Any vehicle operating in Canada must have valid car insurance to legally use the roads in any province or territory. Overwhelmingly, this applies to Americans, since the United States is by far the largest source of out of country vehicles in Canada. In most cases, U.S. drivers will be covered by their regular car insurance, just as Canadians are covered by their own policies when visiting south of the border.
Mandatory Insurance Coverage
Residents of Canada have certain minimum coverages of auto insurance that are regulated by each province. Meeting these levels is not required from visitors, however there are some special circumstances that could potentially permit an American driver to operate a car in a questionable legal position in Canada. New Hampshire, Virginia and Mississippi have old laws on the books that have alternatives to car insurance coverage. Usually taking the form of a bond or a fee for non-insured status, drivers from these states who choose these alternatives may be without liability coverage, which is a requirement for using Canadian roads.
Checking your car insurance policy prior to visiting Canada is a good idea, even when it’s likely you’re covered. If the small print isn’t making sense, a quick call to your agent or broker will help. They can also help you if you want to obtain proof of car insurance, beyond the liability card you already carry. Commonly called a Canadian insurance card, the Canadian Non-Resident Inter-Provincial Motor Vehicle Liability Card is not required by law, but it may help smooth procedures in case of an accident.
Other Travel Documents
You’ll need your current, valid state driver’s license, of course. Confirm that your license won’t expire while you’re in Canada. Similarly, your vehicle registration should be up to date with proof of ownership in your vehicle.
Crossing the border in both directions requires both proof of citizenship and photo identification. The most common way to provide both is a valid U.S. Passport. A passport card is also a more affordable option, and NEXUS cards are used by those who cross the border regularly. Those 16 years of age or younger usually only need proof of citizenship, so a birth certificate is accepted in that case. Have all documents ready each time you cross the border, as agents on both sides will inspect them before approving your entry.
If you’re renting a car in Canada, you can purchase collision damage waivers through the car rental agency, but you may avoid the high daily cost through coverage you already have. Some car insurance packages include car rental coverage, or you may be able to add this endorsement. You can check this with your agent or broker as well. If you rent your car using a credit card, some memberships will cover car rental insurance when you use an approved rental agency.