Purchasing a Car in Canada While On a Tourist Visa

Can you buy a car on a tourist visa in Canada? Yes. Be wary of a few hoops to jump through and all is well.

A road trip in North America, sounds fantastic. The tall trees and the wide roads carved through the Canadian Rockies. The trees turning from green, through orange to red, as Fall passes into Winter. The white fields of stretching snow. Viewed from the vantage point of your very own vehicle.

There are other options, of course. Hire a camper, borrow a car, ride a bike - Trans-Canada on a bicycle, anyone? For our family, with the eight of us and all our gear, the best option was to buy a car, and drive across one of the longest countries in the world.

A car is big enough to fit us all in. It gives us options so we can see more places. It has 4WD for driving through mud and snow. It allows us to get to the ferry on Wolfe Island to go shopping.

But there are a few things to be wary of, despite car salesmen, when getting a Car in Canada.

Provinces of Mind

Every car in Canada requires insurance. In British Columbia you purchase insurance and pay for car registration through the one place. In Ontario, you must provide an insurance receipt when registering the car.

Laws vary between the Provinces in Canada. They can vary a lot, in British Columbia I showed my Australian Drivers Licence and registered the car. In Ontario they required me to cancel my Australia licence, be to granted an Ontario licence, to be able to register the car.

It is difficult to find the requirements for registering a vehicle. We didn’t know what they were, or would be. Stumbling through loop-holes taught us about it. So either try and research it, or stumble through the regulations - either way, if you understand that different provinces have different regulations you will be better off than we were.

Standing Beside our Car

British Columbia

Our car was obtained in BC. Our Aunty had organised a perfect vehicle for our travels, and despite the looks it is a magnificent steed.

We had winter tires fitted. A service and some important joints fixed and it was ready to be registered.

In British Columbia, the insurance company issues the licence plates, so it is a one stop shop.

No international license. No test. A drivers license, a passport, and address to register the car, and the important papers: payment receipt for the car’s purchase and the transfer papers. Make sure the transfer papers are in order, with the seller’s signature.

You are able to choose how much time to register and insure the car for. 3, 6 or 12 months. It is best to try and register it for the duration of your travels. If you are staying around British Columbia, and not planning to drive across the country, you can choose any period of time and simply renew it when needed.

To renew/extend the registration/insurance, you are required to:

  1. Be physically in British Columbia;
  2. For the car to be in British Columbia;
  3. Have a British Columbia drivers license.

With your car registered, you could take a family trip to Alberta, and see Banff in the Fall. You could explore the mountains and pass back into British Columbia if needed to extend registration and insurance.

We found problems because: we were in another province; Our car was with us; We were not heading back to BC; We didn’t have a British Columbia driver license. It was the perfect storm, and we were unaware.

The insurance company would not renew or extend our insurance. In a panic, we had to find out how to navigate the Ontario car licence system.

Ontario ate my Australian License

Thinking it would be fine to change provinces, and just extend the insurance was my first mistake.

We drove across Canada. It is a long way. We had organised a rental property on Wolfe Island. It was marvellous. While over their our three months of registration ran out. So I called the company, and requested an extension. I didn't have a British Columbia license, and I was not in British Columbia and so we could not renew the insurance, or extend the registration.

The phone operators were matter-of-fact. Not in BC. No BC license. No insurance. No registration.

In a panic I called our mechanic|http://www.randysislandmechanical.com/. It was two days before Christmas and the registration payment was just-past due. Randy was too busy and suggested another place on the mainland.

The mechanics took the car between Christmas and New Years, organised the E-Test (Environment Test) and a Safety Test. Both the E-Test and the Safety Test are required before a car can be registered in Ontario.

They did both, between Christmas and New Years. Cost us CAN$800 for a new windshield, fixed rear brakes, a service, and the two tests.

With both of these pieces of paper, and a smile I walked into Service Ontario to register the car. That is when I first found out that I cannot register a car without an Ontario Drivers Licence. What is okay in one provence, is not okay in another.

Drive across town to visit the licensing place - yes, they on other sides of town.

parked car

At the licensing place I was told that I could not get an Ontario license without paperwork from Australia explaining my driving history. So I went home distraught, in our roadworthy, but soon-to-be-expired car, and sent off for the licensing information about my Australian driving history.

With three days to spare - the E-Test and Safety test have a motivational date placed on them - the paper arrived. Express posted from home. I took the paper into the licensing place, where they told me “If you want to get the Ontario license, we must take your Australian license, and we’ll send home to cancel it.”

I forfeited my Australian drivers license to get in Ontario drivers license. Considering we were planning on crossing borders, we thought it would be better to go through the hoops, rather than registering the car in a friend’s name, or selling it to use trains to get about.

Bears are Scary, but the Government can take your License

Registering a car in British Columbia is simple. The process is less straight forward in Ontario. Both were worth it for owning a car, and being able to get us all around.

Owning a vehicle comes with all kinds of costs. For me, most of them are unexpected - a breakdown, or replacing bits and pieces. I had never imagined that a cost would involve me cancelling my home license, that I had been tending to since I was 18. I lost a piece of me that day. But I took another step, as I became an international citizen.

Have you had any experience with registering cars in different countries? Were they like this?