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 Nova Scotia, 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 Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia operates a Graduated Driver Licencing (GDL) system, as it helps to reduce the risks that new drivers face, especially driving in a province with ice and snow. There are three phases to the GDL program: Learner’s Licence, Newly Licenced, and the Restricted Individual. You’ll need to pass a vision test, knowledge test, and road test. 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 license in Nova Scotia: 

1. Learner’s licence

A Learner’s Licence is the first phase in becoming a driver in Nova Scotia. You need to be 16-years-old to apply and anyone under the age of 18 must have the written consent of one parent or guardian. You also have to pass a vision test and a written multiple-choice knowledge test which covers traffic and safe driving rules, as well as Nova Scotia highway signs. You must hold a learner’s licence for a minimum of 12 months. However, the period can be reduced to a minimum of nine months if you complete a recognized driver education program. 

This type of licence has a number of restrictions, including: 

  • Drive with a supervised driver who is not enrolled in the GDL system
  • Zero alcohol consumption and zero drugs in their system 
  • No hand-held devices 

2. Newly Licenced Driver 

The next stage in Nova Scotia’s GDL system is the Newly Licenced Driver. In order to qualify you must have a learner’s licence for a minimum of 12 months, or nine months if completed a recognized driver education course, and have passed a road test. 

There are restrictions that apply, including: 

  • Zero alcohol consumption and zero drugs in their system 
  • No hand-held devices
  • Only one front seat passenger and rear passengers limited to the number of available seat belts 
  • You cannot be a supervising driver for a learner
  • No driving between midnight at 5 a.m., unless except from the nightly curfew for employment reasons or are accompanied by a supervising driver

3. Restricted Individual 

The third stage is the Restricted Individual Stage. To qualify, you are required to successfully complete a six-hour defensive driving course or a recognized driver training course (consisting of 25 hours theory and 10 hours driving time). You are required to remain at the restricted individual stage for two-years. At the end of that time, all restrictions associated with the GDL system are removed and you’ll be considered an experienced driver. 

There are restrictions that apply, including: 

  • Zero alcohol consumption and zero drugs in their system 
  • No hand-held devices
  • You cannot be a supervising driver for another driver

How to get your driver’s licence in Nova Scotia

If you are a visitor aged at least 16-years-old and have a valid driver’s licence from another province or country, you can legally use it for up to 90 days while driving in Nova Scotia. After 90 days, you’ll be required to apply for a Nova Scotia driver’s licence.

If your foreign licence is not in English or French, it is recommended you carry an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) from your home country. New residents to Saskatchewan may use their current foreign driver’s license for up to 90 days after settling in the province. 

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

If you don’t have an existing licence and would like to get a Nova Scotia driver’s licence, you have to be at least 16-years-old. Anyone under the age of 18-year-old must have written consent from a parent or guardian. In order to obtain a learner’s licence, you’ll need to pass a written knowledge test and vision exam.

Steps involved:

  1. Prepare for the written multiple-choice knowledge exam by studying the Nova Scotia Driver’s Handbook.
  2. Fill out an application for Driver’s Licence form, available at an Access Nova Scotia location
  3. Visit a Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) service location to take a test. You don’t need an appointment, but should call toll-free 1-800-898-7668 to check which days a test is available. 
  4. Show proof of ID
  5. Pay $15.15 CAD to take the knowledge test.
  6. Pass a vision exam.
  7. One you pass the knowledge test, pay the fee of $25.10 CAD to get a Learner’s Licence. 
  8. Your photo will be taken and you’ll receive a temporary document valid for 30 days. Your new card will be mailed within 14 calendar days.
  9. A Learner’s Licence is valid for two-years. You’ll need to wait a minimum of 12-months or nine-months if completed driver education before applying as a Newly Licenced Driver. 

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 Nova Scotia 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 Nova Scotia has a reciprocal arrangement for driver’s licence 
  2. You’re moving from a country where Nova Scotia 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: Austria, Germany, Isle of Man, South Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, United States. 

Process to get a local driving licence in Nova Scotia: Exchange your existing licence from your home country at a RMV service location

Key eligibility criteria: Possess a licence that is equivalent of a Class 5 driver’s licence, be at least 16-years-old, pass a vision test and provide an English translation of your licence, if it’s not in French or English. 

Steps involved: Visit a RMV service location and bring:

  1. Your original, valid foreign driver’s licence, if your licence is not in French or English, an official translation of your licence. 
  2. Proof of ID and of residency in Nova Scotia. 
  3. Pass a vision screening test.
  4. Disclose all medical conditions that might affect your safety as a driver.
  5. Pay the fee: The cost of a five-year licence is $80.15 CAD

information icon  Note
Depending on your foreign licence class or how long you have held a driver’s licence for, you may be required to enter the GDL system. You may wish to bring other original supporting documents that show proof of your driving experience, such as a driving extract.

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 Nova Scotia, you may still be able to swap your driver’s licence. However, you will be required to pass a knowledge test and a road test. 

Steps involved: 

  1. Visit a RMV service location.
  2. Bring your original, valid foreign driver’s licence.
  3. Original proof of your driving experience. If your licence and/or driving extract is not in French or English, bring an official translation.
  4. Show proof of ID and proof of residence in Nova Scotia. 
  5. Fill out an application form staying how long you have driven for. 
  6. Pay the fee of $25.10 CAD and complete a written multiple-choice knowledge test on the rules of the road.
  7. Pass a vision screening test.
  8. Once you pass the knowledge test, you can book a road test as soon as you feel ready to take it. To take the road test: pay a fee of $53 CAD. 
  9. Pay the fee of a five-year licence $80.15 CAD
  10. Once you pass the road test, you are considered a Newly Licenced Driver. 

If you do not have sufficient driving experience in a country without a reciprocal agreement:

  • You cannot swap it for a Nova Scotia driver’s licence.
  • Visit a RMV service location and apply for the GDL system 
  • You will be considered a learner driver once you take a knowledge exam, vision test and pay the appropriate fees. 

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

As of 2017, the fee structure for an Saskatchewan driver’s licence is as follows:

Item Cost
Knowledge test $15.15 CAD
Learner’s Licence $25.10 CAD
Newly licenced driver’s licence $80.15 CAD
Five-year licence $80.15 CAD

What you need to know about driving in Nova Scotia 

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 Nova Scotia 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 Nova Scotia:

  1. You and your passengers must always wear a working seatbelt or secure child restraint system 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 a school zone, 50 km/hour in urban areas, and 80 km/hour on highways – unless otherwise posted. 
  3. Cyclists must also follow the same basic rules of the road, but drivers should be aware of them. 
  4. 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 and give way for pedestrians. At some intersections, there may be a sign prohibiting a right hand turn on a red light. 
  5. 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, the car to the left must yield right of way. However, don’t proceed unless it’s safe to do so. 
  6. Drivers are required to stop when there is a 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. Passing a stopped school bus is a serious offence and you may be fined. 
  7. At a pedestrian crossing and school guard crossing, you must come to a complete stop and allow pedestrians to cross safely to the other side of the road before proceeding. 
  8. You are required to safely move over and stop for emergency vehicles, such as police, ambulance or fire trucks with their flashing lights and/or and siren on. Once the emergency vehicle has safely passed, you can resume travel. 
  9. Distracted driving is not permitted, this includes hand-held use of mobile phones, reading printed materials, personal grooming, or entering information into a GPS unit. 
  10. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by law. In Nova Scotia, the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 per cent. However, there are consequences for drivers with a BAC of 0.05 per cent or higher, including a 24-hour suspension.
  11. 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.
  12. Driving a car without valid car insurance can result in serious consequences, including suspension of driving licence. 

Tips Icon  Tip:
Another major difference you may encounter when driving in Nova Scotia 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 Nova Scotia!

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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.