UPDATE 23/03/2011: You can now swap your Australian license in for a Canadian one in these provinces:
- British Columbia - visit your local ICBC licensing office
- Ontario - at the nearest DriveTest location
- Prince Edward Island - at a friendly Access PEI office
- Saskatchewan - drop by an SGI Motor License Issuer
To get your Canadian drivers license you'll unfortunately have to swap in your Australian drivers license, never to be seen again. In these two provinces it's a really simple process now:
- Make sure you have your driving history from Australia, stating you have over 2 years of real experience (not on your learners). If you don't do this you'll go on their equivalent of a P plate license again.
- Bring in some valid ID - for Australians working in Canada, the best ID would be your work permit & passport.
- Bring in your Aussie drivers License. You'll lose it when you get your new license, so it might be worth getting a second one before you leave the country if you're attached to it.
- The fee, which in BC is CAD$31.
Easy! This is a great move by the respective governments, ICBC etc.
Here's the process described by an Australian who exchanged his license:
"Surrendered Aus licence, provided licence history showing I have had a full licence for more than 2 years, showed work permit to prove I was eligible to get a BC licence, and some passport information was required. Paid $31, took a vision test, got my photo taken, signed my temporary licence, signed digitally for the licence to be sent out to me. Done"
In Alberta, they're still stuck in the stone ages to a degree, but here's their current statement:
Other Temporary Workers and Foreign Students
If you are from outside Canada working in Alberta temporarily under a valid work visa or you are studying in Alberta at an accreditided institution, you may drive for up to 1 year with your home jurisdiction licence and International Drivers Permit or until your home jurisdiction licence expires, whichever comes first. If you leave Canada and return, your 1 year term starts over. Please ensure that your home jurisdiction driver's licence and your International Drivers Permit are valid for the duration of your stay if you intend to drive. If your work or student visa is for a term longer than 1 year and you will not be leaving Canada during this time, you may be eligible for an Alberta licence. Please see the section titled New Canadian and Alberta Residents
Previous to the update, or if you want to do it the hard way, or if you won't be moving to BC or Ontario, this is what you would have had to do:
- Get a driving history from your Australian state licensing authority before you come across to Canada if you have been driving for longer than three years,
- Make sure you take your tests within three months of being out of the country, otherwise they’ll confiscate your license until you pass your driving test,
- Do the online practice knowledge test, it’s useful, and exactly what you'll see when you get there
- Take the required ID with you each time, this makes life easier!
- You don’t need an international drivers license, but it might give you a little more time in which to get your BC license.
A couple of things to note about driving in Canada before you get here, or get too keen to go out for a thrash in the rental car – They drive on the right hand side of the road, so the opposite side to Australia, New Zealand and the UK plus other places I’m sure. This will take a little bit of adjustment the first time, so take care, and possibly even let someone else drive for a while if it takes you a little time to get used to it. In Canada they also use the metric system, so everything is in kilometers per hour, so no real adjustment period there if you’ve come from somewhere that sensibly uses metric! If you did come from somewhere that uses miles, then the conversion is 1.6 kilometers per mile, so 100 kilometers per hour (kph) is about 60 mph. Most modern cars have both anyway in North America.
In Vancouver I’ve also noticed that almost everyone does 10 – 20 kph above the speed limit as a normal thing, and as long as you are moving at the same speed as the rest of the traffic you shouldn’t have too many issues with the local RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the local prettied up name for the police, and no they don't wear red anymore!). South of the border in the US on the other hand, they’ll ping you for being minimally above the speed limit, and pay particular attention for those with out of state plates, so keep an eye on your speed.
When you get to Canada, you can drive with your Australian license without any issue for a specified period. In British Columbia this period is three months, then it is law that you HAVE to get a BC license if you will be driving on their roads. They can fine you if you don’t for driving without a license, although you may be able to plead ignorance. So if you are planning on an extended stay and driving during that stay then you can go two different ways:
- You can go and get your BC license, which involves a written test then a road test.
- You can exit and re-enter the country within every three months, as the 3 month period restarts when you do this, even if you only leave for a day or even 5 minutes.
Getting a BC drivers license
The initial test is a written test, which is similar to our learners test in Australia and conducted on a touch screen computer. I would really suggest having a read of their road rules book, which you can pick up from any ICBC office, and having a couple of tries at their Online Practice Knowledge Test, which is essentially just a shortened version of what you’ll do during the real test, which is about 60 questions I believe.
The requirements when you roll in for this test is that you bring your Australian license, the fee ($15 when I did it), your work permit and passport, as well as (if you have been) some sort of proof that you have been driving for longer than 3 years (it is a really good idea to request a listing of your driver history from your local government licensing center in Australia before you leave Aus), otherwise you’ll be required to put a green N sign on the back of your car to show that you are a new driver. I was lucky as I carry around an old license with me that was valid for a couple of years, so I didn’t need the history sheet.
A word of warning: if you have been in BC for longer than 3 months and go to take your Knowledge Test, you will need to use your Australian license for collateral. They WILL CONFISCATE your license until you pass your road test, which can be an extended period of time – they told me the waiting list was three months when I went for my test. I actually had mine confiscated while I did the knowledge test, and it was only after I almost pleaded that there was some way I could get my license back that she asked if I’d left the country in the last three months. I’d been to the US the week previous, so she just gave it back there and then and explained what I mentioned in the second dot point in this article.
Once you have passed your knowledge test they’ll append a sticker to the back of your Australian license with your BC license number. Now you are free to go, and you’ll have to look into booking your road test, which you can do online, or by giving them a call using these numbers. I have been advised by ICBC personnel that doing it online is by far the easiest and quickest method.
For the test you should bring the required ID and your wits about you, plus the $50 fee and whatever the cost of your license is once you pass. I haven’t actually undergone this test, but I hear that it takes up to an hour and they can be quite strict, so make sure you stop before the pedestrian crossing/stop sign at every street! Following that you should be good to go with your new BC license. I’m lucky in that I travel to the US frequently for work, so don’t have to stress too much about getting my BC license, but I should do it eventually. I also have my BC ID handy at all times too.
Another word of warning: If you fail your road test, your Australian license will be confiscated from you until you pass. That would suck. Don’t fail!
International Drivers Licenses
You don’t need an International Drivers License to drive in Canada, but I have heard reports that having one allows you to drive in BC for up to 12 months without getting a local license. I can’t find anywhere confirming this, so it may not be valid. If anyone has any solid information on this, let me know, or post it in the forum.
Discuss this article in the CanAussie Forum