Canadians are taking to the open roads and enjoying cross-border vacations by car more than ever before. So what do you need to know before you jump in and drive into the sunset?

Your driver's licence

Canadian driver's licences are valid in both the United States and Mexico. However, if you're planning an extended stay in either country, you should contact the state Department of Motor Vehicles or Mexican authorities to determine if you should obtain an International Driver's Permit (IDP). This permit - recognized in over 160 countries - proves that you have a valid driver's licence in your country of residence. You will have to show your IDP and your regular licence together if for any reason they are requested. In Canada, the CAA is the sole authorized issuer of IDPs.

Car insurance

If you're insured in Canada and you're driving your own car, your existing car insurance will continue to cover you anywhere in U.S. Not so in Mexico.

If you're heading to the U.S.
You may want to review your current car insurance coverage to consider:

  • Increasing your Liability Limit. If you're in an auto accident and someone is injured or killed, this is the amount of money available to compensate them (or their family). It's also used if you damage a person's property. It's always a good idea to check with your insurer to see if they think increasing your limit is advisable.

  • Reassessing your need for Collision if this is not already a part of your coverage. Will you have the funds available to repair your car in the U.S. if you don't have Collision coverage?

  • Adding Loss of Use to your coverage. This coverage will pay for a rental car or alternate transportation if your car requires repairs due to an accident.
Finally, make sure you know your insurance company's international toll-free phone number so you can call if you're in an accident (usually, there's a number on your insurance card). Don't wait until your holidays are over - call immediately. Not only will you get assistance and advice from your insurance supplier, but it also means you are less likely to run into difficulties with your claim.

Mexico - bound
Car insurance issued outside of Mexico is not valid within Mexico. You must have car insurance issued by a Mexican company and you can get this at the border before entering the country. Foreign Affairs and Internation Trade Canada recommends getting full coverage, including coverage for legal assistance. Also at the Mexican border, you will be required to get a vehicle permit for a fee and provide the following vehicle and driver information:
  • proof of legal ownership of the vehicle
  • proof of Canadian registration
  • an affidavit from any lien holders authorizing temporary importation
  • a valid Canadian driver's licence
  • proof of citizenship (all Canadians entering Mexico must show a valid passport)

Travel tips and links

The following tips and links may help you prepare for your travels and avoid unpleasant surprises.

  • Before leaving, have a certified mechanic look over your car and top-up all fluids.

  • Compare emergency medical travel insurance quotes and get the coverage you need for your travels.

  • Make sure you take with you proof of auto insurance, your driver's licence (and IDP if necessary), and your vehicle registration.

  • You will need a valid passport to enter the United States and Mexico. If you do not already have one, contact your local passport office for information on how to get a passport.

  • Where ever you go, know where the closest Canadian Government office can be found - they'll be able to help you if you're ever in a bind

  • You're packed and ready to go? Visit Canada Border Services Agency to see a listing of border crossings and wait times

  • Once on the road, it is recommended you limit your driving to 700-800 km per day with 15-minute breaks every 2 hours. Aim to stop driving by dinner, so you can eat and relax for the rest of the evening. This pace however, won't give you much time-if any-for roadside attractions. For that, you'll want to limit your driving to 300-400 km per day.

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