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Import, Register and Insure Your Vehicle

Driving in Canada may seem daunting to anyone who’s ever seen a TV episode of "Ice Road Truckers". Fortunately for the average expat, driving in Canada does not necessarily mean braving blizzards or frozen lakes. Our guide gives you a brief intro to all key aspects of driving in Canada.

Not Recommended: Importing Your Car

Although possible, it is extremely difficult to import foreign cars into Canada as there are very strict environmental and safety standards that all cars must meet.

Because some Canadians purchase cars in the United States and then bring them across the border, there are very specific rules concerning vehicle imports from the US. For example, there are bans on importing certain cars. Just because a car is for sale in the United States doesn’t mean that it can be imported to Canada. The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) outlines a set of detailed guidelines. Despite the long list of conditions, it is still easier to import a car from the US than from Europe.

If you are thinking of importing a car from a country other than the United States, it must comply with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Among other things, this act states that cars manufactured for countries other than Canada or the US are not allowed to be imported because they cannot be altered to comply with Canadian standards. Exceptions to this rule are cars that are 15 years old or older, and cars whose manufacturers have somehow complied with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act or have manufactured them abroad for the North American market. It is generally better and more hassle-free to simply lease or buy a car in Canada if you are planning on staying for more than a year.

Comply with the Law: Car Registration and Insurance

If you have decided to purchase a car, you must register it. As with acquiring a driver’s license, the process differs across provinces. However, you always need to bring the following basic documentation to the provincial licensing department:

  • your valid Canadian driver’s license
  • vehicle ownership papers
  • a vehicle import form and old registration certificate (if you brought the car from another province or country)
  • a certificate of mechanical inspection (for new vehicles only)

It is illegal to drive in Canada without appropriate car insurance. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), which is the national association that represents private home, car, and business insurers, has general information concerning the types of car insurance needed per province. Although the IBC does not provide actual vehicle insurance, it supplies information and tips on what to do after collisions, how to make insurance claims, and whom to contact in the event of a problem.

The Canadian Automotive Association (CAA) offers insurance services and is one of the leading agencies. Even if it isn’t for insurance purposes, it is generally a good idea to join the CAA if you regularly drive long distances. Membership has valuable benefits such as roadside assistance and special savings.


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