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When someone becomes a resident in British Columbia they are normally required to exchange their license. What is the full sequence of steps for doing so, in practice?

  • With minor variations, this answer is correct for any Canadian province or territory. – Jim MacKenzie Apr 25 '18 at 1:21
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First let's take a look at the legal definition behind the requirement to exchange your licence. According to the Motor Vehicle Act, 1996 one is allowed to drive on their foreign license under the following conditions:

34. (1.1) (b) a person who has become ordinarily resident in British Columbia and who has a validly issued and subsisting driver’s or operator’s licence or permit issued according to the laws of the jurisdiction where he or she was most recently ordinarily resident, for 90 days after he or she became ordinarily resident in British Columbia;

Here "ordinarily resident" means you are settled in Canada as a citizen, permanent resident, work permit holder or a spouse of the above. It excludes full-time students of Canadian universities and short-term employees who spend less than 6 months in the country (see sections (c) and (d) of the same Act). In theory, one should also be able to drive for up to 12 months in BC using their IDP, but unfortunately British Columbia doesn't respect the 1949 Geneva Convention so you only have 3 months to replace your license.

The next step depends on which country issued your license:

  • If you're from UK, Germany, US and a handful of other countries, you're allowed to visit any ICBC office and directly exchange your license for a temporary one issued by BC. You will be mailed the plastic version of the DL within 60 days (around 10 days in practice).
  • If not, read below.

The next step is to pass the theoretical driving exam:

  1. Prepare for the exam online by taking a practice test on the ICBC website
  2. Visit any ICBC office, show them your passport and your driving license (it's usually not necessary to show your driving record), then proceed to the computers to do your test
  3. If you score at least 40 correct answers out of 50, you pass
  4. At this point ICBC checks how long you've been living in BC. If it's still less than 90 days since your arrival the original license will remain with you. If not, it will be taken away and you'll get a temporary Class N license instead

Now you need to book your road exam (you cannot do it before you pass the theoretical exam):

  1. The straightforward approach is to visit the ICBC website and book the first timeslot available. This usually means you will have to wait 2-3 months until you can take your test
  2. A second option is to wait until midnight when cancelled time slots are becoming available for booking and seeing if you can quickly book a closer time for yourself
  3. Finally you can sign up for a preparation session with a driving school, which usually includes them booking a time slot for you after the session. Since driving schools have preferential access to time slot bookings its easier for them to book you right away.
  4. If possible, book a road test in Point Grey. It's not busy with traffic and the test won't include a highway, so it's a little bit easier.

Personally I drove with an instructor first and he was able to book me a test for the very next week. Even though I have a European license it was still very useful to see what the local exam checks for, so I can highly recommend it to others as well.

Then its time to go for your road test:

  1. First you need to secure a car for the test. If its your own car - great, just bring the license, registration and insurance. If its a rental or Car2Go/Modo/Zipcar/Ovo, make sure you've got the insurance policy in the vehicle itself. If its the driver instructors car he'll take car of this himself.
  2. When you come to the ICBC office the official requirement is to have a second driver present. This is necessary because you won't be allowed to drive anymore if you fail the test, so they want to make sure someone else will drive the car back if you fail.
  3. Finally you get into a car with an instructor, do the driving, and either pass or fail. I've found the test relatively easy compared to Europe, although I've already had a lot of experience beforehand.

If you fail, you can repeat the test in 2 weeks. If you pass, you'll receive a temporary Class 5 (full) license and will be mailed the plastic version of it within 60 days (around 10 days in practice).

Overall my expenses included:

  • $15 to do the theoretical test
  • $50 to take the practical test
  • $31 for the license itself once I've passed
  • $200 total for the driving school

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