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The rules for getting a driving licence as a foreigner in Canada can be confusing, since they change between provinces and territories. But if you gain an understanding of the steps and rules involved, you can get your driving licence in Canada and drive legally. This article demystifies the process, breaking down the steps in each province, so you can explore more of Canada – even the parts you can only access by car.

Key Takeaways: What You Need To Know About Getting a Licence in Canada

  • It is illegal to drive in Canada without a valid driver’s licence.
  • You need to be insured if you are driving in Canada. It is illegal to drive without valid insurance. 
  • Some people may be eligible to simply exchange their foreign driving license for a Canadian driving license. 
  • The rules for getting a foreign license recognized and/or exchanged in Canada change depending on where the license is from and which province or territory in Canada you’re in. 
  • You will need to learn the rules for the specific province or territory you want to live in to get a Canadian driving license. 
  • Regardless of the process for getting your driving license in Canada, you should take the time to learn the road signage and rules in your new province. 
  • If you’re driving in Canada on a foreign licence, it must be in English or French. Apply for an International Driver’s Licence if your home country licence is in another language.

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What You Need To Know About Driving Licences in Canada

While we recommend you take some time getting to know the rules and regulations around driving in any province you plan to drive in, we have some Canada-specific information that is really important for anyone considering driving while in Canada: 

You Can Probably Drive Using Your Licence From Your Home Country (For a short time)

Most Canadian provinces and territories allow foreigners to drive during temporary stays or for a brief period after you arrive in Canada if you have a valid driving licence in your home country. 

If you plan to use your foreign driver’s licence in Canada, make sure it’s in English or French. 

It’s usually advisable to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your home country before coming to Canada too. 

You Will Need Car Insurance

It is illegal to drive an uninsured vehicle in Canada. 

The rules around car insurance vary between the provinces and territories, so be sure to check those before driving anywhere. Even within the same province or territory, different insurers can have different rules about how insurance policies operate. 

Generally speaking, rental vehicles will be adequately insured (though it’s always worth carefully reading rental insurance policies so you know your risks in case of an accident or other policy event). 

It gets tricky when you borrow vehicles privately in Canada. If you plan to borrow a friend or family member’s car and you’re not listed on their policy, you may be allowed to drive as an unlisted driver. However, the costs of a crash caused by an unlisted driver can be very high so (again) it’s important to understand the risks. 

Driving Laws and Rules

The laws and rules related to driving in Canada vary depending on the province or territory you’re driving in. You should review the rules and learn about the road signs any time you plan to drive somewhere new in Canada. It’s also important to consider the distinctly Canadian risks that come with driving, including: 

  • Winter driving in Canada. 
  • The risk of hitting large animals, like moose or deer. 
  • Not knowing what to do at a four-way stop sign. 

Driving Licence History Document

If you plan to live in Canada permanently, it’s recommended that you get a copy of your driving history from your home country’s licensing authority and/or insurance provider. Having the appropriate documentation (including the actual licence itself) ready when you arrive will help when you’re applying for a driving licence in Canada. Documentation should be in English or French.

 

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How to apply for licence in Canada

How you apply for a license in Canada will depend on the province or territory you’re planning to live in.   All provinces have a transportation department which is responsible for issuing licenses. Whether you are looking to transfer your foreign license or apply for your first driving license, the first step is to check the application process with the province where you will reside. We’ve summarized some key information from each province below.

Alberta driving licence

If you want to drive in Alberta, here’s what you need to know about the driver’s license rules in Alberta. 

How long can you drive in Alberta on a foreign driving license?

If you plan to live in Alberta permanently, you may be able to drive in Alberta for up to 90 days after you arrive on a foreign driver’s licence. The 90-day deadline applies even if you drive outside of Alberta during these 90 days. 

If you’re in Alberta on a temporary basis, you can drive in Alberta on a valid driver’s licence from your home jurisdiction for up to one year. This includes students in Alberta, members of the armed forces, and temporary foreign workers under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

Read the official guidelines on exchanging your license for an Alberta driving license.

Which Countries Have a Foreign Licence Exchange Program with Alberta?

What if your country does not have a reciprocal licencing agreement with Alberta?

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Getting a B.C. driving license as a Newcomer

If you plan to live in British Columbia, you will need to switch your current valid foreign driver’s licence to a BC licence within 90 days of your arrival unless: 

  • You’re visiting as a tourist for up to six months. 
  • You’re a full-time student as a designated educational institution in BC. 
  • Ordinarily live outside of BC. 
  • Are a Seasonal Agriculatural Worker Program participant and plan to live in BC for less than 12 months. 

To switch your licence, contact the local licensing authority – Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). 

Read the official guidelines on getting a B.C. driving license here.

Which countries have a reciprocal driver’s licence agreement with British Columbia?

What if your country does not have a reciprocal driver’s licence agreement with British Columbia?

Two Years Driving Experience Required in BC

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Manitoba driving licence

Drivers who are new to Manitoba may continue driving on their non-Manitoba license for up to three months. After this, a Manitoba driving license is required.

Holders of driver licenses from the countries below may exchange their foreign license for a Manitoba driving license without sitting a written or road test:

  • Australia (Classes 5 and 6 only)
  • Austria (Class 5)
  • France (Class 5)
  • Germany (Class 5)
  • Ireland (Classes 5 and 6)
  • Isle of Man (Classes 5 and 6)
  • Northern Ireland (Classes 5 and 6)
  • South Korea (Class 5)
  • Switzerland (Class 5 and 6)
  • Taiwan (Class 5)
  • Ukraine (Class 5/Category B and BE)
  • United Kingdom (Classes 5 and 6)
  • USA (Classes 5 and 6)

Holders of driver licenses from other countries will be required to sit a written and/or road test.

Read the official guidelines on obtaining a Manitoba driving license.

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New Brunswick driving licence

Non-residents from all countries must take a full driver license examination which includes a vision test, a written examination, and a road test unless they’re from a country with a reciprocal agreement.

International students studying in New Brunswick do not need to exchange their driving licence unless they become a permanent resident or gainfully employed. 

Countries with a reciprocal driving licence agreement with New Brunswick

Exceptions are those from the following countries who may exchange for a Class 5 (including a motorcycle endorsement without testing, if applicable) or a Class 6 or 6D:

Austria, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Isle of Man, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Republic of Korea (South Korea)*, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan*, Ukraine*, United States and Wales.

*these drivers may need to undergo other tests to get their full license like a vision test.

To exchange a license. you need to be prepared to provide the following documents:

  • Original driver’s license
  • An official translation of the driver’s license (from a translation agency or an International Driver’s License), if not already in English or French
  • Proof of identification (one piece) and proof of residency (two pieces)

Holders of driver licenses from other countries will be required to sit a written and/or road test.

Read the official guidelines on getting a Nova Scotia driving license.

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Newfoundland driving licence

If you are new to Newfoundland and Labrador, you must exchange your existing driver’s licence to a Newfoundland and Labrador driver’s licence within three months of becoming a resident.

How you exchange your licence depends on where you are from.

People from the United States can exchange their existing licence for a Newfoundland and Labrador driver’s licence without taking a written, vision or road test, however they need to show the following:

  • 17 years of age;
  • Present the required identification documents;
  • Existing licence is valid (not suspended, cancelled or revoked);
  • Licence is not expired more than five years;
  • you are 16 years of age; and present a valid driver’s licence from a Graduated Driver Licensing Program.

New residents from the following countries can also exchange their driving licence (car only)

  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • Republic of Korea
  • Ukraine

New residents from the following countries can also exchange their driving licence (car and motorcycle only)

  • France
  • Isle of Man
  • Northern Ireland
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Taiwan

To exchange a licence. you need to be prepared to provide the following documents:

  • One primary proof of legal presence and one secondary, or
  • Two primary documents; one of which must be primary proof of legal presence.

Holders of driver licences from other countries will be required to sit a written and/or road test.

Read the official guidelines on getting a Newfoundland driving license.

Nova Scotia driving licence

If you are new to Nova Scotia, you must exchange your existing driver’s licence to a Nova Scotia driver’s licence within three months. Visitors to Nova Scotia also need to get a Nova Scotia licence if they will be in the province for more than 90 days. 

People who have a valid regular Driver’s Licence from another Canadian province or the United States can usually exchange their licence for a Nova Scotia Driver’s Licence, without the need to take a road test.

Countries with a Reciprocal Driver’s Licence Exchange Agreement with Nova Scotia.

If you have a driving licence from one of these countries, you can exchange your licence:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • Isle of Man
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

To get their licence, those from the above countries still need to prove the following:

  • be at least 16 years of age,
  • take a vision screening test,
  • disclose all medical conditions or physical disabilities that may affect your ability to safely drive a motor vehicle,
  • provide an English translation of your licence (if licence being exchanged is not in English or French).
  • surrender your driver’s licence at the time of exchange, and
  • pay normal fees for the issuance of a licence.

Newcomers who have a valid driver’s licence from other foreign countries will be required to purchase a knowledge test and road test receipt and  successfully complete vision, signs, rules and road tests.

Read the official guidelines on getting a Nova Scotia driving license.

Ontario Driving Licence

Valid non-Ontario licences may be used for the first 60 days while you get settled in the province. Once that time has elapsed, a valid Ontario licence is required.

Reciprocal Agreements with Ontario

Ontario Driver’s Licence with No Exchange Program

Read the official guidelines on obtaining an Ontario license.

Carsharing in Toronto

Carsharing is an increasingly popular transit option among newcomers to Toronto. To learn more and begin putting your new Canadian driving licence to good use, visit our options for carsharing in Toronto page.

PEI driving licence

Newcomers may use their driver’s licence to drive in Prince Edward Island (PEI) for up to four months after they become a resident of the Province.

Newcomers to Prince Edward Island from another Canadian jurisdiction, or from any of the countries listed below, can exchange their licence for a PEI driver’s licence and you will not need to complete a written knowledge exam or driving test.

  • Austria (Class 5 and 6)
  • Australia (Class 5 and 6)
  • France (Class 5)
  • Germany (Class 5 and 6)
  • Japan (Class 5 and 6)
  • South Korea (Class 5 and 6)
  • Switzerland (Class 5 and 6)
  • Taiwan (Class 5)
  • Ukraine (Class 5, effective August 15, 2022)
  • United Kingdom* (Class 5 and 6)
  • United States (Class 1, 2, 3.4, 5 and 6)

Effective Monday January 24, 2022, holders of an active Class 5 driver’s licence or equivalent from the following countries will not be required to complete a written exam or road test for a PEI Class 5 drive’s licence, if they are able to present a valid driver licence and one (1) of the supporting documents listed below.

  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Ireland
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden

Holders of driver licences from other countries will be required to sit a written and/or road test.

Read the official guidelines on getting a PEI driving license.

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Quebec driving licence

Holders of non-Quebec licences can drive on their existing licence for the first six months after arrival. New residents must then obtain a Quebec driver licence in Canada issued by the province of Quebec.

Those with licences from the following countries can obtain a licence without going through the full testing procedure:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • France
  • Great Britain: England, Scotland, Wales
  • Germany
  • Isle of Man
  • Japan
  • Northern Ireland
  • Republic of Korea (South Korea)
  • Switzerland
  • The Netherlands: Holland and the Dutch Antilles (Sint Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba and Sint Eustatius)
  • Taiwan

Holders of licences from these countries must provide these documents:

  • Foreign driving licence
  • Proof of Canadian citizenship, or right to stay in Canada
  • Proof of residency in Quebec
  • Proof of residency in the country in which your licence was issued if you obtained your licence within the previous three years
  • Translation of your driving licence, if it is written in a language other than French or English.

You can schedule an appointment by calling (514) 954-7771 in Montreal, or 1-888-356-6616 elsewhere in Quebec. Canadian citizens may call (514) 873-7620 in the Montreal area, (418) 643-7620 in Quebec City, or 1-800-361-7620 elsewhere.

Holders of licences from countries not listed above will still need to provide the above documents. The first step to getting a driver licence in Canada issued by Quebec will be to sit the knowledge test, and then sit a road test. Road test appointments can be scheduled by calling 418 643-5213 in Québec City, 514 873-5803 in Montreal, and 1-888-667-8687 elsewhere.

Read the official guidelines on obtaining a Quebec driver license.

Carsharing in Montreal

It’s now easier than ever to get from A to B in Montreal, thanks to the increased popularity and availability of carsharing. To learn more, visit our options for carsharing in Montreal page.

Saskatchewan driving licence

New residents in Saskatchewan can use their out-of-province licence to legally drive for the first 90 days after arrival. From then on, you must use a valid driver licence in Canada issued by Saskatchewan.

Visitors and temporary residents in Saskatchewan are not usually eligible for a local licence, but there are some exceptions for temporary workers who require an upgraded licence, and certain visitors, such as Super Visa holders and multi-year visitors. International students may drive on their home country licence for the duration of their studies. 

Holders of licences from the following countries may exchange their licence for an equivalent Saskatchewan licence:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • France
  • Germany
  • Isle of Man
  • Japan
  • Jersey
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Ireland
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom
  • USA

Drivers with less than two years of experience will be placed into the relevant stage of the Graduated Driver License program.

Holders of licences from countries not listed above must pass written tests, complete nine months of practice as a learner, complete 12 hours of certified driving training, and pass a road test.

Read the official guidelines here.

Yukon driving licence

If you move to Yukon, you must transfer your current driver’s licence to a Yukon driver’s licence. You must switch your licence within 120 days of your move.

If you have a valid driver’s licence from 1 of the following places, you can apply for a Yukon driver’s licence:

  • Canada;
  • United States of America;
  • Germany — a sign test is required; and
  • Isle of Man

If you’ve held your driver’s licence for less than 2 years in a jurisdiction outside Canada you will need to enroll in the Graduated Driver’s Licensing (GDL) program.

Read the official guidelines on getting a Yukon driving license.

More helpful information

Getting your driving licence in Canada as a newcomer is just one thing off your to-do list. Now it’s time to explore.

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About the author

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Stephanie Ford

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Finance, Law and Immigration Writer
Stephanie is a content marketer who has written for law firms (with a focus on immigration and privacy), legal tech companies, and finance professionals for more than 9 years. She earned a Bachelor of Laws and a Graduate Diploma in Financial Planning in Australia. Stephanie is now a permanent resident of Canada and a full-time writer at Moving2Canada.
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