Canada Driving Advice and Car Hire Info

Driving In Canada

Canada drives on the right hand side of the road. Advice on driving licence requirements for foreigners are vague on the Canadian government website. It says you ‘should’ be able to drive using your own photo licence but advises to check exact requirements in the state you’ll be visiting, which suggests that different rules are in place per location. To be on the safe side, I would check with the car rental company you plan to use. If your licence isn’t written in Roman alphabet, I would definitely recommend obtaining an IDP or a translation of your licence into English and French before you travel. Speed limits vary by state and range from 90-120kmh on freeways, 70-110kmh on other rural roads and 45-50kmh in urban areas.If crossing the US Border by car make sure you have your passport plus full documentation for the vehicle with you.

Canada has an extensive highways network of 1,350,000km of roads. There is no standard naming convention for main routes with the terms highway,freeway,expressway used in addition to autoroute in French speaking areas.The Trans-Canada Highway system also known as Route Transcanadienne, TCH or T-Can runs for 7,821 km through all ten provinces of Canada, from New Foundland to British Columbia, making it one of the longest routes in the world, though it actually comprises of two separate routes for much of its length, and the road has different names and numbers in different provinces.

Toll roads are rare in Canada. The only routes currently charged are –

The Ontario Highway 407 -Paid via an Express Toll Route (ETR)  transponder fitted to vehicles and charged via the rental company for rental cars. More detail can be found here

The Cobequid Pass -Highway 401, Nova Scotia  -$4 fee for cars can be paid  on the road.

The Quebec Autoroute 30 -Tolls of around $2 can be paid on the St Lawrence bridge section of the A30 or via an ETR transponder.

Ontario Highway 412 – Also known as the Kings Highway, toll charge starts at $20 and can be paid in the same way as the 407 Highway above.

Canada’s roads are generally in very good condition- even minor roads, though obviously conditions can deteriorate in remote areas in winter. All roads are now paved after the last 100km stretch of gravel in NW Territories was recently asphalted.

Driving in Canada is a fairly laid back experience for European visitors, much like driving in USA. Also like USA, and a difference to many European countries, is that it’s possible to turn right at a red stop signal if they way ahead is clear. Don’t be surprised if someone sounds their horn if you’re waiting for the light to turn green!

Potential problems to watch out for include the weather- extreme cold and snow in winter are likely in many parts of the country so exercise caution if you’re not used to driving in slippery conditions. Make sure your rental car has winter tyres and have a test drive on a quiet road if it’s icy and you’re unused to the conditions. Practice skidding and keeping the car under control. Also, bear in mind at traffic lights and other junctions that other drivers may not be proficient at driving in snow and ice- check that no out of control vehicles are sliding towards you before proceeding. Also, sunglasses are invaluable to guard against snow glare if you’re driving any distance.For a country with so many roads in mountainous areas, few are permanently closed in the winter months, one exception being the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, which can remain closed until June . Most roads at high altitudes will close temporarily after heavy snow but soon reopen when slow ploughs have cleared them. In some areas, the Canadian army use artillery to prompt controlled avalanches, which prevent roads being closed by unexpected and dangerous shifts of snow from surrounding peaks.

With the country covering multiple time zones, distances in Canada are huge. I once drove from Montreal to Toronto in a day and it was a long drive – I just didn’t appreciate the distance involved when looking on a map. Like the USA, most Cities have modern centres which have been laid out with car drivers in mind. Older cities such as Quebec City are an exception and may be more of a challenge to navigate. In some areas, alongside the usual road signs warning of sharp bends or rock avalanches, there are signs alerting drivers to beware of certain wildlife that roam nearby. It’s not just to protect the animals; deer, elk and moose can be a real hazard for cars and their drivers. They often get mesmerised by car lights and stand frozen in the path of your car, or can bolt across the road out of nowhere. If you hit one of these large animals, especially a moose, you could be seriously injured or killed and it won’t do the rental car much good either!

This website provides more info on driving the Trans Canada Highway including attractions and accommodation options.

Canada offers great opportunities for wilderness driving, and given the long distances with few, if any, services, you need to do some planning before setting off on a road trip. There are some useful websites to help you plan your adventure –

In North West Territories-

In British Columbia

In Yukon-

Some Canada driving times and distances are as follows –

Toronto to Montreal – 540 km, 6 hrs 30

Montreal to Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1250 km, 14 hours

Montreal to St Johns, Newfoundland – 2120 km , 18 hours driving plus boat

Toronto to Ottawa -400km, 5 Hours

Montreal to Ottawa , 200km , 2 hrs 15

Ottawa to Winnipeg, 2140km, 27 hours

Winnipeg to Regina, Saskatchewan – 570km, 8 hours

Regina to Edmonton, 780km, 9 hours

Edmonton to Calgary, 300km, 3 hrs 30

Edmonton to Vancouver, 1160km, 15 hours

Edmonton to Dawson Creek (start of Alaska Highway), 590km, 8 hours

Dawson Creek to White Horse, Yukon -1400km, 18 hours

Edmonton to Yellowknife, NW Territories , 1500km, 20 hours

Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.

Canada Car Rental –
Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Dollar,Thrifty and Enterprise all have branches across the country. Also usually features on Car rental broker and Web discount sites such  Expedia.

We currently have no local car rental partners in Canada. If you are a local car rental company who would like to feature on please check details on our Partnering page or contact us on

Canada Self Driving Rules –
Most companies will allow you to take the vehicle into USA with the possibility for one way rental for an extra charge in most cases. Depending on where in Canada you’re visiting, you may need to use car ferries. A trip to British Columbia, the Atlantic Coast, Ontario or Quebec could involve taking your car on a ferry and some rental companies may have rules which prevent their vehicles being transported on water . If you plan to use ferries, make the rental company aware when you make your booking.

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