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What Canadians Need to Know About Driving in the U.S.

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collection of road sign images
Photo: The News Wheel

The United States and Canada share a number of driving laws and customs, but there are some significant differences between the countries. Here’s a quick and easy guide to a few things that Canadian drivers should keep in mind when driving in the United States.

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Read up on the state you’re visiting

Red Light Camera
Photo: Derek Jensen

Laws can vary widely from state to state. For instance, some states have laws that allow you to turn right at a red light, just like in Ontario, while other states prohibit it. It’s also a good idea to remember that American speed limits are posted in miles per hour, so make sure you’re watching the right part of your speedometer. Failing to follow the law of the land could result in a ticket, or even an arrest in certain cases.

Have your ID ready

Just as you’d expect, you need a valid Canadian driver’s license and proof of insurance to legally drive in the U.S. or even rent a vehicle. However, if your license isn’t in English, you’ll either need to obtain a certified translation of it, or apply for an International Driver’s Permit. Some states require an IDP whether your license is in English or not, so read up on your destination before you hit the road.

Whether you’re renting a vehicle or in the unfortunate position of getting pulled over, you probably won’t need to flash your passport in most instances. That said, it doesn’t hurt to have it handy. Have your documentation at the ready to help any legal encounters run as smoothly as possible

Budget accordingly

Envelope of money next to shifter knob inside a car
Photo: The News Wheel

The Canadian dollar doesn’t quite go as far in the United States. Make sure you pad your road trip budget accordingly, so you don’t find your gasoline budget running dry.

Be able to explain your plans

using a paper road map
Photo: The News Wheel

During the pandemic, it’s critical to have a solid reason to be driving around the United States. To prevent the spread of disease, the U.S.-Canada border has been closed to all non-essential travel. That includes cultural events, tourism, and other recreational activities. Examples of essential travel include seeking medical treatment, going to work, and attending school. Check out the U.S. Embassy website for more details.

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Know who to contact

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Photo: Eneida Nieves

If you run into any legal issues while driving in the United States, Canadian immigration lawyer Joel Sandaluk recommends contacting the nearest Canadian embassy. This entity can’t be expected to solve all of your problems, but it can provide advice or legal assistance if you’ve gotten into hot water with U.S. authorities.