One of the charms of moving to Canada is that because the country is so huge, driving can be a huge joy. Even within the cities, the orderly way of driving cars and following rules of the road and road signs can make for a pleasant experience on the road. A Canadian driver’s license also allows you to drive in the United States without additional requirements or permits (other than a visa to get into the US).
To safeguard these amazing driving conditions, the Canadian government is strict about having a valid driver’s license when you’re on the road.
This article will tell you how to get the license in your province. We will also outline what vehicles the various licenses allow you to drive. For example, the most commonly observed difference in a Canadian driver’s license is that motorcycle licenses are separate from motor vehicle or car licenses.
What You Need Before Coming to Canada
To make your transition easy from driving in your home country to driving in Canada, here’s what you need to bring with you:
- A copy of your driving history, if available. This should be available at your city’s driving license offices or city council. A record of your driving history can make the process of getting a Canadian license much easier.
- Your driver’s license. In most cases, you will be asked to exchange your license for a full Canadian license or to reduce the time required to get a full license. You will not get your original driver’s license back, so keep this in mind if you plan on travelling to your home country often and need to drive there.
To make things easier for yourself and the license office in Canada, you should have the documents prepared in English or French.
Getting a full Canadian driver’s license, one that has no restrictions, takes a long time. If you don’t have any driving license, you can expect to take 2-3 tests over 18 to 30 months to get a full license in Canada. We recommend you get a license in your home country, which will help you get a full license with one knowledge test and one road test… or less.
Each province has a different set of requirements and licenses. Most provinces’ tests are a combination of knowledge tests, which are usually multiple choice question tests, and road tests, where you’ll be asked to drive with an examiner sitting next to you. These are part of a graduated driver license (GDL) program, which takes a new driver from the basics to a full license over a period of one year to 2.5 years.
Click on the license for the province you will be going to. Yes, each Canadian province has a different design for its license. In fact, many provinces offer several different designs that you can pick and choose from!
First 90 days on a non-AB license
If you will be living in Calgary, Edmonton, or any other city in Alberta, you can use your current license for up to 90 days. Before the 90 days is over, you will have to move to the Alberta licensing system.
Countries that allow for a direct exchange
If your license is from any one of Australia, some countries in Europe, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan, you do not need to take a knowledge test or a road test.
What happens if there is no direct exchange?
If your license isn’t from any of these countries, you will be asked to
1. exchange your license,
2. pass a knowledge test ($17), and then
3. if you can prove you have more than 2 years’ driving experience, take a full road test ($138).
Otherwise, you’ll need to pass a basic road test ($83) to get a basic license called the Class 5 GDL license.
IDP depending on your visa
Some drivers may not need to exchange their license. Visitors can drive in Alberta for a year using their home country’s license.
That said, if your license is not in English, you will need to carry an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) in addition to your driver’s license. You should get an IDP from your home country.
Get more information regarding an Alberta driver’s license.
Vancouver, and the rest of British Columbia, has a unique system in Canada where the licensing office is also a vehicle insurance company. In fact, it is the only insurance company in BC, which means you’ll get your license from ICBC and then come back to sign up with them for your car’s insurance.
After getting your permanent residence in British Columbia, you will have 90 days from entering BC to exchange your license. The exceptions are for students and tourists.
If your license is from any one of Australia / New Zealand, some countries in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan, you do not need to take a knowledge test or a road test. Note that a South Korean or Taiwanese motorcycle license cannot be exchanged for a British Columbian License.
If your license isn’t from a reciprocal country, you must take a knowledge test ($15) and road test. Depending on how many years of driving experience you can prove, you may be eligible to take a Class 5 road test ($50, and this is for a full license), or a Class 7 road test ($35, for a basic license).
Some areas in Greater Vancouver are easier to test than others. This varies over time, but at the time of this article, Point Grey is considered an easier road test because of its open roads and lack of complicated road signs. However, the wait times are correspondingly long.
Note that when you exchange your original license, you will not get it back. You may want to check with your home country’s rules about driving with a Canadian license, or other options.
Read more information about getting a driver’s license for BC.
If you’re new to Winnipeg or the province of Manitoba, you should move to a Manitoba license within 90 days.
People who have a license from Australia, USA, UK, some European countries, Korea and Taiwan can exchange their license for a Manitoba license without needing to take a knowledge test or a road test. The license fee is $65 annually, and you will require a piece of ID in addition to your existing license.
A new driver will need to enrol in the full Graduated Driver License program.
If your license is not from any of the countries listed, then you will have to take a knowledge ($10) and vision test. Successfully completing these tests will let you book a road test. Once you pass the road test, you will have your full Class 5 license.
If you’re visiting Manitoba or a student, you can drive for up to three months on your existing license. If your license, however, is not in English or French, you will need a certified translation of your license or an International Driver’s Permit.
Here’s information about Manitoba’s driving license policies.
People who move to New Brunswick need to get their driver’s license at the soonest possible time. To be eligible for a New Brunswick driver’s license, new residents should be at least 16 years of age. And, they need to submit an application for a license. The existing license from a different area of residence should not expire within the next 6 months.
Canadian residents and non-residents (foreigners) need to surrender their licenses if possible.
Non-residents from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia do not have to take any test (driving and medical). But, they need to surrender their licenses. However, non-residents from the following countries need to take these tests.
These countries are some countries in the EU, Australia / New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
New Brunswick may include a motorcycle endorsement in the license if the applicant is a non-resident from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, the United States, or any of the countries listed above.
More information is on the New Brunswick main site.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Applicants need to be at least 16 years old before applying for a driver’s license in Newfoundland. Proof of age, identity, and Canadian Residence need to be original. As minors, applicants under the age of 19 must have parental consent before being issued a license.
Applicants must be in the Graduated Driver Licensing Program to be eligible for a license. The program classifies applicants into two levels:
Level 1: Novice
- All drivers start with a level 1 license. This designates the driver as a “Learner”.
- This license is valid for 2 years, and costs about $60.
- Novice drivers could vehicles under Class 5 license conditions (passenger vehicles and light trucks only)
- Driver needs to be accompanied by a class 5-licensed driver. The accompanying driver needs to have at least 4 years driving experience as a class 5 driver.
- This license level cannot be upgraded to a commercial driver’s license.
- The driver needs to have a 0% BAC (blood alcohol content), and for good reason.
- May not drive between the hours of midnight and 5 am.
Level 2: Novice Licensed Driver
- To be eligible, a driver must have spent at least 12 months at level 1.
- The road test fee to move on this level costs $78. After passing, the license is $125 and expires after 5 years.
- May only drive passenger vehicles and light trucks. Motorcycle endorsement is possible after 12 months at this level.
- Same driving “curfew” of level 1 (12 mn to 5 am) but with the exemption of work purposes. But, proof of work schedule must be ready and provided at request.
- Must be accompanied by a class 5-licensed driver with at least 4 years of driving experience.
- Number of possible passengers = the number of seatbelts in the vehicle
- No upgrade to commercial class of license is possible unless the driver spends at least 12 months at this level.
- Blood alcohol level = 0%
Visitors do not need to take a test but need to be at least 16 years old and licensed in another jurisdiction. Visitors may drive for up to three months.
Regardless of level, a motorist could incur penalties for blood alcohol levels exceeding 0%.
More information on penalties and other conditions could be found here.
Applicants for a driver’s license in the Northwestern Territories need to meet all of the basic guidelines of the Graduated Licensing Program.
Unlike some of the provinces mentioned earlier, the minimum age for application is 15. But, those who plan on driving commercially need to be at least 18 years old to qualify for class 1,2,3, and 4 licenses (commercial license types).
Applications and other driving-related transactions could be carried out on-line here.
A temporary driver’s license can be issued to Canadian residents if they can show proof of residency. For non-residents outside Canada, applicants need to contact Citizenship and Immigration Canada for proper guidance on procedures.
The basic licensing services in this province require a general identification card. For this, $51 is the standard fee but for senior citizens, it is $26. The written examination costs $44 for license classes 5 and above. For license classes 1 to 4, the testing fee is $51. The road tests have different prices.
- Class 1: $59
- Classes 2 to 4: $51
- Classes 5 and 6: $44
- For senior citizens: $16
- School bus license: $44
- Airbrake: $44
A detailed table of other driving-related costs are here.
In Nova Scotia, visitors and newcomers are allowed to drive for 3 months (90 days) without a license. In other words, if you are in Nova Scotia for the first time, you could drive for 90 days. But, after three months, you need to get a Nova Scotia driver’s license. The Graduate License Program of Nova Scotia has 3 levels.
Level 1 or Beginner’s License
This is the first level for any applicant (residents and non-residents). The minimum age for eligibility is 16 with the consent of 1 parent or legal guardian. At this level, a driver could drive passenger vehicles that seat less than 10 people. This is the class 7 license.
At this level, a novice motorist may also drive motorcycles. But, they need to have the Learner’s Motorcycle License to do so.
You need to pass the knowledge test ($15.15) and the road test ($53).
Before you get your actual license, you will be issued a temporary license. You cannot (legally) drive until you receive this. This costs $25. With this license, you may not take passengers except a supervising one who has a regular Nova Scotia license.
Level 2 or Newly Licensed Driver’s License
To graduate to this level, you need to have your beginner’s license for at least 12 months, and you need to take a road test ($53). A 30-day temporary permit is given before your actual license. The license arrives by mail after 14 calendar days.
This license allows you to drive the same vehicles as a level 1 license. You may take passengers but depending on the number of seat belts in your vehicle. So, if your passenger seat has one seat belt and the rear seats have two, you could take only 3.
Restricted individual stage
This is similar to level 2 but with something known as condition 47. It means a driver at this stage must have a 0% blood alcohol level and cannot supervise another driver.
A driver will have this license for 2 years. After this period of time and the completion of additional tests and a 6-hour defensive driver course. A driver must graduate further from this stage to get a regular Nova Scotia driver’s license and be considered a fully-experienced driver.
You could find more information here.
If you are new in Ontario, it is possible to drive without a license for 60 days. As you might imagine, after that, you will need to get an Ontario driver’s license.
If you are a Canadian resident from another province, you could exchange your driver’s license. But, your license must not be a novice or learner’s license. This is also true for residents of the United States, as well as some countries in the EU, the UK, Australia / NZ, and Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
Regardless of place, motorcycle licenses issued in the countries above will not be honored and cannot be converted to motorcycle licenses for Ontario.
If you do not come from the countries above, you will need to provide proof of driving experience along with your native country’s driver’s license. You may declare one year of experience, but not more. A letter from the foreign government or agency who issued the license confirms the authenticity of the license.
The test you need to take also depends on your driving experience and where you got your license.
If you are fully licensed in your country or province (with exchange)
You just need an eye test.
If you have less than 2 years (with exchange)
You will have to take the eye test and the road test (G2 test). But, you have to wait two years before you take the G2 test. This costs $53.75. Both the G1 and G2 tests cost a total of $159.75
If you have less than 2 years experience (without exchange)
You need to take the eye test and both G1 and G2 tests. You cannot take the G2 test right away. But, while waiting for 2 years, you could take the G1 test and drive with the license from it.
For more information about getting an Ontario drivers license, check this out.
Prince Edward Island
If you move to Prince Edward Island, it is OK to drive for up to 4 months without a PEI license. But, this period of time could be extended (for license processing). Drivers who have a 6-month visitors visa may also drive.
There is no need to pass a written or road test if your license comes from select countries in the EU, the UK, USA, and Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
For non-residents outside these countries, they need to enrol in Prince Edward Island’s Graduated Drivers License system. This system has three levels. Each level allows drivers to drive passenger vehicles only:
GDL Stage 1
At this stage, you need to be a resident of Prince Edward Island and at least 16 years old. To qualify, you need to pass a written test ($40). This license is valid for 12 months for passenger vehicles.
You may not take passengers except the supervising driver (a graduate of the Graduated Drivers License system)
GDL Stage 2
To get here, you need to pass the road test after holding stage 1 access for a year. You will also spend another 12 months at this stage. Like the previous level, you should still be a resident of Prince Edward Island.
Under this license, you cannot drive between 12 mn to 5 am and take too many passengers. You can only take passengers if you have enough seat belts in your vehicle (1 seat belt = 1 passenger).
GDL Stage 3
Here, you should still be a resident of Prince Edward Island and submit a graduation certificate. You will spend another 12 months at this stage. Just like in the previous 2 levels, your blood alcohol levels need to be at 0%.
New residents in Quebec could enjoy driving for up to 6 months without a license. Exchange of a driver’s license to a Quebec license without full testing is possible for people from countries in Western Europe, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
Non-residents from these countries need to provide proof of Canadian citizenship and residency. And, if you are a non-resident from these places, you should also provide a translated copy of your driver’s license. The translation needs to be in French or English.
Also, as with other provinces, you need to sit through vision, reading, and road tests. You would also have to go through all three stages of the Graduated License Program to get a regular Quebec driver’s license. If you are 16 to 17, you need parental consent or the consent of a guardian. Also, expect to spend at least $14 for the first license (the learners license).
Other fees include the road test ($20) and additional licensing ($18)
In this province, you are allowed to drive without a license for 90 days after your arrival. After that time, you need to get a driver’s license from the local government of Saskatchewan. Like some of the other provinces, the Graduated Driver’s License program has 3 stages. But, you only have to undergo this if you lack 2 years of driving experience and do not come from countries in Western Europe, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
If you do not, you need to pass through all three stages of the Graduate License Program of Saskatchewan. The conditions and restrictions at each level of the program for this province are similar to those in Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
You will need about 9 months of practice at GDL stage 1. To get to stages 2 and 3, you need 12 hours of certified driving training from a certified driving school. You also need to pass a road training test. As of 2016, the price of written tests climbed to $25. The road test now costs $55.
After stage 3, you will have your Saskatchewan driver’s license. You could have a look at more information on the driving rules of Saskatchewan.
You should expect to go through 2 stages of the GDL program in this province for a full license. So, the restrictions and conditions at every stage are also the same with other provinces with the same 2-level program.
To enter the learner stage of the program, you need to:
- Be at least 15 years of age (you will need the company of a parent or legal guardian when you apply)
- Pass written and road sign tests
- Pass a visual acuity test (I.e. vision test)
- Provide proof of residence and identification
Once you have had your learner’s license for 6 months and 50 hours of accumulated driving time. You are now ready for the novice stage. You will have to:
- Be at least 16 years of age
- Pass the road test (this costs about $20 at the time of writing)
- Take the road test with a vehicle with insurance and registration
You will be eligible to apply for a full license by passing the road test.
You do not need to be enrolled in the GDL program if you are from a country in Western Europe, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
Again, the full license will be a class 5 license good for passenger vehicles. A license for a motorcycle requires an upgrade. Also, you cannot tow trailers or drive vehicles that carry 9 passengers.
Learn more about a Yukon driving license.
Driving in Canada can be an enjoyable experience, especially because the roads are wider and have lesser cars. Get your license and enjoy driving!