Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Canada

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: January 2014


Canada has 875,000 miles of road, including the famous Trans-Canada Highway, which spans the entire country from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. Roads cover the country but are considerably sparser in the frozen north of the country. Ontario is where most of Canada’s toll roads are to be found, most of them being bridges crossing the border into the United States. Road tax is not levied.

You do not need an International Driver’s Permit to drive in Canada. In most provinces, you are permitted to drive on your existing domestic licence for 90 days. After this period, you will need to obtain a Canadian driving licence. Depending on your home country, this may involve taking a driving test, having an eyesight test or fulfilling other requirements. You are also legally obliged to have car insurance, which can be expensive if purchased in Canada.

Driving is probably the best way to see Canada’s vast and beautiful landscape. However, there are potential hazards, especially at night, when you should be aware of the danger of running into wild animals such as moose and bears.

Whenever you are driving in Canada, you will need your driving licence, vehicle registration documents and car insurance certificate. No other items are legally required, though for any long-haul journey, it is important to plan ahead and take the equipment you may need. This is especially true in winter, when you may face snowstorms and temperatures way below freezing. In some provinces, winter tyres or snow chains are legally required; they are advisable in any case if you are doing much travel on snow. You should take extra clothing with you and emergency rations. For further advice on driving in winter, see this page:


The speed limit is 100 kph (62 mph) on motorways and two-lane highways and 60kph (37mph) on major urban roads. If you are caught speeding you can expect an on-the-spot fine and points on your licence. In most provinces in Canada, it is permitted to turn right on a red light, though this is not the case in Quebec.

Driving in Canada is on the right.  The legal blood-alcohol limit in Canada is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.08%). Punishments for exceeding the limit are severe: you can expect to be imprisoned overnight and possibly deported. Drink drivers may be fined even for a blood-alcohol level of 0.05%.


Canada’s railways, like its roads, span the breadth of the country and are concentrated in the south. Taking a train on a route such as The Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver is a safe, comfortable way to see some of Canada’s countryside. The national train operator is Via Rail Canada and their service is reasonably priced and efficient.

The six largest cities, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, all operate urban railway systems. Most are underground, such as Montreal’s metro, though Vancouver has an elevated railway, the Sky Train.

Buses and Coaches

Traffic in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver is often highly congested. These three cities and most others have extensive bus networks providing a safe, reasonably cheap and efficient alternative to taking the car.

Coaches are a cheap medium-distance form of transport. Most routes are in the south-eastern heart of the country between Windsor and Quebec City. Coaches are also available for longer journeys to other areas such as the Prairies, though taking a coach for such a journey is naturally much slower than flying. The largest coach companies are Coach Canada, Greyhound and Orleans Express.


Canada is a truly vast country, and many settlements, especially in the north, are quite isolated. Air transport is the only option for such areas; it is also often the best option for long-distance travel. The air network is dominated by the national airline, Air Canada, which has flights going all over the country. Other carriers, such as the economy airlines Westjet and Porter, provide adequate services too, though they cover fewer routes.


Ferries are often the most convenient means of transport between the Atlantic Provinces, from the mainland to the islands off the coast of British Columbia, and across the St Lawrence Seaway. The main ferry companies in these three areas are Bay Ferries, BC Ferries and Traversier, respectively.



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If you are considering moving to Canada or are soon to depart, you can find helpful information and advice in the Expat Briefing dedicated Canadian section including; details of immigration and visas, Canadian forums, Canadian event listings and service providers in Canada.


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