Driving a car

A valid driver’s license is required by law to drive a car or other motor vehicle in Canada. If you have a valid driver’s license from your home country, it will be valid in Canada for the first 60 days after you land in the country. To legally drive long term, consider the following three options:

  1. Getting an Ontario driver's licence
  2. Exchanging your driver's licence
  3. Applying for an International Driver's Permit

Getting an Ontario driver's license

If you plan to drive while you're here and don't have an International Driver’s Permit, you must apply for an Ontario driver’s license. Anyone 16 years and older can apply for a driver’s license in Ontario.

Novice drivers, or anyone who has never driven before, will need to take a driving test and gain experience before they receive a full license. There are several types of licenses in Ontario, but you need a G license to drive a car, minivan or small pick-up truck.

To learn the rules of the road in Canada, you’ll need to enrol in a driver-training program or review Ontario’s official road safety book. You can buy a copy of this book through Service Ontario. After studying it thoroughly, you can take the knowledge test.

Proof of driving experience

You can self-declare one year of driving experience, by showing a valid, original foreign driver’s licence. If you want to earn credit for more than one year of driving experience, you'll also need an official letter from the foreign government or agency that issued the driver’s licence, confirming that the licence is authentic. This letter needs to be written in English or French.

Renting/buying a car

If you need a car for a short period of time or a weekend trip, you may rent a car from a local car rental company. Most rental car agencies require the driver to be at least 25 years old. They also require you to present a valid driver’s license, your passport (if you do not have a Canadian driver’s license) and a credit card. 

If you plan to purchase a vehicle in Canada, you must purchase car insurance and get an Ontario driver’s license. It's illegal to operate a vehicle without the registration in the vehicle and without a valid license. It's also illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Alternatively, you can look into Grand River Carshare for more information about sharing a car with other members in the community.

Remember that any car you drive:

  • Must be registered with the Ontario government
  • Must be covered by an insurance policy
  • Must be driven by someone with a valid driver’s license

Canadian Driving Tips

1. Know the driving laws and rules

Before you start driving, take time to learn the laws in Ontario, or the province/territory that you're visiting. Driving laws are strictly enforced in Canada and there are penalties for breaking the laws. 

2. Remember to carry your documentation

This includes: 

  • Valid home country driver’s license, International Driver's Permit, or Ontario driver’s license
  • Copy of your valid study permit
  • Letter confirming your registration status at the University of Waterloo
  • Car registration and insurance paper (“pink slip”) in case you are stopped by a police officer

3. Maintain safe conditions for yourself and other drivers

In Canada, pedestrians (not cars) have the right of way. Keep within the road speed limits and look out for animals, children, or students. When driving, keep your eyes open for pedestrians at all times, especially around the university.

4. Make sure your car is well maintained

Keep a record of all your car maintenance checks and verify that your lights, horn, and tires are in good working order before you leave your house each day.

5. Prepare your car for winter driving

If you've never driven in snow or ice before, take your time and prepare your car for the cold weather. Purchase winter tires and an ice scraper. Before you leave anywhere, make sure your car lights work and scrape any ice and snow off the windows so that you can see. Many Canadians purchase a Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) membership for access to emergency road service (boosting or towing your car).

Parking

If you're parking in the city centre, you may have to park on the street or in a parking garage. Remember to watch for ‘No Parking’ signs to avoid a parking ticket and never park on the ION light rail tracks. During the winter months, you can't park overnight on city streets. 

If you'll park frequently on campus, consider purchasing a parking pass from Parking Services. At visitor lots on campus, you must pay cash to park.