When you arrive in Québec you may decide that you don’t need a car, as public transport is so convenient. But others may need a car for travelling to work, for social reasons, or just because they enjoy or are in the habit of driving. If you have a driver’s licence already from your county of origin, this may not be valid for driving in Québec due to differing regulations and laws. Because of this, you might need to get a driver’s licence exchange.

What is a driver’s licence exchange?

As you might guess it from the name, it is an exchange of your existing foreign driver’s licence for a Québec licence. If you want to drive frequently in the province, and not just for short time period (less than 6 months), you will need one.

The province of Québec allows you to drive the corresponding class of vehicle your foreign licence authorizes for 6 consecutive months following your arrival in Québec without needing a licence exchange. Once these 6 months have passed, you will need to either hold an international driver’s permit, or if you take up residence in Québec, get your licence exchange or take a driving test.

If you want to get a Québec’s driver’s license, or if you want to exchange your licence, you have to call the Société de l’Assurance Automobile du Québec (SAAQ) to make an appointment.

Who can get a driver’s licence exchange?

You will first need to meet the following requirements in order to get a licence exchange:

  • be aged 16 or older (or 14 for a scooter with a cylinder capacity of 50 cc or less, Class 6D)
  • hold a licence authorizing you to drive a car or operate a motorcycle, or moped, or scooter
  • be a resident of Québec
  • be authorized to stay in Canada

You can benefit from a driver’s licence exchange for a passenger car or a moped without having to take a test if your existing licence was issued in one of the countries listed below:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • France
  • Great Britain: England, Scotland, Wales
  • Germany
  • Isle of Man
  • Japan
  • Northern Ireland
  • Republic of Korea (South Korea)
  • Switzerland
  • The Netherlands: Holland and the Dutch Antilles (Sint Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba and Sint Eustatius)
  • Taiwan
  • USA
  • Plus other Canadian provinces

If you drive something other than a passenger car or a moped, such as a motorcycle or a truck, you will have to take a test.

If you are coming from a country that is not listed above, you can still get a licence exchange but you have to take a driving test first.

How do you apply for a driver’s licence exchange?

You will first need to contact the SAAQ to schedule an appointment, and attend a designated service outlet. Depending on your your situation, you will need to bring different documents to the SAAQ. In Montréal, the SAAQ office is located 855 Blvd. Henri Bourassa West, QC, H3L 1P3. Appointments can take as long as two or three months to obtain, and they usually last at least an hour or two. Try to get an early appointment to avoid long delays.

Typically you will need the following documents (originals, not copies) to apply for a licence exchange:

  • Foreign driver’s licence
  • Proof of Canadian citizenship or right to stay in Canada
  • Proof of residency in Québec
  • Proof of residency in the country in which your licence was issued if you obtained your licence within the previous 3 years
  • Translation of your driver’s licence, if it is written in a language other than French or English

NOTE: Permanent residents have to bring their “Confirmation of Permanent Residence” document as the permanent resident card is not sufficient to get a licence exchange. Contact the SAAQ if you’re unsure of which documents are required.

How much will it cost?

Driving licence fees will very depending on your driving history and your type of permit. With no demerit points (infractions), a single licence costs $88.75. There is a discount for multiple licences, for example, two licenses will cost $157.75 (car and motorcycle for instance). Licences expire on your birthday, so fees are due each year on your birth month.

What if I don’t already have a driver’s licence?

If your license has expired, or you have never held a driver’s license, it is fairly easy to obtain one in Québec. SAAQ agents can help you over the phone with the necessary steps. For starters, you must be at least 16 years old, and registered with a driving school. From your driving school, you can obtain a Learner’s Licence, which authorizes you to get behind the wheel, as long as you are accompanied by a licensed driver. After 11 months, you can take a theoretical and a practical exam to obtain your Probationary Licence. The probationary licence carries certain restrictions, including zero alcohol tolerance, no car rentals, no accompanying a learner, and less than four demerit points or traffic infractions during 24 months. After that, you’re on your own. Drive safely.

Are there any special driving rules in Québec?

The laws for driving in Québec are pretty similar to the rest of the western world. Unlike the rest of the British Commonwealth, Canadians drive on the right side of the street. If you’re coming from Australia or the United Kingdom, driving on the left is one mistake you’ll want to avoid at all costs! Here are a few of the most important driving rules to be aware of.

  • Speed limits are from 30 to 40 kilometres per hour in school zones, from 40 to 50 kilometres per hour in residential zones, from 60 to 70 kilometres per hour on major city arteries, from 80 to 90 kilometres per hour in the countryside and 100 kilometres per hour on highways.
  • If you are followed by a police car with its lights on, you are required to pull over. Stay in the vehicle and prepare your driver’s license, registration certificate and proof of insurance. This is a serious matter, so do not joke or offer any sort of bribe.
  • If you see a school bus with its stop signs lifted out from the bus, you must stop, even in the middle of the street, and even if you’re across the street and facing the bus.
  • When you’re on a highway with three or more lanes, it is customary (and a safe practice) to leave the right lane open for entering and exiting vehicles. Try to avoid overtaking from the right, though. If you see a police car or any vehicle on the emergency lane or roadside, you are required to leave a safety corridor when passing it. This means move over to the farthest lane and reduce your speed.
  • At an intersection where everyone has to stop, you have to leave priority to the first vehicle arrived (instead of to the vehicle on your right for instance).
  • Speed limits are lowered when there is roadwork. Respect these temporary signs. Traffic fines are doubled!
  • A flashing green light at an intersection means your direction has the right of way, and you can safely turn left. You can yield and then turn right when the light is red, except on the island of Montréal.
  • Anyone driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol will be severely punished. Since the full legalization of cannabis in October 2018, Canada has implemented some very strict laws against driving while high.

To contact the SAAQ

Monday to Friday, call:

  • From Québec : 418 643-7620
  • From Montréal : 514 873-7620
  • From elsewhere : 1 800 361-7620

Keep in mind, ARIANNE’s Online Relocation Guides are loaded with practical, local information about transportation, employment, housing, education, and much more, an essential resource for anyone moving to Canada. For a helpful overview of the process, you can also check out our article on the  Five Steps to Canadian Immigration and Relocation.

Photo credits: cyberpresse.ca

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