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 fulltime. That’s the 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
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Do your homework
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 it may be scary to buy a van 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 it’s definitely cheaper to buy a car instead of renting one, buying and selling it takes time.
Yes, that’s more expensive but does save you the ‘hassle’ of going through the steps described in this post.
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, every state in Canada has its own rules and regulations so it’s very important to check these before you fly to Canada to buy a car!
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.
25.000 kilometers in 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:
- Craigslist (every city has it’s own Craigslist website, I mainly checked Craigslist Vancouver)
- UsedVancouver (similar to Craigslist)
- Facebook groups (I joined Canada Backpacker Cars and Vancouver Buy and Sell, but there are many more groups like these).
Which car fits your travel plans?
Things to keep in mind when buying a van in Canada are how and when you will use it. 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, The Yukon, or other places in Canada in winter. You’ll surely be better off getting a strong 4×4 truck with proper tires and snow chains;-).
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.
Of 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!
It’s also smart to have the car you want to buy checked by an independent mechanic during a pre-purchase inspection. 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.
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 in Vancouver for registration. I was a bit apprehensive about this but no documents are ever sent to the address and you will need to provide a valid Canadian address to ICBC.
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 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 license plate as a unique souvenir!
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!
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.
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:
- 15 great Vancouver day trips
- Beautiful lakes in Canada
- Charming small towns in Canada
- Drive the Sea to Sky highway
- How to travel Canada on a budget
- Calgary sightseeing itinerary
- Drumheller sightseeing itinerary
- Nanaimo sightseeing itinerary
- Nelson sightseeing itinerary
- Vancouver Island sightseeing itinerary
- Victoria sightseeing itinerary
- Winnipeg sightseeing itinerary
This post was updated in June 2020.