International driving experience and your insurance

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Canada welcomes hundreds of thousands of new immigrants each year. As a newcomer to Canada, you can obtain auto insurance with either a valid international or provincial driver’s license. You may be aware of this already, but car insurance rates can fluctuate due to many factors and premiums for international drivers as international driving experience may be interpreted differently by local carriers.

Let’s take a deeper look at how driving experience from abroad works when it comes to your auto insurance in Canada.

Can I use the insurance I had in my home country to drive in Canada?

Some insurance policies from foreign countries will include coverage for driving in Canada, whereas others won’t. You’ll need to check with your provider to see if your policy offers you coverage while driving in Canada and if there’s any restrictions for how long you’re covered. There also may be specific coverage restrictions, and you may need to consider purchasing additional insurance from a Canadian insurer.

It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with what the insurance regulations are in a country you’ll be driving in (whether you’re moving there or staying for a period of time). If an accident occurs, you don’t want to learn the hard way that you weren’t adequately covered.

What if I’m just a tourist?

The same deal as above applies to tourists driving in Canada. If you’ve brought over your own vehicle, you might be able to get insurance coverage via your existing auto insurer. If your current provider doesn’t extend coverage to Canada, you’ll need to purchase a separate policy. If you’re renting a vehicle through a rental car company, they will typically offer their own form of insurance, which is usually called a “Loss Damage Waiver” or “Collision Damage Waiver”.

What is the process for getting car insurance in Canada with a foreign driver’s license?

You’ll likely be able to get car insurance in Canada even if you have a foreign driver’s license, but you could be required to take a driving test to show you are familiar with Canadian driving regulations. You may also need to prove you have some level of Canadian driving experience before you will be eligible for coverage with some insurers.

In some cases though, foreign drivers will need to have proof of their permanent residence in Canada and/or a valid provincial driver’s license.

Obtaining a driver’s license in Canada as an international driver

The process varies depending on what province you’re trying to obtain a license in, but in Alberta and Ontario it’s fairly simple.

Getting an Ontario driver’s license as an international driver

Highway sign in Ontario.

To switch your existing international driver’s license to an Ontario one, you’ll need to apply in-person at a DriveTest centre, or alternatively visit the Service Ontario Bay and College location in downtown Toronto. You can exchange your out-of-country or out-of-province license for an Ontario license if you are currently relocating from:

  • Any other province or territory in Canada
  • Canadian Armed Forces
  • U.S. States
  • Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Taiwan

You’ll need to provide proof of your past driving experience in your home country. Every new driver in Ontario must go through the graduated licensing program to learn how to drive (in a controlled environment). This program also applies to drivers with foreign experience even if they cannot prove that experience. To apply for your Ontario license, you’ll need to:

  • Pay applicable fees
  • Take a vision test
  • Bring original (valid) out-of-province or out-of-country driver’s license
  • Bring any documents supporting your driving experience in English or French
  • Bring originals of accepted identity documents with legal name and DOB
  • Fill out an application form

If you’re not from a country that can exchange your license (either because there’s no exchange agreement in place, because the license is a learner’s permit/novice-class driver’s license, or because it’s a motorcycle class driver’s license from Japan, South Korea, Germany, France, Great Britain, Austria, Isle of Man, or Republic of Ireland) you can still get credit for previous driving experience. Check out this licenses for out-of-provinces and out-of-country drivers guide.

Getting an Albertan driver’s license as an international driver

Highway sign in Alberta.

If you’re from an eligible country and hold a valid driver’s license, you can trade it in for an Alberta license by going to a registry and bringing the following:

  • Proof of your current residence in Canada
  • Proof of a valid address in Alberta
  • Your current driver’s license
  • Proof of two years of driving experience (DL extract and receipt)

If you are unable to prove at least two years of driving experience, then you will receive a Class 5-GDL until you can provide sufficient proof.

If your license isn’t from an eligible country, then you’ll need to pass a knowledge test to receive a Class 7 learner’s license, and then take the road test to receive a Class 5.

Is car insurance for foreign drivers more expensive?

Often, yes. The cost of auto insurance for foreign drivers varies based on their circumstances and their country of origin. It might cost more because their driving experience may not be considered the same way, especially if their foreign driving experience isn’t valued equally to Canadian driving experience. The reason for this is simply that rules and regulations are different depending on where you live, and insurers may see foreign drivers as less experienced in driving on Canadian roads (and therefore more inclined to be involved in collisions).

That doesn’t mean foreign drivers can’t save on their rates. Working with an insurance brokerage like Mitch unlocks unique opportunities to access things like multiple policy discounts, low mileage discounts and more. We work with over 70 top-rated Canadian insurers to find the coverage that’s right for you at the best price possible. Give us a call for a free quote today.

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