Driving in Canada

Driving licences

To drive a car in Canada, you will need a driver’s licence. It is illegal to drive without a licence and the penalties for doing so are very high. In Canada, a driver’s licence is issued by provincial and territorial governments. You must get a licence from the province or territory in which you live. This licence will allow you to drive anywhere in Canada. You must have it with you whenever you are driving.

If you have a valid licence from your country of origin, you will probably be able to use this to drive in Canada for a short period after arriving. Check with your provincial or territorial government department responsible for cars and driving for details. If you plan to use a foreign driver’s licence in Canada, you should get an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your country of origin. An IDP provides a translation of your licence into a variety of languages, including French and English.

The process for getting a driver’s licence in Canada depends on the province or territory in which you live and on your driving background. You may need to pass a written examination on the rules of the road (study guides are available) and one or two driving tests. You may choose to pay for driving lessons to prepare for the driving tests (see the Yellow Pages or search the Internet). Once you have a licence, it will have to be renewed periodically (see the expiry date on your licence).

You can find more information on driver’s licences from the department that regulates cars and driving in your province or territory. This information is available on the Internet,by telephone, or in person at a service centre (see the Blue Pages or the government website for locations).

Car insurance

It is strictly illegal to drive without car insurance in Canada. If you own a car, you must get insurance coverage. If you regularly drive a car that belongs to a relative or friend, you should make sure you are listed on their automobile insurance plan. If you rent a car, you will need to arrange insurance through the car rental agency.

There are different types of car insurance plans available. Some insurance plans cover only the costs associated with damages and injury to others if you are at fault in an accident. Other plans also cover injuries to yourself and damage to your car. The cost of car insurance depends on the insurance plan you choose and other factors such as your age, driving experience, driving record and place of residence. The cost also varies between insurance companies. For this reason, you should contact a few companies for information on the price of their insurance plans. Before choosing an insurance plan, you should also make sure you understand what it covers. You can find contact information on insurance companies in the Yellow Pages or by searching the Internet.

Driving laws and rules

Driving laws are strictly enforced in Canada, and penalties for breaking the law are generally heavy. There are too many laws to list fully here. These are some of the most important ones to know:

  • You must have a driver’s licence to drive.
  • You must be covered by an automobile insurance plan to drive.
  • Always drive below the speed limits posted on the side of the road. Fines for speeding (that is, driving faster than the speed limit) are expensive and can raise the cost of your car insurance. Speeding can also lead to your driver’s licence being suspended.
  • Wear a seatbelt and ensure that everyone else in the vehicle is also doing so.
  • Drunk driving is a very serious offence in Canada. If you are stopped by the police or have an accident with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, the penalties are severe. You can lose your driver’s licence, receive a criminal record and even be sent to prison. If you are a temporary resident, it may also affect your status in the country.
  • Give priority to emergency vehicles (police cars, ambulances, fire trucks) when their sirens are flashing. Pull off the road to allow them to pass.
  • Stop and wait when a yellow school bus is stopped with the red lights flashing. You must do this whether you are behind the bus or driving toward the bus in the opposite direction.
  • Give priority to pedestrians and be respectful of cyclists. • Use your signals when you turn or switch lanes.
  • Be courteous on the road. For example, allow other cars to enter your lane. Also, generally keep to the right-hand lane; left-hand lanes are for faster vehicles or passing.
  • Talking on a handheld cell phone and/or texting are not advisable and against the law in some provinces.

Take the time to learn the rules in your province or territory.

If you have an accident with another vehicle or hit a pedestrian, it is a serious crime to leave the scene of the accident. Use the emergency number (911) to call the police and an ambulance (if necessary). Wait until the emergency services you called arrive. If the accident involves another vehicle, you must exchange the following information with the other driver: name, address, telephone number, licence plate and driver’s licence numbers, insurance company name and insurance plan number.

For a complete list of laws, rules and regulations about driving, get a copy of the driving guide issued by the department that regulates cars and driving in your home province or territory. These guides are usually available at service centres, online and in stores.

Buying or leasing a car

You can buy a car new or used from a car dealer. You can also buy a used car from another person who is selling his or her car. In most provinces and territories, used cars must pass a safety certification before they can be driven. If the car is not sold with a valid safety certificate, it is your responsibility to arrange certification from a licensed mechanic. You are also responsible for paying for any repairs that are necessary for the car to pass the certification. After you buy a car (new or used), it must be registered with the department that regulates cars and driving in your province or territory. At the time of registration, you will also need to get a licence plate.

As an alternative to buying a car, many people in Canada lease a car from a car dealer. A lease is a legal agreement between you and the dealer in which you agree to pay them a fee to use the car for a specific period of time (usually several years). After this period ends, you must return the car to the dealer in good condition.

Since a lease is a legal agreement, make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the lease before signing.

If you only need a car occasionally or for short periods, it is always possible to rent a car from one of the many car rental agencies that operate in Canadian cities and towns. Make sure that car insurance is included in your car rental agreement.

In some cities, there are car-sharing programs that allow you to use a car without buying, leasing or renting one. You may want to research this option to see if it meets your needs.

You can get further information and guidance on the process of buying or selling a car from the department that regulates cars and driving in your province or territory. For information on consumer issues related to buying a vehicle, consult the Canadian Consumer Handbook produced by federal, provincial and territorial governments at www.consumerhandbook.ca or contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office. For information on car dealers and car rental agencies in your town or city, consult the Yellow Pages or search the Internet.


The Canada Safety Council has an excellent website on what drivers can do to improve road safety in Canada at www.canadasafetycouncil.org.

Snow and ice are major driving hazards in most parts of Canada. It is particularly important for newcomers to become familiar with safety issues related to winter driving. The most basic tip is to drive slowly in snowy and icy conditions. It is also a good idea to buy special winter tires for your car (this is mandatory in some provinces).

Source: Welcome to Canada: What you should know

www.cic.gc.caImmigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2013.


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