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How To Buy A Car In Canada As A Tourist (Or A Campervan)

Let me start this post by admitting 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 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 intend to use our car solely for transportation, we intended to live in it full-time. That’s the main reason we decided to get a small van, which we could easily convert into a small camper van.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let's start at the beginning…

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

Red campervan in front of Badlands landscape

Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). We're very grateful when you use our links to make a purchase:-).

Do your homework

To get said (camper) van, I did some research. Okay, a lot of research. Fine, I obsessed with 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 car buying process and will walk you through it step by step. Good news: it may be scary to buy a car in Canada, but it’s not actually that complicated!

Note: I personally feel it's only worthwhile to buy a car if you plan on making an extended road trip. While a rental car is definitely a lot more expensive than buying one, buying and selling it takes (a lot of) time.

Time you may not have when you are planning a one month holiday. If you are traveling for less than 6 weeks I recommend renting a car or campervan instead.

Yes, that's more expensive but does save you the ‘hassle' of going through the steps described in this post. So altogether, it may be a better deal to opt for car rental in this scenario.

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The 4 steps to buying a car in Canada as a 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, steps 2 and 3 can both be done at ICBC, making it even more straightforward to buy a car as a tourist.

However, Canadian provinces have their own rules and regulations so it's very important to check these before you fly to Canada to buy a car!

Red campervan with mountains in backdrop Canada

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

First things first: finding 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 and gave us a roof over our heads and a cozy place to sleep.

25.000 kilometers in Canada and the United States 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 Living Forest Oceanside Campsite & RV Park, Nanaimo

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

Some offline methods to find a used car are hostel notice boards and local papers.

Red GMC Safari van parked at campsite

Which car fits your travel plans?

Here are some questions to ask yourself and to keep in mind when buying a van in Canada:

  • Do you plan to do a lot of off-road driving during your Canada RV trip?
  • 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?

For example, you wouldn't want to buy a car like the one we bought if you plan to drive to the Northern Territories or the Yukon.

Also, Canadian winters are cold and usually involve lots of snow. If you intend to drive during these months, your best option is getting a strong 4×4 truck with proper tires and snow chains;-).

Red Safari van in Saskatchewan

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 so as not to look like complete idiots during our car viewing appointments. You can find useful lists here and here.

Of course, it's always a bit of a gamble to buy a used vehicle…

That being said, if you are looking for a car in Vancouver feel free to send me an email. I have the contact information of two trustworthy Canadian people that I'm happy to share (the person we bought our car from and a great guy who helped us get the van ready for sale after our Canada road trip).

It's also a good idea to have the car you want to buy checked by an independent mechanic during a pre-purchase inspection, especially if you're buying a car from a private seller.

This usually costs between $100-$200 but it can potentially save you hundreds of dollars, as you really don't want to buy a car that breaks down in the middle of your road trip.

Safari van on road trip in North America

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 which can be a bit tricky.

We used our Airbnb address in Vancouver for registration. I was a little apprehensive about this but no documents are ever sent to the address and you will need to provide a valid Canadian address to ICBC.

You'll also need a Canadian mobile number to register with ICBC, Telus is a good provider though unfortunately, their plans are pretty expensive.

Note that the BC sales tax on car sales is currently 12% (of the purchase price of the vehicle) so take this into account when budgeting for your Canada campervan.

When you're going to ICBC, also bring a valid driver's license. A foreign license should be fine, we were never asked for an International Driving Permit during our trip. However, we did get an IDP in the Netherlands just in case…

GMC Safari red van in Badlands landscape and rocks

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 (though there are many other insurance companies as well). I didn't know this before, 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 BC license plate as a unique souvenir!

View of Safari van on mountainous road in North America

The final step is to get your car insured, car insurance is mandatory in Canada, and having good auto insurance will give you peace of mind.

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.

Third-party liability insurance

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 200.000 Canadian dollars, we choose to upgrade our third-party liability insurance policy to 1.000.000 CAD.

Collision coverage

Collision coverage means the insurance company will pay for any damage to your vehicle, even if you caused the accident yourself.

We choose a 500 CAD deductible, meaning we would have to pay the first 500 CAD in case of any damage, and the insurance company would cover everything over 500 CAD.

Comprehensive coverage

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

Car insurance costs in BC, Canada

In total, we paid 1361 CAD to ICBC. This included the sales tax (for buying the vehicle), registration fees, costs for the license plates, and 6 months of insurance.

These additional fees add up, so be sure to budget for this! When we sold the van we got a one-month refund for the insurance (we only had our car for 5 months).

An important thing to know: 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!

Van driving through rock tunnel

Step 4: Hit the road!

Now that you've got your own vehicle it's time to hit the road! In my opinion, Canada 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 (free) campsites (check out the free iOverlander app), and traveling, in general, is very easy.

Having your own car is the best way to explore this huge country and with this guide, you now got all the information to make that happen!

Plan your Canada trip like a pro with these tools:
✈️ Find the best flight deals with
? Rent a campervan for your Canada road trip (or a car via
? Arrange your Canada working holiday with Global Work & Travel.
? Plan your journey with the Canada Lonely Planet.
?️ Find the best hotel deals on
? Join the best tours in Canada via Get Your Guide or Viator.
?️ Travel safely and get reliable travel insurance from Safety Wing.

How to buy a camper van in Canada: in conclusion

I hope this post has given you an idea of the steps involved when you plan on buying a car in Canada as a non-resident. If you have any questions, leave a comment below or send me a message!

Read my other Canada post for more Canada travel inspiration:

This post was updated in February 2023.

Richard Goold

Saturday 22nd of July 2023

Hi, great article full of useful information, many thanks.

did you have any problems taking a BC registered vehicle over the border in the USA ?

Daniel Tay

Saturday 17th of June 2023

Hi Igor and Irina,

Came across your post "How to buy a car in Canada as a tourist (Or a Campervan)." I am currently in Vancouver on a lookout for a Van or Truck with camper for my road trip in Canada and USA.

Can you share with me your contact(s) from whom you got your Van from in Vancouver? I sent you a message through the "Contact Us" page. Hopefully you received it.

I do have other questions mainly RE the insurance for the van:

- Did you convert your Netherlands driving license to a BC driving license?

- Did you get any discounts from ICBC based on the number of years of your driving experience?

I was asking around those insurance brokers, and the prices they quoted me was between CAD 290 to CAD 320 per month. So for a 6 month insurance would cost btw CAD 1,740 to CAD 1,980. The prices they quoted was for the following coverage: -3rd party liability 2M - comprehensive and collision with CAD 300 deductible each

All the brokers said that ICBC do not offer discounts to drivers with foreign driving license. ICBC will treat me as a new driver with no prior driving experience (even though i have been driving since 2009). All these is verified when I called the ICBC hotline.

I am wondering how did you manage to keep your van insurance costs down such that the subtotal (including registration, licensing etc) is within CAD 1,361.

Can you also share with me your insurance broker contact that you done your insurance with?

I am looking for ways to keep the insurance costs low. The prices quoted to me are insanely high.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Regards,



Tuesday 20th of June 2023

Dear Daniel,

I'll send you an email with my reply and my Canada contacts:-)

Best regards, Lotte


Wednesday 17th of May 2023

Hey Lotte,

Firstly, really helpful article! I have some specific questions and I hope that maybe you can help me. I am a Veterinary Medicine student (21 years old) from the Netherlands and I am going to study and travel in the US and Canada for a year starting in November! Since I have to travel a lot back and forth between Idaho and British Colombia it would be perfect to buy a car.

There are some obstacles in my eyes. First: my age in relation the the car insurance. My parents have plans to come visit me. Do you think it would be interesting to register the car insurance on one of their names? The second point: I am staying more than 6 months. I understand that it is officially mandatory to have a Canadian driver's license in that case. Do you think it is possible to bypass that? Are there more things that I need to consider? I hope that you can share your thoughts on this idea.

With kind regards,



Wednesday 24th of May 2023

Hey Charlotte,

Thank you for reading and so cool you're going to the US and Canada for a year! Buying a car makes a lot of sense if you've got a lot of traveling to do.

I don't think it would be a problem to get car insurance at 21? The insurance could be more expensive, however, I personally wouldn't recommend registering a car in your parents name if you are the one who's going to use it every day.

Regarding the Canadian driver's licence, officially yes, you need one. That being said, I've never heard of someone traveling for longer that has had any issues with their foreign drivers license, even when they were staying longer than 6 months. Of course, there are no guarantees but I wouldn't worry too much about it. I would bring along an International Drivers Permit, just in case. We've never been asked to show this (exept once in Malaysia) but it's always good to have one as a back-up.

Feel free to ask any other questions you may have and enjoy the planning part of your amazing trip! Lotte


Saturday 14th of January 2023

Thank you so much for your dedication @Lotte I also appreciate so much all the details you give. Some time ago I wrote you in private wondering if you might be able to send me the contact details of some dealers you mention in the post? It might got lost, so I hope you don't mind if I post it here as well. Thanks ?


Monday 16th of January 2023

@Lotte, thank you so much! I got your email :) I can't wait to start the adventure of finding a campervan! Big hug, all the best



Monday 16th of January 2023

Hey Sarai,

Thank you for your message and I'm so sorry your message got lost on its way! I haven't received it but I just sent you the details of my Vancouver campervan contacts:-) Let me know if you've received them! I wish you a wonderful trip and I hope you find a nice campervan for your travels.



Monday 12th of December 2022

Hi there,

Thanks so much for this, it's super helpful! I'm just wondering if you bought your van while you were still in your home country, or began your search when you landed in Canada? I'm thinking of going over with my partner in June 2023 but we're a bit nervous that it could be a struggle to find something.



Monday 19th of December 2022

@Lotte, Thanks so much, appreciate it! Wondering if you might be able to send me the contact details of some people you purchased through? Thanks :)


Monday 12th of December 2022

Hey Emma,

Thanks for reading and I'm glad to hear you've found the guide helpful. Regarding your question, we bought the car when we were already in Vancouver. I think we took about 5 cars/vans for a test drive but there were many more offered online (on the websites mentioned in the post). I did arrange a couple of car appointments before we arrived in Canada so we could start our search immediately after landing. Hope this helps! Have a wonderful trip and feel free to ask any other questions you may have:-)