- First 2-year licence $31 (for non-learners recently moved to BC)
- First 5-year GLP N licence $75.
Taking the Test in BC
When you take the road test you will need:
Primary ID: this can include:
- BC Driver’s or Learner’s Licence
- BC Services Card (valid for up to 3 years from expiry date)
- BCID Card (valid up to 3 years from expiry date)
- Birth Certificate
- Canadian Citizenship Card/Certificate
- Canadian passport
- Permanent Resident Card
- Student, work, or visitor visa
- Temporary Resident Permit.
Secondary ID: this can include:
- Bank Card
- Foreign Birth Certificate
- Credit Card
- Foreign Passport (or Canadian passport)
- Nexus Card
- Employee ID Card
- Student Card
All ID must be in English or have a translated copy by an ICBC-approved translator. (Go here for a list of list of ICBC-approved translators.)
You must also bring your own vehicle. It must be a safe, clean, and reliable vehicle. Typical reasons for a vehicle to be disqualified are:
- Cracked windshield or windows
- Dashboard warning lights
- Seat-belts not functioning
- Vehicle not properly licensed or insured
- Horn not working
- Unsafe tires
- Doors not functioning
- Not enough gas or electric charge.
Fees can be paid at a Driver Licensing Office by:
- Major Credit Cards
- Debit Cards
- Personal Cheques.
You must give 48 hours notice for a cancellation of a road test or pay a $25 cancellation fee.
RoadSafetyBC may require you to take a medical exam in order to obtain a driver’s licence. If they do you will have 45 days to complete and submit a Medical Examination Form by visiting a doctor. Make sure when booking your appointment with the doctor that they know it’s for a driver’s medical exam. Go here for more information.
Car Insurance in BC
A key part of getting your driver’s licence is obtaining insurance for your vehicle. No insurance means you are not permitted to drive your car. In BC the ICBC also handles automobile insurance. In other words, by law any vehicle on the roads in BC must be covered by ICBC’s basic insurance package called Autoplan sold by 900 Autoplan brokers across the province.
- One-year Autoplan policy: this is the most common option and can be paid by a monthly payment plan.
- Short-term Autoplan policy: this is for when you only need your vehicle for a few months a year. The policies generally are for 3 to 11 months.
Check with your Autoplan broker on available additional coverage and make sure you understand what is covered by Autoplan’s basic coverage. Go here for more information.
Getting a Driver's Licence in Ontario
In Ontario the provincial Ministry of Transportation handles driver’s licences. In order to drive a car in Ontario you must:
- Have on you a valid driver’s licence at all times
- Have a valid owner’s permit, licence plate and auto insurance
- Obey the rules of the road.
To apply for a driver’s licence in Ontario, you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Take an eye exam
- Pass a written test about the rules of the road and traffic signs.
If you pass these tests you are given a G1 (beginner’s licence) which allows you to drive under the following restrictions:
- Maintain a zero-blood-alcohol level
- Make sure all passengers wear a seatbelt
- Not drive between midnight and 5 AM
- Not drive on 400-series expressways (the 401, the 417 etc.)
- Drive with a fully licensed driver who has a blood-alcohol level less than 0.5 or zero if they are under 21 and have at least 4 years of driving experience
- Practice with your G1 licence for 12 months.
To apply for a driver’s licence and take the required tests you should visit:
- A Drive Test Centre (go here for a list), or
- Service Ontario College Park in Toronto.
The following documents are accepted as proof of identity:
- Canadian Citizens:
- Canadian passport
- Canadian citizenship card with photo
- Indian Status Card
- Ontario Photo Card
- Permanent Residents:
- PR Card
- Record of Landing
- Ontario Photo Card
- Temporary Residents
- Study permit
- Work permit
- Visitor record
- Temporary Resident Permit
- Refugee Status Claim
- IMM 7703 (intent to claim refugee status)
- IMM 1442 (report pursuant to immigration) with photo
- Ontario Photo Card.
You will need to obtain the Ontario Official Driver Handbook at a cost of $14.95 + tax in order to study for the written exam. Go here to buy a copy online. You can also buy the guide at retail stores.
Once you have driven for 12 months under a G1 Driver’s Licence (see above) you must then take the G1 Road Test. The G1 Road Test tests basic driving skills like turning left and right and parking. Once you pass your G1 Road Test, you will be given a G2 Licence.
Please note that if you take a government-approved Driver Education Course, you may be able to take your G1 Road Test after only 8 months of practice rather than the standard 12 months of practice. Go here for an official list of approved driving courses.
To book a road test you will need:
- Your valid Ontario Driver’s Licence number
- A preferred location for taking the test
- A 2nd and 3rd location for taking the test as alternatives
- Your preferred date and time for taking the test
- You can book online or phone 647-776-0331 or 1-888-570-6110
- You can also book a road test at any Drive Test Centre.
Your G2 Licence now allows you to:
- Drive on any roads in Ontario including the 400-series roads
- Not have another experienced in the car with you
- Drive any time of day.
But with a G2 Licence you must still:
- Have a zero-blood-alcohol level at all times
- Carry only as many passengers as there are working seatbelts
- If you are 19 or under, between midnight and 5 AM you can only have one passenger who is 19 or younger with you in the car. This applies for the first 6 months of your G2 license. After 6 months you can drive with up to 3 passengers 19 or younger between midnight and 5 AM. However, if there is a fully licensed driver with 4 or more years driving experience or if there are family members with you in the car this rule does not apply.
Your G2 Road Test is taken after 12 months of driving under a G2 Licence. Once you pass your G2 Road Test you obtain your full G Ontario Driver’s Licence. You now have a fully functional driver’s licence. Congratulations!
Car Insurance in Ontario
Now it’s time to think about auto insurance for your car.
Auto insurance in Ontario is not run by a provincial crown corporation. It is provided by private insurance companies that are regulated by the provincial government. Auto insurance can be bought from 3 places:
- An insurance broker who offers policies from many insurance companies.
- An insurance agent who generally sells policies from only one company that they represent.
- Direct writers which are insurance companies that sell their products directly to consumers.
In general, it is best to use a broker who can shop around for the best rates for your auto insurance. If you have a good understanding of auto insurance, you could also use a direct writer to buy a policy that suits your needs. The easiest but not always the cheapest is to use an agent or to shop around between different agents. You should always compare rates and understand what your insurance package covers.
Note: No-fault insurance does not mean that no one is at fault in the event of a car crash. Rather, it means that you each deal with your own insurance company when to recoup vehicle costs or medical bills in the event of an accident involving more than one vehicle. Consult with your broker if you wish to purchase no-fault insurance in Ontario.
Go here for more information on insurance brokers in Ontario.
Should I Buy, Rent, or Lease My First Car in Canada?
To get a vehicle you have 3 options, although most people prefer to buy a car in Canada.
Buying a car:
You can buy a car:
- Through a dealer – if you are unfamiliar with cars you might be better off to use a dealer who will sell you a car with guarantees and service arrangements as well.
- From another private person – you buy a car from another person at your own risk. You do have recourse through the courts but this is not the best way to ensure you have a safe and reliable vehicle.
Leasing a car:
This is where you sign a contract with a car dealer to basically rent a car over a longer period than when you simply rent a car for a weekend, for example. The period is for several years normally and you will have to return the car to the dealer in good condition. Some people prefer this option to taking out a car loan in order to buy a car.
Renting a Car:
This option is for special, shorter occasions and generally is used by tourists or people who don’t otherwise own a car. The cost makes it basically impossible for anyone to rent a car permanently. However, "car share" services now exist in Canada's biggest cities, allow extreme short term rentals which might substitute for owning a car if you only need the car to run errands on weekends, for example.
For more information on how to obtain your drivers license in other provinces go here. Or you can comment on this article and ask for information on another province. Alberta anyone?