Is driving in Canada hard?
Driving in Canada tips
Canada is known to be a country full of beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife and outstanding beauty, so it’s no surprise that people flock there each year to travel. Driving in Canada, whether it’s through the imposing peaks of the Rocky Mountains or in the metropolitan centres of Vancouver or Toronto, can be a hugely enjoyable adventure and an experience that you’ll never forget. As always, when driving in a foreign country, there are some common questions that you should research in order to make your time as enjoyable as possible.
What side of the road do you drive in Canada?
Canadians drive on the right side of the road and their vehicles are left-hand drive. For tourists visiting from Australia, this can take a little bit of getting used to and can feel unnatural at first, but just take your time and go steady until you’re used to it.
Driving in Canada with an Australian licence
To drive in Canada using an Australian licence, it is necessary to obtain an international driver permit (IDP) before you travel, although the Australian driver’s licence is recognised in the following territories: Alberta, British Colombia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. IDPs are issued by the state authority which granted your Australian licence, to obtain an IDP, contact the relevant issuing authority using the following link.
What is the age to drive in Canada?
As Canada is split into different provinces, the age to drive varies depending on where you plan to visit. For example, in Alberta, the minimum age to drive is 18, whereas in Nova Scotia you must be a minimum of 16 years old. Taking this into account, if you’re heading to Canada as a family with a 17-year-old, it might be best to check the local laws – you can find out more information here.
What is the driving distance across Canada?
Canada takes up 9.985 million km 2 and is one of only five countries in the world larger than Australia, so there could potentially be a lot of mileage involved in a Canadian road trip. For example, if you wanted to check out both Toronto, Ontario and Calgary, Alberta, you’d have to travel 3,419km to reach your destination. With large national parks all over the route and expanses with very little population, it’s advisable to ensure that you are well prepared for any eventuality. That means stocking up on basic food and water supplies and a full tank of petrol for longer journeys.
Driving to Canada from the US requirements
If you’re on a trip that takes you from the USA into Canada, there are several things that you should remember when crossing the border. Firstly, and quite obviously, remember to have your passport on hand. Make sure that you have your vehicle registration and rental documents, and make sure your rental agreement and insurance allow you to take the car across the border. Border officers will be keeping a lookout for stolen cars coming to and from Canada. Also, be mindful of any tobacco or alcohol that you’re taking back into Canada, you can find out more information on declaring goods here.
Driving across Canada tips
Keep your tank full
Gas stations can be few and far between in some areas. If you’re driving in large expanses of unpopulated land, take advantage of each rest stop so you don’t run the risk of running out of fuel.
Whether it’s bears, deer or moose, there are plenty of wild animals to see in Canada. Keep an eye out for road signs that warn you of animals crossing and drive carefully! Similarly, if you head out for a leg stretch, be aware of getting too close!
Canada is known to have constantly changing weather, especially if you’re out in the national parks. Setting off on a snowy morning and cranking up the air conditioning by lunchtime is a common occurrence, so be sure to check fluid levels before setting off.
Road signs and highway code
There are numerous different road laws and signs that you’ll come across on your travels through Canada, therefore it’s advisable to brush up on these before you head on your trip. Also, remember that some signs will be in French, use the following online guide to recognise common signs.
Having rental car insurance is vital in order to protect yourself should something unexpected happen on your trip. Generally, rental car companies will offer you their own Collision and Loss Damage Waiver Insurance. However, these policies often won’t cover certain, vulnerable parts of the car such as the windscreen or tires – meaning you’d be liable to pay an excess. Our USA & Canada cover covers every part of your car up to $200,000 and any excess charges up to $10,000, so you’ll never be out of pocket.
Driving in Canada can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and make for a truly memorable trip. As you navigate the snow-capped mountains and the wide-open plains, knowing some of the driving laws and etiquette should help to make your Canadian road trip go as smoothly as possible. All you’ll be left to do is take in the sights.
Our most popular question at Niagara Falls Tourism is information regarding crossing the Canadian and United States border. This page will outline what you need to know.
Canada/USA Border Update
Crossing the border to Canada is Easy!
- submit public health information through the ArriveCAN app or website;
- provide proof of vaccination;
- undergo pre- or on-arrival testing;
- carry out COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation;
- monitor and report if they develop signs or symptoms of COVID-19 upon arriving to Canada.
- undergo health checks for travel on air and rail; or
- wear masks on planes and trains.
Although the masking requirement is being lifted, all travellers are strongly recommended to wear high quality and well-fitted masks during their journeys.
Individuals are reminded that they should not travel if they have symptoms of COVID-19. If travellers become sick while travelling, and are still sick when they arrive in Canada, they should inform a flight attendant or a border services officer upon arrival. They may then be referred to a quarantine officer who will decide whether the traveller needs further medical assessment as COVID-19 remains one of many communicable diseases listed in the Quarantine Act.
Entry into Canada
When you enter Canada, a Canada Border Services Agency officer may ask to see your passport and a valid visa, if one is necessary. If you are a citizen of the United States over the age of 16, you will need a Passport, a Passport Card or Enhanced Driver’s Licence (only issued by certain states) to enter Canada. If you are travelling by air, you are required to have a passport, regardless of age.
As of March 15, 2016, visa-exempt foreign nationals who fly to or transit through Canada, will need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travellers with a valid visa.
Inadmissibility: You may be deemed inadmissible to Canada (not allowed to enter the country) by the Border Services Officer for a number of reasons. Reasons for inadmissibility include involvement in criminal activity (which may include impaired driving convictions), human rights violations, organized crime, etc.
For further information about documentation required and border procedures please visit the Canada Border Services Agency’s website.
Bringing Children into Canada
Minors age 15 and under must have proper identification, such as a birth certificate, passport, citizenship card, permanent resident card or Certificate of Aboriginal Status. While passports are recommended, they are not required for American minors age 15 or younger crossing the border by land — a birth certificate will suffice.
If a minor is travelling alone or with an adult that is not their parent or guardian, they should carry a letter from their parents/ guardians. This letter should authorize the person meeting them or travelling with them to take responsibility for the minor while visiting Canada. The letter should also include addresses and telephone numbers where the parents or guardian can be reached.
Divorced or separated parents should carry custody or legal separation documents and a letter of authorization from the other parent to facilitate their entry into Canada.
If you are travelling with a group of vehicles, make sure you arrive at the border in the same vehicle as your children, to avoid any confusion.
Returning to the United States
Depending on the length of stay, American citizens are entitled to take goods back to the U.S. duty free. Be aware that goods purchased in a duty free shop are not automatically free of duty upon your return to the U.S.
You can find a list of duty free items to bring back to the U.S. here, as well as a list of prohibited and restricted items here. For further information on U.S. customs regulations, please visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
Border Wait Times
About 30 million visitors cross the border every year into Canada and an additional 18 million visitors arrive by boat or airplane. Visit the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission’s website for detailed information to make crossing easier, and get hourly updates regarding border wait times or see wait times below for:
While we try our best to provide accurate and up to date border information, we always recommend that you contact the Canadian Border Services Agency for specific questions or concerns pertaining to crossing our borders.
Driving in Canada
As the world’s second largest country, Canada is a road-tripper’s dream. Hiring a car or camper van offers one of the best ways to see this fantastic country, letting you experience its many cultures, cosmopolitan cities and dramatic natural scenery. The country’s sheer size means must plan your route and prepare for the great distances you’ll cover. A good knowledge of the rules for driving in Canada will help too.
Roads in Canada
Canada’s roads stretch over one million kilometres, including the Trans-Canada Highway, the fourth longest road in the world. Roads in Canada are maintained to a high standard by provincial governments and there are few toll roads (most of which are found on a handful of bridges and near the US border).
Given the size and geography of the country, the road network is much denser in the south of the country and around major cities like Toronto. Outside of major cities, you’ll often be the only vehicle on the road for miles.
Here are the main types of roads in Canada:
Canada’s local roads are intended to provide access to private property and are usually found in suburban and rural areas. They have low traffic speed and must have at least one sidewalk.
Collector roads are designed for connecting traffic to larger arteries. They will be signalled at intersections with arterial roads and will have sidewalks on both sides of the road.
Minor arterial roads
This kind of road is principally designed for facilitating traffic movement, although will provide access to some types of property. They do not have ‘stop’ signs – instead, intersections are controlled by traffic lights. They also have sidewalks on both sides of the thoroughfare.
Major arterial roads
These roads are primarily designed for traffic movement and are subject to access controls (meaning you’ll have to wait at light or at a line before you can enter the flow). The speed limit is normally 50-60km/h and there are usually sidewalks on both sides of the road.
Expressways are the equivalent of British motorways. The speed limit is typically 80-100 km/h. There is no property access and cyclists and pedestrians are prohibited from entering them.
How to drive in Canada
Canada is relatively easy to navigate by car. Canadians are well known for their politeness and this extends to their driving habits too. They have a strong focus on safety and defensive driving, meaning you’re unlikely to encounter much erratic behaviour.
You’ll be likely to end up hiring an automatic transmission car in Canada rather than the kind of manual vehicle you’d be used to in Europe (that said, it’s possible to find manual cars, and you might prefer one if driving in winter). However, most drivers get used to automatic driving without too much trouble and it can make life easier when you’re travelling long distances.
If you’re planning on road-tripping across Canada, do not underestimate the distances involved. Make sure you’ve planned a sensible route, have enough fuel, food and water. If you’re driving in winter, you’ll want to take even more precautions in case of a breakdown (more on winter driving below). It’s also important to remember that wild animals like moose and elks wandering onto the road is a real issue in Canada, especially at night — so drive cautiously.
What side of the road does Canada drive on?
Like most of the world, Canadians drive on the right-hand side of the road. If this is your first time driving on the right, spend some time getting used to it on smaller side roads.
Who has right of way?
There are some differences in how the right of way works in Canada. Firstly, lights at intersections: when you’re at a red light at an intersection, you are allowed to turn right – but must proceed with caution and watch out for pedestrians (this is true for everywhere except Montreal). There are also two types of green light in Canada, whereas a flashing green light means you have the right of way to turn left.
If you come to a four-way crossroad or an intersection without traffic lights – which is common in rural areas – it is the driver to the right who has the right of way.
What is the speed limit in Canada?
Speed limits in Canada are measured in kilometres per hour, rather than miles per hour. Speed limits signs are posted on all roads.
- In urban areas away from major arteries, the speed limit will normally be 50km/h unless otherwise stated
- For rural roads outside of towns, the speed limit will be 60-80 km/h
- The maximum speed limit on highways will be 80-100 km/h (and the minimum limit is 60 km/h)
Driving in adverse conditions in Canada
Canada is famous for its cold, snowy winters – it can drop as low as -40°C in some parts of the country. So, if you plan on driving in Canada in winter, it’s essential to take extra precautions:
- Ensure your hire car has chains or winter tyres (in some provinces this is a legal requirement)
- Bring paper maps in case your GPS fails, snow scrapers and a torch with spare batteries
- Dress appropriately – warm clothes are essential
- Bring a sleeping bag just in case you do have a breakdown – having a warm sleeping bag could be a lifesaver
- Bring a heater – many Canadians carry heaters in their cars in winter to make driving more bearable
- Plan your trip and tell people where you are going
- Drive very defensively, watching out for black ice and other hazards and avoid driving at night
‘Safety first’ is the rule
Canadian driving law is heavily focused on safety, so bear in mind that:
- There are stiff penalties for driving under the influence. The limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood
- Safety belts must be worn at all times
- You cannot use a mobile phone while driving, but you can use a hands-free system
Driving hazards in Canada
As noted above, winter is the most difficult time for driving in Canada and you should take precautions for snow, ice and glare.
That said, most tourists will likely to visit Canada during the warmer months. While summer is much safer for driving, you should still take precautions:
- Prepare for the heat — If you’ll be driving very long distances, always stock up on bottled water since Canada can get very hot in the height of summer.
- Food and fuel — Make sure you have snacks and spare fuel for long legs of your journey.
- Severe weather — Thunderstorms can build up and torrential rain may be a hazard for visibility and control.
- Falling asleep at the wheel — Falling asleep at the wheel is a risk everywhere, but this risk is heightened when driving on long, empty and straight roads common in Canada.
- Wild animals — Watch out for wild animals like moose, elk or even bears crossing the road.
If you do get into any trouble while driving in Canada, check if anyone is injured. If so, call the emergency services on 911. Otherwise, you should immediately get in touch with your car rental company, who will advise you on what to do next.
Canada driving tips
While driving in Canada it’s worth preparing for some of the country’s other idiosyncrasies. These include:
- Brushing up on your French — In Quebec, many road signs are only be written in French.
- School buses — Whenever a yellow school bus stops in Canada and flashes its red lights, all traffic must stop – in either direction.
- Child seats — These must be used for any passenger weighing less than 20kg.
- Headlights — In Novia Scotia you must always have your headlights turned on, even during the day.
More information about driving in Canada
Canada offers some of the most dramatic and jaw-dropping driving opportunities in the world.
For more information, visit:
- Transport Canada: The government’s official site for driving law and news
- Canada Border Services Agency: Useful information on waiting times and requirements if you plan on crossing into the US
- The Canada weather website: Includes alerts and updates on conditions
Don’t forget your excess insurance
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Supplementary Liability Insurance (SLI) can cost as much as $30 a day if you buy your cover from your rental company. Save money and protect yourself with car rental excess waiver before your flight out by purchasing an annual Worldwide Plus Car Hire Excess Insurance policy from insurance4carhire.