Rite of Passage
One of the most important steps new immigrants can take after settling in Canada is learning how to drive. Herewith, a primer on the first steps…By Carter Hammett
When Calvin Adjijil first landed in Canada from his native Philippines, he realized, quickly and nervously, he’d have to learn something many of us take for granted: driving.
Adjijil, 29, a civil engineer by training, envisioned a bumper-to-bumper experience similar to the driving experience in his home town of Cabanatuan.
“When I started my first job here I was doing field work so I went to different sites everyday using public transit,” he says. It was a challenge for me. That’s when I saw the need to learn to drive and own a car eventually.”
He quickly realized however, that driving followed a set of rules that laid out a template for his development of these newfound skills.
“Driving itself is a day-by-day learning process while the rules are the principles of driving,” he says. “You cannot drive without learning or at least being aware of the rules first.”
And it’s those rules that have challenged many a new Canadian who arrive from their home countries with a firm sense of how things should be only to quickly realize that often the rules are not what they envisioned.
Fortunately, Toronto is blessed with a number of driving schools that offer courses specifically for new Canadians. One of these is AMB Driving School (www.ambdriving.com).
Customer Success Manager Syed Ali says that drivers new to Canada should go for certified courses.
“ We consider them beginning drivers because of cultural differences,” he says. “If you didn’t get your driving abstract back home, we consider you a beginning driver and that’s what our course is called.”
But Canada also has reciprocal driving agreements with several countries, including Australia, France, Japan, Korea, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Britain, Switzerland and the United States. This means that if you’re from one of these countries, you’ll be able to swiftly obtain an Ontario license without having to take either a road or written test. If your home country is absent from this list, you will need to go through the entire process of acquiring an Ontario drivers license.
You will also find that Canadian driving requirements and protocols tend to vary somewhat from province-to-province. For example, while most provinces state that the legal age for obtaining a learner’s permit is 16, in Alberta that age drops to 14. Transport Canada maintains links to provincial transport ministries, which can be found here: (Information Links (canada.ca)
A requirement that all provinces share is the need for both a knowledge and a vision test. The latter will confirm that your ability to see clearly will enable you to be a safe driver, while the knowledge test assesses your comprehension of the driving regulations.
Another commonality shared by all provinces is the use of a graduated licensing system. In Ontario for example, there’s two licenses, class G1 and G2, which are acquired by successfully passing tests prior to applying for class G, which is the full license.
Drivers with less than 24 months experience or who cannot prove driving experience over 12 months will have to begin with the G1 license before taking the test for G2. Drivers unable to provide any proof of driving experience will have to start at the beginning.
Similar rules apply in British Columbia with variations. Under this system, there’s two levels to complete: L (learner) and N (novice)
An L stage driver requires a sign with the letter ‘L’ prominently displayed on the inside car’s back windshield that lets other drivers know the level of experience of that particular driver. This stage lasts a minimum of 12 months and also states that drivers:
Maintain a blood alcohol level of zero at all times while driving
Don’t drive between midnight and 5 a.m.
Limit the number of passengers to two, including a licensed driver who is over the age of 25.
Once the class 7 road test has been successfully complete, drivers receive their N stage license. This phase lasts two years and requires drivers at this stage to post the letter ‘N’ in their car’s rear windshield. At the N stage, drivers need to limited the number of passengers to one, unless there’s also a licensed driver 25 or over also in the car and maintaining a blood alcohol level of zero at all times.
For immigrants considering a move to Ontario, you can start the process of obtaining a license in that province prior to arrival in Canada. This can be achieved by bringing from your home country a translated copy of your driver’s license in one of Canada’s two official languages, a letter from the transportation authority in your home country confirming your license in either English or French and providing an international driver’s license or permit that allows you to drive for two months in Ontario, during which time you must apply for a license in that province.
After arriving in Canada, you can apply for either a G1 or G2 Ontario license depending on your level of experience. Be sure to the following: Proof of previous driving experience, proof of identity (for example resident card or passport) and your current driver’s license issued from your home country.
At the driver licensing office, you’ll need to take and pass both a vision and a written test, have your photo taken and pay all the applicable fees.
It’s worth noting that all Ontario drivers are required to have car insurance. Once again, if you have a positive history with car insurance from your home country, this might be able to help you obtain better rates on your insurance policy in Canada. Ask your insurance company for a Letter of Experience, including the length of in-force policy history and your claims-free status. Produce these documents when asking about insurance quotes in Ontario.
These are just some of the things to consider when thinking about driving in Canada. Be sure to research some of the perks offered by driving schools as well. ABT Canada’s Syed Ali notes that his school’s course is certified by Service Ontario, which means a reduction in waiting time for your G2 to eight months, down from one year.
Other benefits include peace of mind and improved safety on the road. Some new Canadians in their relative infancy as drivers in their adopted country note other benefits.
“You will never get lost in Canada,” says Calvin Adjijil. “At first, I was overwhelmed by the number of various directions, arrows, signals and street names everywhere but learning how to drive has made me realize their existence. They provide a wide range of information, serve as travel guidance and most importantly keep, not just me, but everyone safe.”
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