Settlement Information for Newcomers

Settlement Information For Newcomers

Settling in BC: Questions and Answers

Immigrants have many questions about living, studying, and working in BC.

The NewToBC team has collected 100s of questions that are often asked by new immigrants before or after they arrive in BC. To answer these questions, the team researched and found the most up-to-date and credible sources of information. Look through the lists of categories and questions for information about immigration, employment, education, health, housing, banking, the BC legal system, and transportation. Use the search function to find answers to your questions.

Many newcomers have shared with the NewToBC team that they wished they had known about this resource sooner!

Driving and Transportation

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Driving in BC

As a new immigrant, you must be 16 years or older to apply for a driver’s licence in British Columbia. If you are under 19 years old, a parent or guardian (someone who is responsible for you) must sign the application. If you have a licence from the United States, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea or another province of Canada, you may not need to take the knowledge test or road test. You can apply for a British Columbia driver’s licence right away. If your driver’s licence is from anywhere else, you will need to take a knowledge test and a road test.

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You can apply for a driver’s licence at an Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) driver licensing office. After moving here, you have 90 days to switch over your valid licence to a British Columbia driver’s licence (unless you are visiting, a non-resident worker, or have an eligible student exemption). You will need to show your Permanent Resident (PR) card, as well as a language translation of your driver’s licence, if it is not in English, from an ICBC approved translator. Your driver’s licence and/or driving record must show at least two years of driving experience. Otherwise, you’ll be placed in the Graduated Licensing Program (GLP).

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In BC, you are not required to take driving lessons to apply for a driver’s licence. However, if you are a new driver, a qualified instructor can help you learn driving skills, responsible attitudes, and prepare you for your road tests. There are many private instructors in most communities. You can also consider a driving school that offers ICBC-approved driver training courses.

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All drivers in British Columbia must have a valid (legal) driver’s licence. If you are a new resident in British Columbia and have a valid driver’s licence from your country or from another province of Canada, you can use it for 90 days. You must apply for a British Columbia driver’s licence within 90 days. If you are a visitor, you can drive in British Columbia for up to six months with a valid driver’s licence from your country. If you hold an International Driving Permit, you must carry it together with your foreign licence. 

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The Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) is a two-stage process for new drivers in British Columbia. It allows new drivers to learn the skills and attitudes needed to become a safe and confident driver. Each stage has restrictions that new drivers must obey. As new drivers gain more experience, these restrictions are gradually removed. To get through the GLP, new drivers must pass three tests – one multiple-choice knowledge test and two road tests. It takes about three years to complete the process.

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The Motor Vehicle Act defines British Columbia road laws. It outlines laws that govern the operation of motor vehicles on roads in British Columbia, defining the rules of the road and related offences and infractions. The Criminal Code of Canada defines criminal motor vehicle offences. The police enforce road laws by ticketing drivers for traffic violations, issuing sanctions for disobeying the rules (driving bans) and/or laying criminal offence charges.

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A baby or young child under 9 years old must sit in a special safety seat. A child must not sit on an adult’s lap. All babies from birth to 1 year and up to 9 kg must be in a child car seat. All children over 1 year and 9-18 kg must be in a forward-facing child car seat. All children over 18 kg must use a booster seat until they are 9 years old or 145 cm tall. Never put a child car seat in the front passenger seat.

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There are many online tools available to you to check traffic or road and weather conditions before you get into your car or while you are on the road. Before heading off to your next destination, you can visit Drive BC’s Highway Cams website to check the road conditions on many major routes across the province. If you are already on the road, you can listen to the radio to learn the latest traffic reports. In the Metro Vancouver region, News 1130 is a popular traffic station that offers traffic reports and weather forecasts every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

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Some areas of British Columbia have a lot of snow and very cold temperatures in the winter. It is important to get your car ready for winter driving. To winterize your car, you need to check the battery, keep antifreeze in the radiator, use winter windshield wiper fluid, get good tires, and keep an emergency kit in your car. In some parts of the province you will need a block heater to warm up your engine before you start your car. You can talk to people at your garage, service station or dealership for advice about winter car care.

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When a car crash occurs, there are a number of things to think through and do. If possible, you should move your vehicle safely off or to the side of the road, turn on the flashers, call 911 if anyone is injured, obtain the name and contact information of all other motorists involved in the accident (name, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, etc.). If possible, you should obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses and take photos of the vehicles involved in the accident. If you have purchased Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) car insurance, you can report your claim online or over the telephone. You will receive clear instructions from ICBC on how to process your claim, and how to get your vehicle fixed. ICBC also offers free, over-the-phone interpretation services in 170+ languages to support your claim if you are new to BC and English is not your first language. ICBC also has two language lines (Chinese and Punjabi) that immediately connect to interpreters in Chinese (1-855-813-2121) or Punjabi (1-866-906-6163).

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Buying a Car

If you own a car, you must register your car and buy licence plates and car insurance. The costs of driving vary, depending on the type of vehicle you drive, where you live, how much you use your car, your driving record and more.

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Car dealers sell new and used vehicles. Before you start looking for a vehicle, figure out how much money you can spend and what kind of vehicle you need. It’s a good idea to look on the Internet or go to several dealers to compare prices before you buy. You can bargain with the salesperson to get a lower price. If you are buying a used vehicle, the dealer is responsible for telling you the history and making sure the vehicle is safe. You should test the vehicle and make sure that all promises the dealer makes are written into the purchase agreement and anything you sign. Make sure the dealer you buy your car from is licensed by the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority (VSA) of British Columbia.

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Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) is the mandatory coverage you need for a vehicle in British Columbia. You can also choose to buy extra coverage for you, your family and your car with Optional Autoplan products. You can buy insurance at any Autoplan (insurance broker) office. Many things will affect the cost of your car insurance, such as where you live, the type of car you have, if you use your car for work or pleasure, and your driving record. If you were a safe driver in your country, you can ask your insurance company in that country to write a letter about your insurance claims record. This must be a notarized (official) letter in English. Take the letter with you when you buy your insurance because you may get a safe driving discount.

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Public Transportation

Most cities and towns in British Columbia have a public transit system. BC Transit is responsible for coordinating the different municipal transit systems in British Columbia, except in Metro Vancouver where it is done by TransLink. BC Transit provides bus services in over 50 communities across British Columbia. TransLink operates the SkyTrain and WestCoast Express (rail), SeaBus (boat) and bus services in Metro Vancouver. You can find local bus maps and schedules online.

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Buses, SkyTrains, the WestCoast Express and the Seabus operate on scheduled routes and timelines. Most libraries carry pocket-size pamphlets of local bus schedules and maps. In the Metro Vancouver region, you may find maps and schedules on TransLink’s website. You may also use the online tool – Trip Planner – to find the best route and timing for your trip. Outside Metro Vancouver, you can find information on BC Transit’s website. When riding on a bus, if you want the bus driver to let you off at the next stop, pull the cord above your seat or push the red button. SkyTrains, the WestCoast Express and the Seabus stop at every station along the route. In the Metro Vancouver region, you can use a Compass Card – a reloadable fare card that works on buses, SkyTrains, the WestCoast Express and the SeaBus. Outside Metro Vancouver, you need exact change in coins, or a ticket, a daypass or a monthly pass to ride the bus. You will get a transfer from the driver when you pay your fare. Check the transfer to see how long you can use it.

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The cost to use public transit varies by community. If you take public transit regularly, it is cheaper to buy a pass or book of tickets. In the Metro Vancouver region, you can pay cash or use a Compass Card, and bus transfers on the bus. You will have to use a Compass Card or Compass ticket on SkyTrains, the WestCoast Express or the SeaBus. Bus transfers are not accepted on SkyTrains or the SeaBus. You can buy a Compass Card at Compass retailers, at a Compass Vending Machine, online or over the phone. Outside Metro Vancouver, you can buy these tickets and passes at many grocery stores, drugstores and convenience stores. Bus drivers do not sell tickets or passes. Children under 5 years old can ride for free when they are with an adult. Full-time students and seniors (65 years and older) may pay a lower price with valid identification. People with disabilities also get a special pass.

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People in wheelchairs and scooters can get on all public transit buses in communities throughout British Columbia. In many cities and towns, handyDART provides door-to-door public transit for people with disabilities, but you have to register with handyDART to use their services. The Government of British Columbia has a bus pass program for eligible low-income people with disabilities. Some taxis also take wheelchairs, but you need to ask for wheelchair services when you call the taxi company.

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Walking and Cycling

You should cross streets only at a corner or a crosswalk, and obey all traffic lights. It is against the law to cross in the middle of a block. This is called jaywalking, and if the police see you jaywalking, you may have to pay a fine. Many corners have crosswalks, which are wide white lines painted on the road or a sign. Cars should stop at crosswalks to let people cross. Although pedestrians have the right of way, you should always be careful when crossing a street. Look left first, then right. Make eye contact with drivers before stepping off the curb. When walking in the dark, especially over the winter season, you should keep yourself visible to drivers by wearing bright, reflective items, or adding a reflective sticker or patch to your jacket and bag.

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You do not need a licence to ride a bicycle in British Columbia. People on bicycles must ride on the road, not on the sidewalk. You must obey the same rules as car drivers. Only one person may ride a bicycle. A small child may ride in a special seat behind the adult rider. You must have a light in front and a red reflector on the back of your bicycle to ride at night. The law says everyone who rides a bicycle must wear a helmet (except Sikhs who wear a turban for religious reasons). Where there is a bike lane, you should use it. Some community centres and bicycle shops have free clinics to teach people how to ride safely.

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If you live in Metro Vancouver, TransLink offers online cycling maps to help find cycling routes on bike paths and streets, as well as bike lockers. MapMyRide provides information about cycling routes in different communities throughout British Columbia.

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