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Have you ever thought of buying a car instead of renting one? If this is the case, I have some valuable car buying tips for you.

You don’t want to find out after arriving in Toronto, that you can’t insure a car in Ontario unless you have an Ontario driver licence. Planning is the key and knowing the different laws between provinces is important.

There is no better way to travel in Canada than having your own wheels.  Owning a vehicle lets you explore places off-the-beaten-track. You save money on tour operators, buses, and domestic flights. Cheap accommodation is guaranteed if you camp on the way.

If you travel solo, bus, train and plane travel might work out better for you. Hitchhiking is another option if you really want to rough it and your travel budget is very minimal.

To buy a car in Canada instead of renting a car makes sense if you come to Canada for a longer period of time, like on a working holiday visa. In my opinion, you have to stay at least two months to make it worthwhile.  For a shorter time than that, you are probably better off to chose some other options. Make sure to read all the car buying tips for tourists and also check out the official provincial websites for current information.

Car rental prices can be quite reasonable if you just want to rent a vehicle for a couple of weeks. Look out for private car rental places where you pick-up and drop-off the car at the same place. Of course, this doesn’t work if you want to drive across the whole country.

I hope the following car buying tips will help you with your car purchase.

Buying A Car In Canada As A Tourist

First, decide how much time you have for your Canada road trip and which provinces you would like to see. How easy it will be to buy a car, get insurance and resell it before leaving the country will depend on the location.

It is totally legal for a foreigner to purchase a vehicle in Canada, even as a tourist. To get car insurance is another matter. Some provinces let you drive with a foreign driver’s license for three months, other provinces for a year. In Ontario and Alberta, you can’t get insurance unless you have a Canadian driver’s license. Make sure to check out the appropriate website for the province of your choice.

What Vehicle Are You Looking For

This is one of my most important car buying tips I suggest first. Do some research and get an idea of what you want. The type of vehicle to buy will depend on what roads you are planning to travel and whether you want to use it for sleeping. You have many options. Cars, trucks, vans, RVs, they all have their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Think about the distances you are planning to drive
  • Will you go off-the-beaten-track and drive dirt roads or drive mostly on paved roads
  • Do you NEED a 4WD (if you are travelling to the Northern Provinces I would suggest you do)
  • Are you looking for a camper van or a small SUV, or a truck with a canopy
  • Do you want a vehicle you can sleep in
  • What is your budget

Car Buying Tips For Finding A Vehicle

There are lots resources available to find used vehicles. Many of us drive our cars until the car floors are rusted through and it gets too expensive to repair. Because we are allowed to drive the old wrecks,  there are lots of old cars out there for sale.

  • Check the local newspaper – in the classified section, you will find lots of vehicles for sale.
  • Autotrader.ca – This is Canada’s largest auto classifieds site for new and used cars for sale.
  • Kijiji.ca – Free classifieds Marketplace in Canada with a large ‘Vehicles For Sale’ section.
  • Craigslist – Canada-wide classifieds
  • UsedVancouver.com or UsedToronto.com – or other usedcityname.com – Another great online marketplace.
  • Bulletin boards – Backpacker hostels and ski resorts. Somebody might want to sell a car in a hurry and you might find the perfect bargain.

Buying a vehicle privately can save you money. You can try to make a lower offer and some sellers will accept it. It just depends on how desperate the seller wants to sell. With private sales, you won’t get any warranty and you are buying “as is”. If the vehicle breaks down a few days later, the seller can’t be held liable.

Another option is to go to a dealership.  This way you might get a limited warranty, and the dealer will assist you with all the paperwork. However, buying a car from a dealership will definitely be more expensive.

How Much Do You Have To Spend

Some car buying tips on prices: You might be lucky to pick up an old rig for $500. Unless you are mechanically inclined it might not be a good choice. Our towns are far apart and to get a tow truck could be a long wait, and a big expense.

Spending between $2,000 and $4,000 will get you a decent vehicle and probably much fewer headaches. In this price range, you can find reliable cars or vans in good condition.

Transfer Of Ownership

Once you find the perfect vehicle, ownership has to be transferred into your name. Most times the seller has the appropriate form already, otherwise, you can get it from the provincial road registry (ICBC, MTO, SAAQ, etc) or any Autoplan broker. You also will get a bill of sale from the seller.

Both the seller and buyer have to fill out the transfer/tax form and sign it.

You will have to pay tax on the amount you purchased the vehicle for and fill in the purchase amount on the transfer/tax form. It seems to be a normal practice to put down a lower purchase price on the transfer form to save some money on the tax. However, this might affect the amount of money you receive from the insurance if you ever have to make a claim.

To complete the transfer, take these documents to an Autoplan broker. I strongly recommend going together with the seller.

In British Columbia, you can get the vehicle registered, licensed and insured at the brokers at the same time. For other provinces inquire about the steps to take.


Vehicles from different province might need to go through a safety inspection before you can register it. The inspection really should be done by the seller before he is trying to sell it. An inspection might also be required for vehicles which haven’t been registered for a while. In this case, you might be required to do some costly repairs to the vehicle before you can drive it. Be sure to check this out before you buy!

In British Columbia’s Lower Mainland (Vancouver) and Fraser Valley, vehicles also need to undergo emissions testing. A very old vehicle may not pass this test. In this case, you may want to go to a rural place to register.

License Plates

In Canada license plates don’t come with the vehicle and belong to the seller. If you let the car insurance expire, you can keep the old plates and will get new ones when you get new insurance. That’s why you see all these old license plates pinned to walls and Canadian Outhouses.

This means, the seller will take off his license plates and you will get new plates when you go to register the vehicle.

Car Buying Tips on Insurance

Vehicle insurance is mandatory in Canada. Each province has their own insurance providers and prices vary. For the bare minimum, you will need third party liability insurance. Options for collision and comprehensive can be added to that.

British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec insurance providers are government agencies.

One of my favourite car buying tips I give to tourists: Think about starting your trip in British Columbia and buying a car will be nearly hassle-free. Like in all the other provinces you will need a local address. Think about volunteering as a WWOOfer for a few weeks at the beginning of your trip. I’m sure the hosts will let you use their address in exchange for your hard work.

In British Columbia, you can get car insurance with your home country driving license. If you have the claim history letter from the auto insurance company from your home country, you can get a discount on the insurance. In British Columbia, you can buy a 3-month, 6-month or 12-month insurance policy. You can cancel the policy and you will get a refund minus the cancellation fee.

That is different in Ontario. You might abandon the idea of buying and insuring a car in Ontario when you find out that in order to insure a car in Ontario you need an Ontario driver’s licence. For more information check out this Ontario Website.

Alberta has a similar policy. Make sure to check out the official website for the province of your choice.

Driver Licence

Each province has its own licensing procedures. You can drive a rented car in all of Canada for a certain amount of time if you have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) issued in your country. After that you have to apply for a local driver licence from the province you are in (not necessary where the vehicle is registered). In some provinces, you can exchange your foreign driver’s licence for a provincial one, but you won’t get your foreign licence back when you leave Canada.

In British Columbia, you can drive with the driver’s licence of your country as long as it is in English or French and you don’t need to have an IDP. There might be other provinces who accept your home country driver licence, I didn’t check on that.

Car Buying Tips For Vehicle Checks Before Buying

Just because you think that you are getting a good deal doesn’t mean the car will survive the road trip you planned. Before you buy, I suggest you check some basics.

  • Tire tread – Bald tires are not safe
  • Spare tire, wheel wrench, and jack – Make sure they come with the vehicle
  • Colour or exhaust fumes – black smoke means it’s burning oil
  • Oil level – Check using the dipstick prior to buying
  • Coolant levels – If coolant low, the engine has been running hot, and that’s not good.
  • Headlights – Low and high beam – both have to be working, you will need them.
  • Breaks – Test how responsive they are and listen for grinding sounds. Bad news!
  • Turn signals and hazard lights – Make sure they work.
  • Leaks – Check the place where the car was parked for wet spots.
  • Kilometres – Old vehicles in Canada have lots. Whether this is a problem depends mostly on the type of engine. My RAV4 has over 250,000 km at the time of writing and my next road trip will be long and rough! (I trust my Toyota!)
  • Loose belts – Check for tightness and cracks

If the vehicle passes this checklist, you might have found a good one. It is always a good idea to take your new vehicle to a mechanic for a tune-up and oil change. It will cost some money, but you might save money and headaches down the road.

Driving in Canada

Driving in Canada might be more relaxing than what you are used to from your home country.  Make sure you learn about the Canadian driving practices before you hitting the road.

Be prepared to drive long distances in this huge country of ours. The distance from the east to the west coast is more than 7,000 km, can you imagine!

Take yourself time, don’t rush, explore the land! Save on accommodation and camp on the way. To find camping spots check out the great Canadian camping apps.

Winter Driving

The winter climate in Canada can be brutal, road conditions terrible and temperatures freezing cold. I don’t suggest road tripping and living out of a van during the winter months between November to March; unless of course, your vehicle is built for it with excellent insulation and a heater to keep you from freezing at night. Winter tires are required and could set you back financially a few hundred Dollars.

Time your road trip in Canada to avoid winter.  The only road trip I suggest you do in winter is to the Yukon or Northwest Territories to see the Northern lights and travel on some ice roads for a once in a lifetime arctic experience.

If you are planning to drive Canadian roads in winter, make sure you are prepared for the conditions.

Canadian Wildlife

Wildlife is a common cause of accidents in Canada. Canada is home to a lot of wild animals and to hit one can be very dangerous. People are killed every year because of Moose running into their vehicle. Watch out for wildlife when you drive, slow down and keep safe on your Canada road trip.

Learn about our wildlife before you start your journey. Make sure you know the difference between grizzly bears and black bears and act accordingly if you encounter one.

Break Downs And Road Assistant

Car buying tips for safety: I recommend to sign-up with CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) for their roadside assistance program. In British Columbia it is BCAA. The premier membership is what you want. You only have to call them for help once and your membership is paid for, it is totally worth it. If you stop by their office you can get free maps. I highly recommend it!

Make sure you keep the following numbers handy, you will use them if you ever get stranded.

1 800 CAA HELP / 1 800 222 4357 FREE or *222 on your cell phone (CAA Emergency Roadside Assistance). If you are a member, costs won’t be an issue. CAA will tow your vehicle to the closest shop.

How to find a mechanic

Breaking down in a foreign city can be very frustrating. Here a few tips for you:

  • If you get CAA ask them where you can find a mechanic
  • Call ‘0’ on any touch-tone phone to speak to a local operator, or dial ’00’ for a long distance operator. They should be able to help.
  • Check the Yellow Pages if you are lucky you find a phone book at a public payphone. Look for automotive or mechanic to find businesses willing to help. If it’s a weekend or public holiday you will be out of luck and have to stick around for a few days.
  • Try a gas station if you can get there, they sometimes can find somebody to help out. Canadians are generally friendly and helpful!

Car buying Tips

Selling Your Vehicle After The Trip

Your Canadian road trip adventure is coming to an end. You made it and so did your car, and it’s still in reasonable shape. Selling a car is similar to the buying process, only this time you are the seller. Be fair with the price, especially if you don’t have a lot of time left before your flight out. Don’t expect to get the same amount you paid, be realistic. Selling the car for half of what you paid is still a good deal for you. You have put a few thousand kilometres on it, so the money you loose on the car is your transportation cost.

Give yourself at least a couple of weeks to sell the car.

Important Note: If you bought the vehicle in a different province, it might need a safety inspection before it can be registered again. Make sure you check on that.

Attach a For Sale sign on the car window. Make a poster with details and price and hang it on bulletin boards in hostels and coffee shops. Post on Facebook and social media. Advertise via autotrader.com and local online websites.

What do you do if you don’t find a buyer? Well, you have two options:

  1. Take it to a scrap yard and if you are lucky they will give you some money for it.
  2. You can offer it to another traveller for FREE (or very cheap). This way I’m sure you will find a taker for your car.

When it’s all done be happy and don’t be a prude about the money you lost on the vehicle. Think about your amazing Canada road trip and how it was totally worth it and that it was money well spent. Just remember that bus companies and airlines don’t pay any money back, there are no refunds. Buying a vehicle is kind of nice that way, there is a chance to get some money back.

I hope that my car buying tips will be of some help to you!

Enjoyed this article? Did you find the car buying tips of value?

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Do you have any additional car buying tips to share for tourists? Leave a comment below!







  1. Christophe

    Hello, thinking about buying a Van! What are the best makes ( in Case you brake down, which brand easiest and cheapest to get parts for? Toyota, dodge, GMC, ford …?

    • Yrene Dee

      Hello Christophe, I would have to know a bit more what you are looking for, how old a car, and how much you want to spend. Dodge, Honda, GM, they all have pretty good names in Canada and most of them are all All-Wheel-Drives and easy to get parts for. Good tires are very important! Would be advisable to have it checked by a mechanic before you buy. Let me know if you need more advise.

  2. Adolfo

    Hi! I just wish to offer you a huge thumbs up for your excellent info you’ve got here on this post.

    I am returning to your website for more soon.

  3. kerry c

    I wish we’d come across this 4 years ago when we bought our vehicle in Alberta. Never try to insure a vehicle in Alberta!. It’s cost us the best part of $3k every year since to insure it and the insurance operator (not mentioning any names here) gets more unhelpful each year. This year we are registering our car in BC as that’s where our holiday home is and we’ll just leave the car garaged when we’re not here. In BC, the local ICBC office couldn’t have been more helpful and didn’t need loads of paperwork to insure our car. This year our insurance quote was a third of the price and has been so easy to arrange – we were treated like human beings in BC and every member of staff we spoke to with our questions was knowledgeable and helpful. The info on this site is accurate, even down to the 3, 6 or 12 month insurance options that BC offer. Thanks for providing such accurate info and making the minefield of car insurance in Canada very easy to follow.

    • Yrene Dee

      Hello Kerry,

      Thanks so much to take the time and tell us about your experience. It keeps me inspired knowing that my information is helpful to travellers. Where in BC is your vacation home?
      Happy travelling,

  4. Nicolas


    Those are some really helpful info, thank you for the amazing job.

    I am currently studying in Ottawa and plan to make a road trip across the USA and Canada once my classes are done. I found a camper van in Montréal and could use an address in the province of Quebec as my permanent address. Would it be possible for me to buy it even if I don’t have my International Driver’s Permit yet?

    Thanks again!!

    • Yrene Dee

      I’m glad you find the information helpful, that keeps me inspired.
      To use the licence from your country it has to be either in English or French, otherwise you will need an International Driver’s permit to register the car. I wouldn’t rush into buying a car in another province, before you talk to an insurance company for details. Buying a car and transferring ownership is usually not the problem, but you want to be sure that you can get insurance for it.

  5. Laura

    Dear yrene,

    Thank you for your helpfull information.
    I guess the rules will also aply for a camper?
    Do you know if it is possible to lengthen your insurrance if you in the united states.
    Our plan is buying a camper in bc drive around for 3 months(because of the visa) then cross border to the us and drive around there for a year(aparently it is impossible to buy a camper in the us as a foreigner) and after that year go back to canada and sell the camper(if it survives the trip) in bc.
    So we need probably insurance for 1,5 years.

    Lookin forward to your answer.
    Now i will first enjoy your other posts 🙂



    • Yrene Dee

      Hello Laura,
      I’m glad you find my information useful, which inspires me to write more articles. As far as I know the rules also apply for campers. I suggest you buy insurance for 3 months for travelling in Canada and renew with ICBC for one year before leaving for the US, and renew again when you come back to Canada. Renewing your policy with ICBC has to be done in person or with an authoriziation signature. Can you get a 1-year visa for the US?
      Happy travelling,


  6. Patrick

    Hi Yrene,
    thanks so much for these helpful information. We’re planning to travel from Vancouver to Chile. Do you know if it’s possible to buy and insure a car (an old volkswagen t3) as a tourist in Vancouver even though you won’t return to Canada again with this car?

    • Yrene Dee

      Hello Patrick,
      Insuring the car should be no problem, as long as you get the transfer papers signed and have an address in Canada you can use. How it works with getting rid of the car in Chile I don’t know. Just let the insurance expire when you’re there. Confirm with ICBC in Vancouver.
      Have an amazing trip!

    • Willem Max

      Hi Patrick,
      We’re almost doing the same trip but than from Canada to Argentina. We fly to Vancouver on the 18th of July. I find it quit hard to sort everything out from registration to insurance. That’s why I was curious how far you guys are?

  7. Janko

    Hi Yrene, thank you very much for these informations!
    We’re planning to buy a van where it’s the most easier in Canada as foreigners. We will register it, insure it and after a long trip through Canada from east to west, we’ll head to the south. We have some friends in Québec who might help us for the address and furthermore, we’ll have to spend time to convert the van into a camper before leaving Montreal. Knowing this, what would be the best option for us? Should we buy, register and insure a van in Québec? Or is there a better advice you can give us?
    All the best from France!

    • Yrene Dee

      Hello Janko,
      Thanks you for contacting me. Each Province and Territory has its own regulations. I know for sure, that BC is the easiest place to buy a car as a tourist. You can exchange your driver’s license for a Canadian one to get cheaper insurance. Insurance from Canada also covers the US. I suggest you get your friends in Quebec to find out details for you. Buying and selling in the same province is recommended, out of province you need to have a vehicle safety inspection done. I hope this helps!

  8. Janine

    Good morning. We are a family of 4 looking to travel canada, states and cntrl &sth america. It looks easier to purchase a rv in canada, so we will. My question is, to buy a rv in BC do we need a permanent address? If, how do you, ahem, aquire one? Thx for your information, you saved our trip! Your blog is the only uptodate info i could find and lets just say when we fly i to the US 20 jan 2018 we will be heading straight for Canada! Thx janine

    • Yrene Dee

      Yes, you will need an address in BC to insure any vehicle. Do you know anybody in BC? Maybe you’ll book an Airbnb or some other accommodation while you are looking for an RV and they will let you use their address. I can’t see this being a problem, Canadians are a friendly and helpful folk.

  9. Holly

    This is such a helpful blog, thank you! I am planning on driving across canada with my working holiday visa – I just have one question about licenses, if I bring my UK license and buy a car and insurance in BC, do I need to exchange my UK driving license for a BC one, and is that then valid across other provinces? Or would my UK one be valid across other provinces too? Thank you!

    • Yrene Dee

      Hello Holly, I’m glad the information is useful. If you’re a visitor, you can drive in B.C. for up to 6 months with a valid driver licence from your country. If you stay in Canada longer than 6 months you will have to get a Canadian Driver’s licence. The easiest way to do this is to exchange your UK Licence for a BC license, but you won’t get your licence back when you leave the country. As long as you have a BC address and insuranse on the car you won’t have problems travelling across other provinces. But note, every province has different regulations and they vary a lot. Selling a car in a different province can be a problem. When you register the car find out all the details and tell ICBC your plans. If you do change your licence to a BC licence you will get cheaper insurance. Also, bring along your insurance records from home.
      I just started a Backcountry Canada Travel Facebook Group; please join the group and you can ask any Canada related questions. https://www.facebook.com/groups/backcountrycanadatravel/
      I hope this helps!

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