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Canada - Driving Licenses

In order to be able to drive in Canada you must have a valid licence. You may begin to learn to drive at the age of 16 but you can only drive on your own at the age of 17 with a full driving licence. The system of provinces in Canada means that the regulations will vary and you will need to do a little research before you go in order to be sure that you comply.

As a foreign national you are able to use the licence that was issued in your own country but for a limited period of time. Most of these agreements will allow you to drive on your own licence for up to 90 days but then you will need to make arrangements to exchange it for a Canadian licence. If there is an agreement between Canada and your home country the exchange can be fairly straightforward, although there are some issuing countries which are not accepted by Canada so you will need to take a driving test there.

The driving licence is issued by the province so you will find that the regulations vary a great deal. Some provinces will accept the International driving permit and you will find that if you move between provinces, your Canadian licence will need to be exchanged in each one if you are staying for an extended period of time.

When you exchange your driving licence you will need to do so at the provincial offices. You will need to show that you are a current resident of the area and should show visa documentation to support this. Most provincial offices will expect you to have an eye test, show that your current licence is valid (and if this is not already in French or English then it will need to be translated), show proof of ID, proof of address, pay the relevant fee and if you have been driving for less than a couple of years then you may need to take a knowledge test. Each province deals with their own documentation so enquiries should be made to the ministry of transportation at your provincial government.

As regulations are different in each province you should make yourself aware of the requirements in your province. For example in British Columbia you must make the exchange within 90 days of moving to the region. If you are from the EU or the US you are able to exchange your licence immediately. In BC you will need to have 2 pieces of ID and if you have been driving for less than 2 years you will need to complete the ‘Graduated Licensing Program’. All documents must be in English.

In Ontario the regulations are slightly different in that you just have 60 days to exchange your licence. As with BC you can do a straight swap if you are from a country with a reciprocal agreement. If you are not then you may be required to go through the test procedure. In Quebec you have a much longer period to obtain a new licence, with a 12 month time frame. As with other provinces you might be able to get a new licence without having to take a new test. The Societe de l’Assurance Automobile is the organisation to contact to clarify the requirements for you. In order to obtain a Quebec licence you must have a document confirming that you have permanent residence. Your documents should be in either French or English.

If you need to take a Canadian driving test then you should make yourself aware of the regulations in your particular province, as these vary across the country. You will need to apply for a novice licence and this can be done from the age of 16. Drivers will find that most states have a graduated licensing program which encourages drivers to slowly build on their driving skills. You will be asked to take an eye test and a theory test on road signs, driving regulations and safe driving. Some provinces will expect a driver to take more than one practical test before a full licence is issued.

Not all provinces operate a penalty points system and this is currently being reviewed in some areas so you will need to contact the licensing office at your local provincial government so determine their particular system.

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