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 British Columbia (B.C.), 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 British Columbia

British Columbia operates on a graduated licence system, as it helps to reduce the risks that new drivers face. In order to possess a full driver’s licence, drivers are required to go through two stages before they graduate to a full licence. It consists of one written exam and two road tests. This system is designed to give novice drivers plenty of hands-on experience before they drive independently with little-to-no restrictions. 

Driver’s licences are issued by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) office. Applicants must be 16-years-old or older. Applicants under the age of 19-years-old must have a parent or guardian sign their application form. 

Here are the three levels of driver’s licences in B.C.: 

1. Learner’s licence

A learner licence (also referred to as “Get your L”) is the first stage in becoming a driver in B.C. You must be at least 16-years-old to apply and applicants under the age of 19 need a parent or guardian to sign the application. Once you pass the multiple-choice knowledge test, you’ll hold a learner’s licence for at least 12 months to practice with a supervising driver. Then, you can take a road test and graduate to the next level. 

This type of licence has the most restrictions, including: 

  • You just display a magnetic, red “L” sign on the back of the car while you are driving
  • Drive with a supervised driver in the passenger seat who is aged 25 or older and has a valid full 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.
  • No handheld electronic devices 

2. Novice licence

The next stage is obtaining a novice licence (also known as “Get your N”). In order to get a novice license, you’ll have to pass a 45-minute Class 7 road test. You can prepare for the road test by taking professional driving lessons and/or getting lots of driving practice as an L driver in different road conditions. The test will assess your ability to drive safely and in a controlled manner. 

Once you have passed the Class 7 road test you’ll receive a novice licence and are legally allowed to drive on your own.

There are restrictions that apply, including: 

  • Display a reflective green N sign in the back of the vehicle while driving
  • Zero alcohol consumption and zero drugs in your system 
  • Limit of one passenger (immediate family are exempt), unless with a supervising driver aged 25 and up with a full licence
  • No use of handheld electronic devices at all, including Bluetooth or voice commands, to connect to an in-vehicle audio system, or to use GPS. The only exception is incase of an emergency to call 911

3. Full licence

A full Class 5 driver’s licence is the final step in B.C.’s graduation program. You can apply for a full licence after two years of safe driving as a novice driver and completing the Class 5 road test. You may be eligible to take the Class 5 road test after 18-months if you have completed an ICBC-approved driver training course in the L stage of your licence and met all other requirements. The 45-minute Class 5 road test will test your capability as a driver, including excellent vehicle control, merging and driving on highways, parking, and hazard awareness.  

They include:

  • Every car you drive must have basic auto insurance 
  • Cannot have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of more than 0.05 per cent 

How to get your driver’s licence in British Columbia 

If you are a new resident to B.C. and have a valid driver’s licence from another province or country, you can legally use it for the first 90 days. You must then apply for a B.C. licence within those 90 days. If you are an international student or a temporary foreign worker with a federal work permit, you are entitled to drive for up to 12 months on a valid licence from your home country or province. Any stay longer than 12 months as a temporary foreign worker, then you will be required to apply for a B.C. driver’s licence. 

Applying for a driver’s licence in B.C. from scratch as a novice

If you don’t have an existing licence and would like to get a B.C. driver’s licence, you have to be at least 16-years-old to apply.

Steps involved:

  1. Prepare for the knowledge test in advance by studying the Learn to Drive Smart guide.
  2. Book an appointment at an ICBC driver licensing office. 
  3. Pay a fee of $15 CAD.
  4. At your appointment, you’ll be required to show one primary and one secondary piece of valid, original piece of ID, as well as have a vision screening. 
  5. If you are under the age of 19-years-old, bring a signed and witnessed consent form by a parent or guardian. 
  6. Take the multiple-choice knowledge test and answer at least 40 out of 50 questions.
  7. One you pass, you will receive your learner’s licence and are considered a beginner driver. 
  8. You then need to wait 12 months before applying for a novice licence.

Note Icon  Note
The knowledge test is available in English, Arabic, Cantonese (with traditional Chinese writing), Croatian, French, Farsi, Mandarin (with traditional Chinese writing), Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.​​

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 British Columbia 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 British Columbia has a reciprocal arrangement for driver’s licence.
  2. You’re moving from a country where British Columbia 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: United States (including Puerto Rico, Austria, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Ireland, Jersey, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea (except for motorcycles), Switzerland, Taiwan (except for motorcycles), United Kingdom (including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). 

Process to get a local driving licence in B.C.: Exchange your existing licence from your home country at an ICBC office.  

Key eligibility criteria: Proof of previous driving experience of at least two years on a full licence. 

Steps involved: Book an appointment to visit an ICBC driver licencing office and bring:

  1. Bring two forms of original or certified true copy of accepted ID that shows your full legal name and date of birth.
  2. Bring your current, valid foreign driver’s licence.
  3. Proof of driving experience.
  4. Pay the fee: The cost of a five-year licence renewal in B.C. is $75 CAD plus tax.  

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

  • If you have a learner’s permit from any of these countries listed, or do not have two years experience driving on a full licence, you cannot swap it for an B.C. driver’s licence. 
  • You will need to apply to enter the Graduated Licensing Program. For this you will take a knowledge test and get a vision test, then pass through the graduated program from learner’s to novice to full licence. 

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 British Columbia, you can still exchange your driver’s licence. However, in addition to applying, you will also be required to pass a knowledge test and road test. You will receive a learner’s licence after passing the knowledge test and you can book a Class 5 road test immediately. You do not have to wait 12 months. 

Steps involved: 

  1. Prepare for the knowledge test in advance by studying the Learn to Drive Smart guide and take a practice knowledge test online beforehand.
  2. Book an appointment to visit an ICBC driver licencing office.
  3. At the knowledge test, bring two forms of original or certified true copy of accepted ID that shows your full legal name and date of birth.
  4. Bring your current, valid foreign driver’s licence.
  5. Proof of driving experience.
  6. Pay the fee of $15 CAD for the knowledge test.
  7. Once you pass the multiple-choice knowledge test you will receive a learner’s licence.
  8. If you qualify on your knowledge test, book a Class 5 road test. 
  9. Bring another qualified driver to the appointment in case you do not pass your Class 5 road test.
  10. Pay the fee of $50 CAD for your Class 5 road test.
  11. Once you pass your Class 5 road test, you will receive your full British Columbia Driver’s licence.

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

  • You cannot swap it for an B.C. driver’s licence. 
  • You will need to apply to enter the Graduated Licensing Program. For this you will take a knowledge test and get a vision test, then pass through the graduated program from learner’s to novice to full licence.

Countries with reciprocal agreement with B.C. with at least 2 year’s experienceCountries without a reciprocal agreement with B.C. with at least 2 year’s experience
Do I need proof of driving?YesYes
Is a knowledge test required?NoYes. You will then receive an L licence when you pass.
Is a road test required?NoYes. You will receive a full licence when you pass.

What should a driving extract include

A driving extract is official proof of your driving experience. It is an official letter from the agency that issued your licence. 

A driving extract must be:

  • Written on an official letterhead
  • Written in English. If it is in another language, you are required to submit a translation of the letter by an ICBC approved translator
  • Signed by the licensing authority 

It must also provide the following information:

  • Include your name, date of birth, and driver’s licence number
  • Include the class/type of licence held
  • The date your licence was originally issued and the amount of time you held the licence
  • Include the licensing authority’s name, address, and phone number

What is the fee structure for a driver’s licence in B.C.

The fee structure for a B.C. driver’s licence is as follows: 

ItemCost
Knowledge test$15 CAD
Five-year licence renewal $75 CAD
Five-year licence renewal for 65+$17 CAD
Replacement licence or upgraded licence$17 CAD
First two-year licence (for non-learner drivers moving to B.C.)$31 CAD
First five-year GLP N (novice) licence$31 CAD
Two-year licence reinstatement $31 CAD

What you need to know about driving in British Columbia

Even if you’ve been driving for over 20 years, it’s probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road in B.C. 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 B.C.:

  1. You and your passengers must always wear a seatbelt while driving.
  2. Some highways in B.C. display variable speed limits, which are adjusted based on real-time traffic and weather conditions. Failure to obey can result in a fine as well as penalty points against your licence. 
  3. Speed is measured in kilometres per hour. Where there are no speed limits posted, the maximum speed is 30 km/hour in school zones, 50 km/hour in cities, towns and villages, 80 km/hour on rural roads, and 110-120 km/hour on major highways. 
  4. Cyclists must also follow the rules of the road, but drivers must be aware of them. 
  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. 
  7. Drivers are required to stop for stopped school buses 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. 
  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 slow down and move over for all vehicles stopped along the road that have flashing red, blue, or yellow lights. This includes emergency vehicles, as well as maintenance workers, tow trucks, animal control workers and garbage collectors. 
  10. Distracted driving is not permitted, this includes hand-held use of mobile phones. Failure to obey this rule can result in heavy fines and points deducted against your driver’s licence. 
  11. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by law. British Columbia has some of the strictest rules in Canada and in this province the maximum 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 British Columbia without valid car insurance and you could be fined if you are caught.

Tips Icon  Tip:
Another major difference you may encounter when driving in the interior and central regions of B.C. 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 British Columbia!

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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.