How To Buy A Car Or Camper Van In Canada As A Tourist

how to buy a car in Canada as a foreigner

Believe me when I say I was a little scared about buying a car for our Canada and U.S.A. road trip. We had never owned a car before, not even back home in the Netherlands. After all, why waste money on a car in a tiny country where you can reach everything by public transport.

That meant however, we had no clue what to pay attention to when buying a car. Let alone buying a car with which we intended to drive all across North America…

Fun fact: we ended up driving 25.000 kilometers during our in 5 month road trip!

Moreover, we didn’t intent to use our car solely for transportation, we intended to live in it. That’s the reason we decided to get a small van, so we could easily convert it to a small camper van.

Buying A Car In Canada As A Tourist

But I’m getting ahead of myself. To get said (camper) van, I did some research. Okay, a lot of research. Fine, I obsessed about getting the perfect car for weeks;-). Yup, that’s me, I love to make checklists and Excel sheets, preferably a combination of those.

Now that I have successfully bought (and sold) a car in Canada, I want to share everything I learned with you! I learned a lot about the process and will walk you through it step by step. Because buying a car in Canada may be scary, it’s not actually that complicated!


How to buy a car or camper van in Canada as a tourist/foreigner

  • Step 1: Find the perfect car
  • Step 2: Transfer ownership and get the car registered
  • Step 3: Get the vehicle licensed and insured
  • Step 4: Hit the road!

Keep in mind we bought our car in Vancouver and the process of buying a car described in this post only applies to British Columbia. In BC step 2 and 3 can both be done at ICBC, making it even more straightforward to buy a car as a tourist.

However, every state in Canada has it’s own rules and regulations so it’s very important to check these before you fly to Canada to buy a car!

Buying a car in Canada as a foreigner - how to do this step by step


Step 1: the best websites to find your perfect car or camper van

Obviously the first thing to do is to find the perfect car or camper van. As said before, we lived in our van for five months. Therefore, it was important there was enough room to build a comfortable bed. We also wanted some storage space, but didn’t want a big van (as you can read in my New Zealand post, I’m not that good at parking). We ended up buying a pretty red GMC Safari from the year 2000 and named her VANessa.

It may be silly to get attached to a car, but I miss our VANessa so much… She took us to amazing places, gave us a roof over our head and a cozy place to sleep. 25.000km around Canada and the USA and not once did she let us down. I don’t think I’ll ever love a car like I loved our bright red house on wheels. But I digress…

The best websites to look for a car in Vancouver are:

Buy a car in BC as a foreigner - complete guide

Which car fits your travel plans?

Things to keep in mind when buying a car are how and when you will use it. Do you plan to do a lot of off-road driving? Where do you plan to travel to? Which season(s) are you traveling in? Will you be sleeping in the car? How much space do you need?

Obviously you don’t want a car like the one we bought if you plan to drive to Alaska in the winter. You will surely be better off buying a strong 4×4 truck with proper tires and snow chains;-).

Can I buy a car in Canada as a tourist - yes you can

View several cars and buy the one you like the most

Once you have decided what type of car you want to buy and have found several options on the sites mentioned above I recommend viewing several cars. As I mentioned, we had never owned a car before and didn’t know at all what to inspect during a car viewing and test drive.

Luckily, Google knows everything and we found some helpful checklists as not to look like complete idiots during our car viewing appointments. You can find useful lists here and here.

Off course it’s always a bit of a gamble to buy a used car… That being said, if you are looking for a car in Vancouver feel free to send me an email. I have some useful and trustworthy contacts that I’m happy to share!

guide how to buy a car in Canada as a tourist - buy a car in Canada as a foreigner


Step 2: Transfer ownership and get the car registered

In British Columbia, you can get the vehicle registered, licensed and insured at the same time at ICBC. On their website you can find the office nearest to you. The best thing to do is to go to ICBC with the seller of the car.

The seller should provide you with:

  • The original vehicle registration, with the owner’s signature on it.
  • A transfer/tax Form (APV9T), which the seller should have already filled out partially (there is also a part you’ll have to fill out).

With these forms you can acquire ownership of the car. Once you have transferred ownership you have to register the vehicle. You need a Canadian address to register the car. We used our Airbnb address, nothing is ever send to the address but you will need to provide one to ICBC.

Buy a car in Canada as a foreigner - step by step guide


Step 3: Get the vehicle licensed and insured

The next step is to get your car licensed and insured, you can also do this at ICBC. I didn’t know this, but in Canada the license plates belong to the seller. That means you’ll have to buy new license plates if this is the first time you are buying a car in Canada. For us it was, so we got new plates.

Tip: when we sold the car we kept one license plate as a souvenir:-).

How to buy a Car in British Columbia as a tourist

The final step is to get your car insured, car insurance is mandatory in Canada! Important things to consider are the coverage of the third party liability insurance and whether or not to add additional insurance for collision and comprehensive.

You can read more information about third party liability insurance here, basically it means the amount of money the insurance company will pay if you cause an accident. The standard coverage is 200.000CAD, we choose to upgrade our third party liability insurance to 1.000.000CAD.

Collision coverage means the insurance company will pay for any damage to your vehicle, even if you caused the accident yourself. We choose a 500CAD deductible, meaning we would have to pay the first 500CAD in case of any damage, the insurance company would cover everything over 500CAD.

Comprehensive coverage means the insurance company will pay for things like a chipped windshield, vandalism or hitting an animal. Again, we choose a 500CAD deductible.

In total we paid 1361CAD to ICBC. This included the sales tax (for buying the vehicle), registration fees, costs for the license plates and 6 months of insurance. When we sold the van we got a one month refund for the insurance (we only had our car for 5 months).

Important budget tip: if you owned a car in your home country, bring a claim history letter from your car insurance company. If you are lucky you can get a significant discount on your insurance in Canada! 

Buy a car in British Columbia as a foreigner - tips and tricks

Step 4: Hit the road!

Now that you are the proud new owner of a car in Canada it’s time to hit the road! In my opinion North America is one of the best places in the world to make a road trip. The scenery is phenomenal, the roads are in excellent condition, there are plenty of beautiful camping options (check out the free iOverlander app) and traveling in general is very easy.

I’ll post our essential camper van inventory list as soon as possible, in the meantime, check out my other Canada posts!

Note: I personally feel it’s only worthwhile to buy a car if you plan on making an extended road trip. While it’s definitely cheaper to buy a car instead or renting one, buying and selling takes time. Time you may not have when you are planning a one month holiday. If you are traveling less than 6 weeks I recommend to rent a car or campervan instead. It’s more expensive but does save you the ‘hassle’ of going through the steps described in this post.

Step by step guide how to buy a car or camper van in Canada as a tourist. How to find the perfect car, how to take ownership of the car and get it registered + how to get the vehicle licensed and insured. Canada is the perfect road trip country and buying your own car makes this beautiful country a lot more affordable! #Canada #roadtrip Step by step guide how to buy a car or camper van in Canada as a tourist. How to find the perfect car, how to take ownership of the car and get it registered + how to get the vehicle licensed and insured. Canada is the perfect road trip country and buying your own car makes this beautiful country a lot more affordable! #Canada #roadtrip
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22 Comments

  1. Marta Kulesza
    February 15, 2018 / 1:52 pm

    Great article. A lot of people will find this information really helpful. The biggest mistake I found people made was not investing in snow tyres. A lot of Canada gets snowy in the winter and snow tyres make a huge difference.

    • Lotte
      Author
      February 17, 2018 / 9:40 am

      Hi Marta, thanks and you are absolutely right! We traveled between June and November so didn’t need any but to stay safe in the Canadian winter proper snow tires are crucial. Nevertheless, I would love to travel Canada in winter as well… Lotte

  2. Rowan Sims
    February 23, 2018 / 11:38 pm

    I found the process of buying a car in BC to be pretty simple. They make it nice and easy being able to register the car, transfer ownership, and set up insurance all at ICBC. It’s so expensive though! Thanks for the tips 🙂

    • Lotte
      Author
      February 24, 2018 / 10:29 am

      Hi Rowan, I completely agree, it’s very straightforward! But expensive, yes… On the plus side, there are lots of cars for sale in the area so you can shop around and find good deals. All the best, Lotte

  3. March 3, 2018 / 6:31 pm

    This is so interesting and useful! We’re planning to road trip Canada and the US later this year and I wasn’t sure if buying a car was really an option if we don’t live there. The insurance/tax side of things seem quite steep, and I didn’t know that about the licence plates! Really useful info, thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Lotte
      Author
      March 3, 2018 / 8:35 pm

      Thanks, very happy to hear that! I highly recommend to buy a car if you are planning to travel around Canada and the USA for an extended period of time, it will save you loads of money… The insurance is quite expensive indeed but at least you’ll know you’re covered in case of an accident. Have a great road trip!

  4. Hans
    May 7, 2018 / 9:55 am

    Thanks for sharing this info! Really helpful.
    Did you end up crossing the US border with the van?

    • Lotte
      Author
      May 9, 2018 / 6:04 pm

      Very welcome Hans! Yes we did, we crossed the border from Ontario to Michigan and back from Washington to BC. I have to admit US Customs wasn’t to happy about us not having any fixed plans but eventually we were granted access and spend 2 months driving around the wonderful National Parks in the States.

  5. Jo
    May 13, 2018 / 9:57 pm

    Hi there, great article – I am planning a very similar trip currently and this is extremely useful! Thanks 🙂 QQ about selling the van.. I am assuming you did this in back BC and not in the US? I would also like to take a van into the US for the national parks but need to build in enough time to drive back to BC after. Is this what you did?

    • Lotte
      Author
      May 17, 2018 / 9:12 pm

      Hi Jo,

      Thanks for reading:-). Yes, we bought and sold the car in Vancouver. I think you have to pay import tax if you sell the car in the States and there may be other regulations as well so we just drove back to Canada and sold the car there. In total we spent 3 months in Canada and 2 months in the States. I’m working on a post about our itinerary but it’s not easy to fit so much information into one post;-). Have a great road trip!

      Lotte

  6. Pim
    May 13, 2018 / 10:28 pm

    Hai, Ik heb contact gehad met een van de mensen in Vancouver. Het is wel spijtig dat hij geen informatie via email geeft. Enkel dat hij wagens te koop heeft en dat we snel moeten langskomen. Prachtige auto’s van 2004 en 2008 met weinig kilometers is dan een antwoord als je vraagt om meer informatie.

    Wij hebben 3 dagen de tijd in Vancouver. Ik heb twee kleine kinderen van 2 en 5. Dus wil ik weten waar ik heenga. Heel erg jammer vond ik. Ik ga er dus niet heen.

    • Lotte
      Author
      May 17, 2018 / 9:10 pm

      Dag Pim,

      Jammer dat het niet aan je verwachtingen heeft voldaan. Wij hebben er in totaal een week over gedaan om een auto te vinden, kopen en rijklaar te maken (met bed, kookspulletjes, etc.). Ik hoop dat je snel een auto kunt vinden en kunt beginnen met je trip.

      Groet Lotte

  7. May 17, 2018 / 2:33 pm

    Hi Lotte, thanks for sharing the tips! Me and my boyfriend are in Vancouver at the moment and we want to buy a car asap. Did you buy your car via a dealer or not? We prefer to do it via a dealer since this is safer.. Do you have some trust worthy contacts that you could share?

    • Lotte
      Author
      May 17, 2018 / 9:02 pm

      Hi Esther,

      What do you think of Vancouver? We didn’t buy our car from a dealer but from somebody who sells vans as a hobby. I have his contacts but you’ll have to send me a message via my contact page because I don’t want to just post his details online.

      Best of luck finding a car and have a wonderful road trip!
      Lotte

  8. Hendrik
    May 22, 2018 / 12:27 pm

    Hi Lotte,
    great article, we’re planning a long Canada/US Pacific Northwest trip and this was by far the most comprehensive info I could find! Thanks a lot! You mentioned that you could forward some contacts in Vancouver with reliable sources? It would be great if you could hook me up. We need a van with 4 proper seats for us and and two baby seats so the selection is rather limited.

    Regarding crossing into the US: Was there anything special regarding the car’s insurance?

    And finally: We did a three month trip with a camper can we bought in New Zealand and found the whole experience, from buying the van, finding spots to stay and selling it, extremely easy and relaxed. In your experience: How does Canada/US compare to NZL?

    Thanks!
    Hendrik

    • Lotte
      Author
      May 26, 2018 / 3:50 pm

      Hi Hendrik,

      Thank you, I’m happy to hear you like the post! I can definitely send you the contacts, but because of the new GDPR privacy rules I’m not allowed to email you. Could you send me a message via my contact page? That way I am allowed to reply. Sorry about the administrative hassle…

      When you buy a car in Canada you are allowed to take the car into the States, the Canadian insurance will be valid there as well.

      Finally, we rented a car in New Zealand instead of buying one so I cannot compare the buy/sell process of both countries. However, I found buying and selling a car in Canada very easy. Obviously it takes a couple of days but in the end it’s so much cheaper than renting a car…

      We found the whole road tripping experience amazing in both NZ as well as Canada. Regarding camp spots, finding places to stay in Canada was even easier than in New Zealand. In both countries people are super friendly, laid-back and helpful. If you liked NZ, I’m sure you’ll love Canada as well.

      Looking forward to your email!
      Lotte

  9. Jens
    May 23, 2018 / 11:47 am

    Great article, very useful!

    • Lotte
      Author
      May 24, 2018 / 8:33 am

      Thank you Jens!

  10. Richard Hughes
    June 13, 2018 / 12:24 am

    Hello!
    This is a fantastic article and unbelievably helpful. I was wondering whether the driving licence from your home country was sufficient or did you need to get an international or Canadian licence?

    • Lotte
      Author
      June 13, 2018 / 4:03 pm

      Thank you Richard, I’m happy to hear that! Our Dutch drivers license was enough to buy a Canadian car. Technically you’ll have to get a Canadian license if you plan to stay longer than 6 months. But I don’t think many people do;-)

  11. Sammy Beetham
    July 4, 2018 / 1:33 am

    Hi Lotte,

    This is very heplful thank you! My husband and I are travelling to Vancouver from NZ in a couple of weeks and we are wanting to buy a camper van. Our only concerns are re-selling the van once we are finished with it, as it will be winter by the time we will be ready to sell and come home. DId you have any trouble selling your van? Or do you have any tips when it does come to selling?
    Thanks so much!
    Sammy

    • Lotte
      Author
      July 4, 2018 / 2:48 pm

      Hi Sammy,

      Thank you for reading, I’m happy to hear you found the post helpful:-). Lucky you, living in New Zealand, the most beautiful country in the world… Though Canada certainly comes in a close second!

      Anyway, about your question. We also were a bit apprehensive about selling the car again in autumn. What gave us peace of mind was not booking a ticket before we sold the car. Your ticket will be more expensive but if you have to sell your car before a certain date, you’ll probably also have to make concessions on the price (unless you are lucky).

      Also, the person we bought our van from was happy to help us sell it again. Demand will be lower in October, but there are people flying in for the winter season who are often also looking to buy a car. Hope this helps! Enjoy our Canada trip:-)

      Lotte

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