Buying a car as a tourist in Canada

Planning to take North America by storm in your very own vehicle? Awesome. I think it’s the best way to do it. Making it happen though can be a little daunting so here is everything we learned when buying our van as Australians in Canada.

My number one tip? Start your trip in Vancouver! Or at the very least somewhere in British Columbia. From all of our research and experience, British Columbia is the only province in Canada that makes it possible to buy a car as a tourist. Other provinces needed things like local drivers licences, proof of residence, local home address and a bunch of other things we were never going to have fresh off the plane as a tourist. 

In B.C. though, all we needed was a local address and a valid licence from home. We have heard of people using their first hostel/accomodation as the address or a friend’s place. We used a previous address from an earlier Canadian trip and it worked fine. 

Okay, so now you are in Vancouver here comes the fun part - choosing a car! Hopefully you have some idea what you are after - van, car, truck or whatever. Take that idea and head to local trader sites like craigslist, kijiiji and We found our final van on craigslist. If you are unsure of exactly what you want, visit some used dealers and check out the options and ball park prices. We did this and decided we would get a better deal in a private deal but seeing a few vans at once really helped to narrow down our search. 

We spent about a week and a half looking at different vans around the city until we found the perfect one. We organised with the seller to take it for a longer test drive so that we could take it in for a pre-purchase inspection at the auto-mechanics. This only cost around $150CAD and gave us a pretty good insight into what we were getting into. It also gave us some bargaining power when it came to the final price. 

On test drives - one of the other great things about B.C. is that their car insurance and registration are one in the same thing. The car we were buying wasn’t currently being used or insured by the seller and we thought that meant we wouldn’t be able to take it out on the roads for a test drive. But, in B.C. you can insure/register a vehicle for as little as one day! So our seller was more than happy to organise that for us and we came back the next day for a longer drive.

Once we were happy we settled on a price with the seller and organised a bank cheque with the funds. We already had a Canadian bank account from a previous trip but you could also probably pay cash or use TransferWise or similar international bank transfer. 

With the cheque in hand we met the seller at the insurance broker office. There is a few things to note here:

  • All insurance/registration in B.C. is administered by the government with a plan called ICBC but it is brokered through private companies. So no matter where you go if you stick to the ICBC insurance you will get the same deal. 
  • It is best to go to the office WITH the seller to do the transfer. In Canada any fines or taxes get applied to the vehicle, not the individual. The broker will check that these are all paid up before they transfer the car. So if the seller isn’t there you get stuck in the middle of trying to get them to pay or having to pay them yourself! It’s easier if you’re all there together.
  • If you have previous driving experience and no claims history you might be able to get a discount on the insurance. You’ll need a letter from your insurance at home so check the ICBC website for the requirements.
  • Being from Australia we expected there to be some kind of safety inspection/certificate to pass. There isn’t. This makes things easier but the responsibility is on you to be certain you aren’t buying a dud!

The transfer happened all very quickly. The seller signed one form, we signed some others and made some choices on our level of cover and then the broker gave us the plates! Once we had the plates we swapped the cheque for the keys and we were off! 

Having your own wheels to explore this huge country is awesome and definitely worth it if you’re planning an extended trip. If you want to know more about the van that we chose and the conversion we did keep an eye out for the van build blog and check out my Instagram in the meantime. Enjoy the drive and remember, keep right.

*This is just our experience to help you understand what was involved for us. Your rules might be different and might have changed since writing.

Jillian MyattComment