Driving in Canada can be a great way to get to know a new country. After all, there’s plenty of beautiful scenery to take in, from coast-to-coast. In order to legally drive in Canada, you’ll need a driver’s licence that is authorized by your local province or territory. For newcomers looking to settle in Alberta, here’s everything you need to know about obtaining your driver’s licence and some of the specific rules to keep in mind when you’re behind the wheel. 


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Looking for more information on driving in Canada?
See Getting around in Canada: How to get a driver’s licence for licencing and driving rules in Canada, and whether to rent, buy, or lease a car.

An overview of licencing rules in Alberta

Alberta operates on a graduated licence system, as it helps to reduce the risks that new drivers face, especially driving in a province with ice and snow. It takes a minimum of three years and they need to pass through two stages before graduating to a full licence. It consists of one written exam and two road tests, one basic and one more advanced. This system is designed to give novice drivers plenty of hands-on experience before they drive independently with little-to-no restrictions. 

Here are the three levels of driver’s licences in Alberta: 

1. Learner’s (Class 7) licence

A learner licence (also referred to a Class 7 licence) is the first stage in becoming a driver in Alberta. You can be 14-years-old to apply, however applicants under the age of 18 must have parental or guardian consent. You also have to pass a knowledge test and vision test. You must hold a Class 7 licence for a minimum of 12 months before graduating to the next level. This licence allows you to drive a moped. 

This type of licence has the most restrictions, including: 

  • Drive with a supervised driver in the passenger seat who is aged 18 and older and has a full, valid Class 5 licence 
  • Zero alcohol consumption and zero drugs in their system 
  • Limit of one passenger in addition to supervising driver
  • No driving between midnight to 5 a.m.
  • Allowed eight demerit points before licence suspension
  • Each passenger must have a working seat belt 

2. Probationary (Class 5-GDL) licence

The next stage is obtaining a probationary licence (also known as a Class 5-GDL). In order to get a probationary licence, you’ll have to pass a basic road test. You can prepare for the road test by taking professional driving lessons and/or getting lots of driving practice in different road conditions. You must be at least 16-years-old to apply and drivers under the age of 18 require parental or guardian consent. 

You will be required to hold a probationary Class 5-GDL licence for at least two years, with no suspensions for the last year before being able to upgrade to a full licence. 

There are restrictions that apply, including: 

  • Zero alcohol consumption and zero drugs in your system 
  • Allowed eight demerit points before licence suspension
  • Each passenger must have a working seat belt 
  • Cannot be the accompanying driver to a learner driver

3. Full (Class 5) licence

A full Class 5 driver’s licence is the final step in Alberta’s graduation program. You can apply for a full licence after two years on a probationary, Class 5-GDL licence. You will be required to pass an advanced road test at a registry agent in order to receive a full Class 5 licence. 

They include:

  • Every car you drive must have auto insurance
  • Cannot have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of more than 0.08 per cent or a BDC of five nanograms or more of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per millilitre of blood

How to get your driver’s licence in Alberta

If you are a visitor, international student or temporary foreign worker in Alberta and have a valid full driver’s licence from another province or country, you can legally use it for up to one year. If your foreign licence is not in English, it is recommended you carry an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) from your home country. You must carry both the IDP and original, valid licence when driving in Alberta. 

Applying for a driver’s licence in Alberta from scratch as a novice

If you don’t have an existing licence and would like to get a Alberta driver’s licence, you have to be at least 14-years-old to apply. If you are under the age of 18-year-old, you must have parental or guardian consent. 

Steps involved:

  1. Prepare for the knowledge test in advance by studying the Driver’s guide to operation, safety, and licensing: cars and light trucks for cars
  2. Visit a registry office to take the knowledge test. Tests are computer-based and no appointment is required. 
  3. Pay a fee of $17 CAD.
  4. Pass a vision test. 
  5. Get at least 25 out of 30 questions correct on the knowledge test to pass.
  6. Show proof of original, valid proof of ID that also proves you are a legal resident of both Canada and Alberta. 
  7. One you pass, you will receive your learner’s licence and are considered a learner with a Class 7 licence. 
  8. You then need to wait a minimum of 12 months before applying for a Class 5-GDL licence.

Note: The knowledge test is available in 25 different languages.

You will receive a temporary Class 7 learner’s licence card. The physical card will be mailed to your address within 21 days.

Tips Icon  Tip:
Most auto insurance companies offer a discount or reduced premium for new drivers who have completed a recognized driver training program. Some insurers also provide discounts for drivers who have taken a defensive driving course.

 

Applying for a new driver’s licence in Alberta based on previous driving experience in your home country

If you have previous driving experience and a valid licence in your home country, you may belong to one of the following categories:

  1. You’re moving from a country where Alberta has a reciprocal arrangement for driver’s licence 
  2. You’re moving from a country where Alberta does not have a reciprocal arrangement for driver’s licence: 

1. Moving from a country with a reciprocal arrangement for driver’s licence

Eligible countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Isle of Man, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom (including England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), United States. 

Process to get a local driving licence in Alberta: Exchange your existing licence from your home country at a registry agent. 

Key eligibility criteria: Proof of previous driving experience of at least two years on a full licence that is equivalent or higher than a Class 5 licence. 

Steps involved: Visit a registry agent and bring:

  1. Your valid foreign driver’s licence
  2. Proof of two or more years of driving experience to receive a full Class 5 licence 
  3. Proof of identity, your legal status in Canada, and Alberta residence
  4. Take a vision test. 
  5. Pay the fee: The cost of a five-year licence in Alberta is $93 CAD.  

If you have less than two years of driving experience in a reciprocal country:

The reciprocal agreement does not apply to learner’s class licences. If you hold a learners licence (or equivalent) from a reciprocal country, you may apply for GDL Exemption in order to reduce the time you need as an Alberta learner driver and may be eligible to take the Class 5 basic road test.

2. Moving from a country with no reciprocal arrangement for driver’s licence

If you are moving from a country that does not have a reciprocal agreement with Alberta, you can still exchange your driver’s licence. However, in order to do this, you must apply for the GDL exemption program. You will also be required to pass a knowledge test and road test. 

Steps involved: 

  1. Visit a registry agent and apply for the GDL exemption program
  2. Apply for a Class 7 learner’s licence by passing a knowledge test and eye exam.
  3. Pay the fee for the knowledge test of $17 CAD. 
  4. Proof of identity, your legal status in Canada, and Alberta residence
  5. You will be given an official GDL Exemption Application form to complete. 
  6. Submit all necessary documentation, including:
    1. All original driver’s licenses in your possession, even expired ones
    2. A black and white copy of your licence, front and back or relevant pages
    3. All International Driving Permits in your possession
    4. Translation of your driver’s licence and documents into English, if required
    5. Any other certification documents supporting your driving history 
  7. Your licence, application for GDL exemption and supporting documents will be sent to the Alberta Government to review. The process may take up to 10 working days. 
  8. Once your two or more year’s driving experience has been verified, you will be required to pass an advanced road test. You will need to book a road test in advance. The cost of a Class 5 advanced road test is $138 CAD. 

Tips Icon  Tip:
You may wish to study the Driver’s guide to operation, safety and licencing: cars and light trucks in preparation for your knowledge test.

If you have less than two years of driving experience in country without a reciprocal agreement:

  • You cannot swap it for an Alberta driver’s licence. 
  • Visit a registry agent. They will check to see if you can apply for the GDL Exemption program
  • Apply for a Class 7 learner’s licence by passing a knowledge test and eye exam.
  • Pay the fee for the knowledge test of $17 CAD. 
  • If you cannot prove two or more years driving experience, you’ll need to pass a basic road test and get your Class 5 GDL licence. 
  • Once you have two-years driving experience, you’ll need to pass an advanced road test to get a full Class 5 driver’s licence. 

If you have limited driving experience in your home country

Less than two-years driving experience Two-years or more driving experience
Is a knowledge test required? Yes Yes
Is a basic road test required? Yes. If you pass you will receive a Class 5-GDL licence. No
Is an advanced road test required? Yes, after you have at least two years experience on a Class 5 GDL licence. Yes. However, you can take this test sooner if the Alberta Government verifies your driving experience.

What is the fee structure for a driver’s licence in Alberta

The fee structure for an Alberta driver’s licence is as follows: 

Item Cost
Knowledge test $17 CAD
One-year licence $26 CAD
Two-year licence $43 CAD
Three-year licence $60 CAD
Four-year licence $77 CAD
Five-year licence $93 CAD

What you need to know about driving in Alberta

Even if you’ve been driving for over 20 years, it’s probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with the traffic laws in Alberta before getting behind the wheel of a car. The reason why is there are some rules that you may not be familiar with in your home country. 

Here are some common road rules for Alberta:

  1. You and your passengers must always wear a working seatbelt while driving.
  2. Speed is measured in kilometres per hour. Where there are no speed limits posted, the maximum speed is 30 km/hour in both rural and urban school zones, 50 km/hour in urban areas, 80 km/hour on provincial highways located inside a city limit and on rural roads, and 100 km/hour on provincial highways located outside an urban area. 
  3. Cyclists must also follow the rules of the road, but drivers must be aware of them. 
  4. When passing a cyclist, change lanes, like you would for other vehicles. 
  5. It is legal to turn right at a red light, as long as you come to a complete stop first and wait until the way is clear. At some intersections, there may be a sign prohibiting a right hand turn on a red light. 
  6. Come to a complete stop at a four-way stop and drivers take turns driving through in order of arrival at the stop. If two vehicles arrive at the same time, courtesy allows that the vehicle on the right proceeds first. However, you must not proceed unless it’s safe to do so. 
  7. Drivers are required to stop 20 metres from a stopped school bus with its red light flashing and/or stop sign activated. This includes if the driver is behind the bus, or the bus is oncoming. When you see a bus with flashing amber lights, slow down and prepare to stop. Stay stopped until the bus moves on or the bus driver signals it is safe for you to proceed. If you are driving on a divided highway with a median, you only need to stop if you are behind the school bus. Oncoming cars may proceed with caution. 
  8. At a pedestrian crossing or school crossing guard, you must come to a complete stop and allow pedestrians to cross safely to the other side of the road and onto the sidewalk before proceeding. 
  9. You are required to safely move over and stop for emergency vehicles, such as police, ambulance or fire trucks approaching in either direction if their siren is on. Once the emergency vehicle has safely passed, you can resume travel. You must also stop for vehicles with flashing green lights, which can be volunteer firefighters responding to an emergency. 
  10. Distracted driving is not permitted, this includes hand-held use of mobile phones, reading printed materials, or entering information into a GPS unit. Failure to obey this rule can result in heavy fines and three demerit points.
  11. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by law. In Alberta, the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.05 per cent. 
  12. It is legal to pass on the right or the left, but passing on the left is generally more common and predictable, making it a safer choice for passing.
  13. It is illegal to drive a car in Alberta without valid car insurance and the fines for being caught are very steep. Failure to pay fines could result in imprisonment.

Tips Icon  Tip:
Another major difference you may encounter when driving in Alberta is snow and ice. If you are not experienced with winter driving, getting behind the wheel of a car during a snowstorm may feel like a scary experience. Depending on your comfort level, consider investing in some driving lessons with a professional instructor on winter driving. They can take you through common scenarios you may face in winter such as skid control, collision avoidance, rear crash avoidance, and braking on slippery surfaces.

The Canada Safety Council has some winter driving tips. Some important things to remember are:

  1. Make sure that your vehicle is prepared for winter driving.
  2. Consider investing in winter tires, which provide better traction under ice and snow.
  3. Drive smoothly and slowly.
  4. Don’t tailgate – this will make it harder to stop safely.
  5. Brake before you make a turn.
  6. Keep your lights on during snow to increase visibility.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the process of obtaining a local driver’s license. Brush up on your road rules ahead of time and stay safe. Having a provincial driver’s licence will give you the freedom to commute to work, explore your new neighbourhood, even take a road-trip and see more of Alberta!

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Disclaimer:
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.