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US Car Insurance in Canada

Written by W. Lane Startin. Posted in Research Last Updated: 08/21/2012

What’s needed to drive with US car insurance in Canada, when you need to get Canadian insurance, and things to consider while driving in Canada.

Using Your Auto Insurance In Canada

American auto insurance works in Canada, eh? Beauty!

Have you ever wanted to take a road trip to Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg or even Alaska?

To do so you need to drive in Canada. While you may think you need to buy additional insurance at the border as you do in Mexico, the fact is in Canada you don’t need to worry about it in many cases.

However, there are several other things to consider before driving in the Great White North. It’s why US car insurance in Canada may not work in all situations.

Driving with US Auto Insurance in Canada

Canada is the only foreign country where U.S. auto insurance is generally recognized nationwide. As long as you’re traveling to Canada on a short-term basis as a “tourist,” purchasing Canadian auto insurance is not required provided you already have a valid U.S. license, registration and auto insurance policy.

As you do back home, as a U.S. drivers you are required to carry your license, registration and proof of insurance with you in Canada. Canadian officials also require you carry a “Non-Resident Inter-Province Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Card” issued by your insurance company. To get this, just call your agent and tell him or her you need a Canadian insurance card

(yes, they should know what it is, or at least know who to call about it).

Oh yeah, you need a passport or a federally-approved travel document to get into (and out of) Canada in the first place. The days when you could cross the border without this documentation are a thing of the past.

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Getting Canadian Auto Insurance (If You Need To)

You don’t need to worry about it if you’re only in Canada for a few days. However, if you plan on moving to Canada or or otherwise driving there for any length of time as anything other than a tourist, such as for college or an extended work-related excursion, you may very well have to get Canadian auto insurance.

While Canadian auto insurance is somewhat similar to auto insurance in the U.S., bear in mind all provinces and territories employ some form of “no fault” auto liability insurance, or auto insurance where your policy pays for your own liability-related damages.

Minimum liability limits in the Canadian provinces and territories are significantly higher than in U.S. states. Most provinces and territories require a liability minimum roughly equivalent to a $200,000 combined single limit (CSL). Although this is in Canadian dollars, it’s still considerably more than required anywhere in the U.S. Canadian auto insurance also often includes components of disability insurance and even life insurance in the form of final expense coverage not seen in American auto insurance coverages.

In some provinces auto insurance is partially or entirely a government operation. Ontario’s state-run auto insurance program is comprehensive, but particularly complex. Private auto insurance is available in other provinces, however, such as Alberta and Nova Scotia.

Canadian Things to Watch For (Other Than Moose)

Speed limits in Canada are expressed in kilometers per hour and considerably lower than in the U.S. The standard highway speed limit in Canada is 80 kilometers per hour, or just under 50 miles per hour. Posted speed limits on rural highways can be up to 100 kilometers per hour, but even that’s only around 62 miles per hour. Also bear in mind road signs may be in French, particularly in Quebec.

DWIs are dealt with very severely in Canada. In fact U.S. citizens found driving in Canada with any alcohol-related offense on their records are subject to immediate deportation, no matter how minor or how long ago the offense was. Americans with any prior DWI conviction must apply for a waiver from the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., or any Canadian consulate in the U.S. before they can drive legally in Canada. This process can take weeks or even months.

Radar detectors are illegal in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. If you are caught with one in these areas, even if it’s off or broken, it may be confiscated and you may be heavily fined. All the more reason to review your US car insurance in Canada – before driving there. Leave your detector at home if you plan on driving at all in these areas.

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W. Lane Startin

Lane is a former insurance agent with two well-known and highly rated companies. He left the world of insurance sales to return to his first love, writing. He enjoys helping people unravel the intricacies of insurance without the bias created by working for commission. He's a graduate of Idaho State University and by extension a long-suffering Bengals fan. Lane blogs at Car Insurance Guidebook.

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  • Gabriele

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    Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after browsing through a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m definitely pleased I found it and I’ll be
    book-marking it and checking back often!

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    • Michele Wilmonen

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      Welcome to our site!

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  • tom

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    I am a US resident, but I travel to Canada very often and stay there for a few months sometimes since my wife lives there. I want to buy a car in ontario so I can drive when I am there, but I want to register it in US since my permanent address is here. I was wondering if I get pulled over while I am driving in Canada and I have a valid American insurance, would that be a problem?

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    • Michele Wilmonen

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      In a situation like this you really, really, really need to talk to your insurance agent or company about coverage in Canada.

      Taking a car from Canada and registering and insuring it in the United State is not an issue. It’s the fact that you spend so much time in Canada and your spouse is there that may raise an issue. I would just check to make sure what your insurance company’s policy is in this case and if your insurance would be valid in Canada.

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  • Kar

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    Similar question. What happens if I am a permanent US resident but am traveling daily for work in British Columbia – as there is no employment in Washington at this time. How do I make sure I am covered while in Canada (Not as tourist)!!!!! Anyone – please help!!!!

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    • Michele Wilmonen

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      I would talk to your insurance agent or insurance company about coverage. Ask them how your specific insurance policy is worded in regards to if you were to get into an accident in Canada.

      Yes, you are not a tourist, but you are also not living in Canada either because you are commuting. Most insurance policies will still cover your vehicle so many miles past the Canadian border.

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    • mary lackaff

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      You still haven’t answered my question. We are US citizens who stay in Canada from 4-5 months per year as seasonal residents. Our US auto insurance is being cancelled because of this arrangement. Our vehicle is registered in the US. Can we purchase auto insurance coverage for the time we spend in canada(BC)? Do we have to register our vehicle in BC? Would that necessitate getting a BC driver’s license? I’m going crazy over these issues.

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      • Michele Griffin

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        Thank you for your question.

        Yes, because you are not in Canada as a tourist, but rather as a temporary resident you have to have Canadian car insurance. You will need to talk to the Motor Vehicle Department for the province you are staying in or an Canadian insurance agent as to what you need to do (registration and driver’s license) to be able to get the car insurance you need.

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