Visiting Canada
The 'official' website for the UK (gov.uk) explains what an 'International Driving Permit (IDP)' is and that you will need one if you plan to drive while visiting Canada for 3 months or more. An IDP MUST be obtained in the UK before you travel to Canada. It can be requested for a nominal fee up to 3 months before your trip and is valid for one year only. It can be obtained from the AA, the RAC or a Post Office. You must also carry your UK licence with the IDP (official source here: Gov.UK: Driving Abroad).
Most Canadian provinces allow only visitors and students to drive on IDPs accompanied by UK licences. The precise rules may vary by Canadian province. For example, the rules for Ontario state that a visitor may use their UK drivers licence for up to 3 months, but if visiting for more than 3 months, they must also have an IDP (official source here: Ontario: Visitors Driving Licences).
Note that if you are a Temporary Work Permit holder, you are not classified as a visitor.
 Ensure your British licence has not expired or is about to expire
This sounds obvious, but UK driving licences have an expiry date for the photocard licences (10 years). You must check to ensure that your UK licence is in date and not expired or about to expire. If it is, you MUST renew it while you are still living in the UK. You cannot convert an expired UK licence for a Canadian provincial licence and it is illegal to apply to the UK DVLA to renew an out of date licence if you are no longer resident in the UK.
 New permanent residents / TWP holders
Unlike the United Kingdom, in Canada, all driver licensing is the responsibility of the individual provinces. This means that there is no such thing as a 'Canadian' driving licence per se, there are 'Canadian Provincial' driving licences. Each province issues its own licences. If you move from one province to another in Canada, after a set number of days, you must change both your licence and your car licence plate!.
In most Canadian provinces, the following newly arrived residents may drive on their UK licences (without IDPs) for 60 - 180 days (depending on the province):
- returning citizens
- newly arrived permanent residents, and
- newly arrived temporary work permit holders (please understand that, if you have a temporary work permit, you are not a visitor)
When the relevant province's deadline for a newly arrived resident arrives, that resident's UK driver's licence no longer is valid. Since an IDP is valid only as long as it accompanies a valid national driver's licence, an IDP becomes invalid at this point. If the holder of a UK driver's licence wants to continue driving in Canada, he/she must exchange his/her UK licence for a provincial driver's licence.
It is important to note that unlike the United Kingdom, in Canada each province is responsible for the rules and issuing driving licences. So each province will have different rules over what can and cannot be exchanged, when and what for etc.
When you exchange a UK licence for a Canadian provincial licence, you MUST (and the provincial licence authority will insist on this) surrender your original UK licence. This is then returned to the UK by the provincial licencing authority and your UK licence is cancelled by the DVLA. It is illegal under both UK and Canadian provincial law to hold two current driving licences at the same time (with significant fines if caught). Note that the UK merely marks your record as cancelled. Your driving history in the UK is retained (i.e. it is not deleted). If you return permanently to the UK, the DVLA can simply reinstate your original licence when you make a suitable application. If you return to the UK to visit, then you can drive on your Canadian provincial licence the same as any Canadian citizen is allowed to.
Licences from Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and British Overseas Territories may or may not be eligible for exchange without a test even if a 'Great Britain' licence is acceptable. Check carefully with the Provincial drivers' licensing authority as they may have different requirements for these jurisdiction.
It is probably a good idea (but not essential) to:
- take out a UK photo id driving licence before you go (if you don't already have one)
- obtain a formal written extract of your UK driving experience (in addition to your original UK photo driving licence)
You can apply to the DVLA for a printed extract of your driving record by submitting form D888. Details here: Request UK Driving Extract
In all Canadian provinces, it is mandatory to have on you or in the car:
- drivers licence
- insurance certificate
- copy of your car registration document
If you are stopped you will be asked to produce these. There are penalties if you cannot.
Since many of the rules can vary by Canadian province, the remainder of this article is sub-sectioned by province.
 Illegal to have a current Canadian and UK licence at the same time
It is illegal in all Canadian provinces to hold or retain a driving licence for another country if you have a Canadian provinvial licence. Official legal source (for Ontario) here: Highway Traffic Act Ontario - see 35 (e).
When you exchange your UK licence for a Canadian provincial licence, they will insist that you surrender your original UK licence (you would be wise to retain a photocopy of both sides for future reference in case of query). The Canadian province will then communicate with the DVLA and ensure that the DVLA record is marked as 'invalid'. However, the DVLA continue to retain this record, albeit now marked as 'invalid' on their system (i.e. it is not actually 'deleted').
 Convert back if you return to the UK permanently
You can reinstate your original UK licence if you return permanently to the UK by exchanging your Canadian provincial licence back for your original UK entitlements.
You simply complete DVLA Form D1 and exchange your Canadian provincial licence. You have to request the D1 form to be sent to you as it is not available as a downloadable PDF (something about a plastic pouch to put required photos in etc.).
There is a £GBP 43 fee.
Providing you include your GB driving licence number on the form you'll get a new GB photocard driving licence with your full UK entitlements. Processing time is quoted as three weeks.
Note that as part of the documents required, you must also submit your Canadian provincial licence with the exchange form.
Official source here: www.gov.uk
 Key driving rule differences in Canada
Just a few thoughts on some key differences. This is by no means exhaustive and you should read up properly on the rules of the road and signs.
All way stops
In the UK, you will be used to crossroads where one road will always have priority over the other road. In Canada, crossroads can be either 'two way stop' (one road has priority over the other, or (and very common) a 'four way stop' (aka 'all way stop'). The same red 'STOP' sign is used for both and whether it is 2 or 4 way is indicated in writing on a small sign below the stop sign. This is where no road has priority and all cars must stop (and by stop they really mean a complete stop - police are very keen on policing this). The first car to fully stop can then go in any direction they want. So it is important to notice the sequence in which various cars actually stopped at the junction before you, as they have priority. Sometimes two way junctions may have a flashing yellow light over the road to indicate caution, but you have priority. A flashing red light above the road indicates you do NOT have priority (it may be a 2 or a 4 way junction).
You must actually STOP at stop signs
In Canada, a red 'STOP' sign means precisely that - STOP. You should bring your car to a complete stop, not just slow down and if clear, drive on (like in the UK). Police are particularly keen on this and may 'lie in wait' on country roads in the middle of nowhere specifically to catch drivers out.
Right turn on red
This can vary by province or sometimes within a city. In Ontario, you are allowed to turn right on a red light unless a sign specifically says you can't or unless it has a right turn light (not common). So you can turn right on a red light, oncoming traffic permitting as they of course have right of way.
Roundabouts / Traffic Circles / Circles
Same thing, different words! Not widespread on average in Canada, but like any average, you will often find them more widespread in some areas (by province or city) than others. They do existing and are becoming more popular in the new estates. The rules are the same as in the UK (except that they go the other way of course), but the problem is that many Canadian don't fully understand the rules, so watch out for people doing dumb things!
On road parking
You can park on the side of the road unless it says otherwise, but be aware that you must park in the direction of the traffic for the side of the road you have parked on. Do NOT spot a space on the other side of the road and simply drive straight into it parked against the flow of the traffic or you will be ticketed. Also be careful in parking on the side of the road in the winter, sometimes specific roads are marked as no parking on a certain day so the snow plows can clear the snow etc. Even if parking is allowed, a snow plow can create a barrier of snow around your car if you are not careful!
Sequence of traffic lights
Traffic lights are widespread in Canada and normally suspended over the road above you. Of course they work in the same way as the UK, but the sequence of lights going from red to green is different. In Canada they go from red, straight to green (in the UK they go from red, to red and amber, then to green). This can catch you out as you may blink and miss the light change, but don't worry, the car behind you will let you know pretty quickly!
Pedestrians have right of way
You may well be at a traffic light and be given a green light to turn then come face to face with pedestrians crossing the road! If you look you will see that they may have a white 'cross' signal! Pedestrians have right of way, especially true in car parks, so be careful.
This is every bit as bad in Canada as in the UK! Note that many of the American cars use the same red light as their stop lights to signal (i.e. they don't have a separate amber turn light). These can be harder to spot if you are not used to them.
School bus stop signs
School busses are a very distinctive shape and yellow / gold colour. They have 'Stop' signs on the side that they deploy when they stop to pick up or drop off students. If they deploy this stop sign, you MUST stop, you are not allowed to overtake them. You will be ticketed if you do.
Filtering in stopped traffic on a motorbike
Filtering (UK) = Lane Splitting (Canada). This is not allowed in Canada.
Emergency vehicles with lights or siren
If an emergency vehicle is on your road and is using the flashing lights or siren, you must slow down and pull over until it has passed.
Documents to carry with you
You must always have:
- Driver's licence
- IDP (as well, if you are visiting for more than 3 months)
- Insurance documents
- Original or copy of registration documents (rental agreement if renting the car)
If you are stopped, you will be asked to produce these. It is an offence if you cannot.
Traffic police are a rarity now if the UK and if there is a random speed check point, these must be clearly marked. In Canada, the police can 'hide' and catch you for speeding, not stopping fully at a stop sign etc. They are far more active in policing roads and rules than in the UK, so be warned.
Insurance coverage for borrowing a car
In the UK, car insurance is by default limited to a single, named insured driver. You can add specific named people and normally pay a bit more for this. In Canada, it is normal for the car to be insured such that the owner can allow anyone else to drive as long as they have his / her permission and as long as they have the appropriate driving licence to do so. They are of course risking their no claims discount and trusting the person they have given permission to. If you are from the UK and drive a friends car in Canada, your friend should check the policy wording to make sure that it isn't limited to Canadian drivers only, but other than that, he can give you permission and the car is insured.
Speed limits in a road works zone
Posted speed limits are always slower while you are in a 'road works' or construction zone. They ARE policed and fines / points for speeding are normally doubled.
Ontario will exchange UK drivers licences without a driving test, including Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
You MUST exchange your driving licence within 60 days (for any status other than that of a 'visitor').
If you are only visiting from the UK, then you can drive on your UK licence for up to 3 months. If you visit for longer, you must get an IDP from the UK beforehand and have this with you and even then you can only drive on an IDP for a maximum of one year (but then IDP's are normally only valid for a maximum of one year). Official source here: Driving in Ontario - Visitors
Note that licence exchanges can ONLY be carried out at specific Ontario Drive Test centres. They cannot be done at the 'normal' Services Ontario offices. A list and locations of the Drive Test centres can be found here Ontario Drive Test Centres
For a licence exchange, you must provide specified proof of identity to establish:
- Legal name
- Date of birth
The list of acceptable identity documents is here: Proof of ID Documents
Basically, if you take your original UK drivers licence, your UK passport and proof of PR (say copy CoPR or PR Card if you have it), then you will have all of the documents necessary.
Official source here: Licence Exchanges for Foreign Licences
 UK licence held for at least 2 years
Ontario operated a graded licencing system with a restricted licence issued once the first driving test is passed. The driver must then apply for and take a further test no earlier than two years after the initial test to gain a full unrestricted licence. For this reason, unless you have held a full UK driving licence for at least 2 years, you will not be able to exchange for a full unrestricted Ontario licence.
To exchange your UK licence you must visit in person an Ontario Drive Test Centre (as described above). It is recommended that you arrive at least 30 minutes before the stated opening time (i.e. early morning) and join the line that will already have started. You can of course turn up at any time during opening hours, but the wait times can be excessive (hours).
Take with you:
- Original UK licence,
- Proof of id (as specified on website), passport best
- Proof of residency (copy of the stamped CoPR or PR Card etc.)
- Whatever sight correct you use for driving.
On arrival, you will be directed to a line where your request is 'triaged'. You tell the member of staff that you have come to exchange a UK driving licence and they will hand you the forms you need to complete and check you have the necessary documentation. They will give you a ticket with a number on it and you wait in the seating area. Complete the form. When your number is called, it will also state which desk number to attend.
Hand your form and documentation over to the member of staff who will check the forms and documentation and enter this onto the system.
You must take an eye test there and then. There is a machine (looks like a short and fat telescope) on the desk. Look into that. They test for peripheral vision by asking you to say which light is on (lights on both your extreme left and right). You are then asked to read a line of letters. The test is very easy and takes about 30 seconds. If you need to wear glasses for driving, you must wear these for your test.
They will take your photograph (so you do NOT need to take photos in advance) there and then.
You will then be issued with a temporary Ontario licence (a slip of paper). This is valid for 30 days, which is usually long enough. You can use this temporary licence to buy a car and get insurance easily. Your finished Ontario photo driving licence (credit card sized) will be mailed to the Canadian address you supplied. Typically this will arrive in 2 / 3 weeks.
Once you actually get to a processing desk, the process takes probably 10 minutes.
It is possible to buy a car in Ontario without first exchanging your UK licence, but you may have problems getting the necessary insurance (it is not impossible, but it will not be straightforward). For this reason, it is a better idea to exchange your licence before buying a car.
 UK licence held for less than 2 years
You may be able to get 'credit' for the time you have held your license (including Provisional licenses) if you have sufficient proof.
You can read more here: Foreign Licence Experience Credits
 UK motorbike licence
Ontario does NOT have a reciprocal licence exchange agreement with the UK as regards motorbike licences. This means that you have to take all of the Ontario written and practical motorbike tests to get a motorbike licence.
Although (somewhat strangely!) there IS a reciprocal agreement if your motorbike licence is from Northern Ireland. See here: Countries with motorbike exchange agreements
Ontario has a graduated licence strategy and issues a restricted licence for the first two years of riding.
If you already have at least 2 years riding experience on a UK motorbike licence, then while you still have to take all of the Ontario tests, you can get 'credit' for your driving experience so that you do not have to wait two years and can take the final test immediately after the preceding test.
You need to make sure that when you exchange your licence that you ask the member of staff specifically to note your motorbike experience in the notes section on their system, as you intend to take the tests and want credit for your riding experience ton date. Don't assume they will do this without you asking (they probably won't). This ensures that there is a record of it on the Ontario system. Also a good idea to take and keep a copy of both sides of your UK licence 'just in case'.
 UK HGV licences
Truck Driving in Canada
 Other stuff and links
- Experience of converting a UK driving licence and later motor cycle rating at Port Union. Port Union
 British Columbia
Driver licensing and mandatory insurance are both run through ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia).
British Columbia will exchange UK drivers licences without a driving test. If the test was passed less than two years ago, you will need to go through the Graduated Licensing process.
If you are resident, you must exchange your licence within 90 days of establishing residency in BC, or cease driving, as you would be driving on an invalid licence.
If you're just visiting BC for up to six months or you're a full time student at a designated institution you may not have to switch your licence.
You can buy and insure a vehicle at any point, with any licence - your old GB licence, your temporary yellow BC licence, or the permanent BC licence.
To exchange a licence, go along in person to an ICBC office with the licence you want to exchange, an address in BC, and proof of immigration status. There will be a brief theory test (three questions) and an eye exam (looking into a dark hood, including testing peripheral vision). If both are passed, they will take a photo. Your physical GB licence will be handed over, and a yellow paper temporary licence will be issued, valid for 60 days. Within that time, the card should arrive in the mail, valid for five years.
ICBC require specific evidence of immigration status, and be aware that a COPR is not enough. Whilst you can exchange your licence with a Work Permit or Study Permit, a COPR has no security features, so is not accepted by ICBC. If you exchange before your PR card arrives, and do not have an existing permit with security features, you will only be issued the temporary yellow licence, and will need to renew it when it expires. Once your PR Card arrives, you can then release the BC Driving Licence card.
Official source here: Exchange a foreign licence in BC
Post regarding UK licence for less than two years Click here
 New Brunswick
New Brunswick will exchange UK drivers licences without a driving test for both cars and motorbikes.
A permanent resident must exchange the licence 'as soon as they take up residence'.
Official source here: New Brunswick licence exchange
Québec will exchange UK drivers licences without a driving test (includes Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man).
You just exchange your licence within 6 months, but you can exchange it immediately if you are a permanent resident.
Official source here: Quebec foreign licence exchange
Alberta will exchange a UK driver's licence (including Northern Ireland) without a driving test.
If you are a permanent resident, TWP holder etc. you must exchange within 90 days.
If you are classed as a visitor (e.g. Visitor, SAWP worker, foreign student, IEC holder) then you can drive on your foreign licence with an International Drivers Permit for a maximum of one year, after which you must exchange.
Official source here: Alberta exchange agreements
Manitoba will exchange a UK driver's licence without a driving test (include UK, Isle of Man and Northern Ireland).
You must exchange within 3 months.
Official source here: Exchange foreign licence in Alberta
 Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia will exchange a UK driver's licence without a driving test. This includes Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. They will exchange both UK car (Nova Scotia = Class 5) and motorbike (Nova Scotia = Class 6) licences.
You must exchange your UK licence within 90 days.
Official source here: UK licence exchange for Nova Scotia
 Prince Edward Island
UK driving licences (incl. Northern Ireland and Isle of Man) can be converted to a PEI licence.
You must convert to a PEI licence within 4 months.
Official source here: Convert to a PEI licence
UK drivers licence can be exchanged for Saskatchewan licences.
You must exchange licences within 90 days.
Official source here: Licence exchange for new residents
There is a reciprocal agreement in place between Yukon and the UK, so UK driving licences can be exchanged for Yukon licences.
You must exchange licences within 120 days of landing in Yukon.
Details here: Yukon licence exchange
Yukon provincial driving licence site: Yukon driving licence
 Newfoundland and Labrador
There is a reciprocal licence conversion agreement in place with the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man).
You must convert to a Newfoundland licence within 3 months of arrival.
Official source here: New residents to Newfoundland
Information on licence exchange here: Nunavut licence exchange
Nunavut provincial driving licence site: Nunavut driving licence
 Northwest Territories
Information on licence exchange here: NWT licence exchange
Northwest Territories driving licence site: Northwest Territories driving licence
Car Insurance: British Columbia
Car Insurance: Alberta
Truck Driving in Canada
Winter Driving in Canada
Drink Driving Conviction and implications for immigration to Canada
News release regarding penalties in the UK for holding two licences
Get an International Drivers Permit in the UK
Car Buying in Canada