99% of tourists in Canada (and the United States) are wrong about what type of RV/Campervan they can buy for their travels. And the consequences could be severe. In this article, I want to quickly share what I know and learned from actually buying and selling a campervan in Canada and traveling the Americas with it!
What vehicle can you drive with a standard driver’s license?
In Canada, the maximum vehicle weight and size that you can drive with a standard driver’s license (Class 5 or its equivalent in different provinces) varies slightly between provinces and territories, but generally follows similar guidelines:
Typically, with a standard driver’s license, you can drive vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of up to 4,500 kg (9,920 lbs). This includes most passenger cars, SUVs, and light trucks.
This also includes 99% of Class A and Class C RVs, and truck campers.
The rules might be different for tourists
So, what are the rules for tourists?
A standard Canadian driver’s license is not the same as a European driver’s license. Or a South American driver’s license. Or an Asian driver’s license… You get the idea.
More specifically, my Dutch driver’s license allows me to drive a vehicle with a maximum weight of 3,500 kg (7,716 lbs).
So, here’s where it gets tricky:
Rachel and I were trying to buy a campervan in Canada, with a Dutch driver’s license. But what is the actual maximum weight of a vehicle that we’re allowed to drive?
The answer’s actually 3,500 kg.
This impacted our search a lot, because this pretty much restricted us to class B campervans and truck campers.
Most Class C RVs are heavier than 3,500 kg.
Luckily, we eventually found this beautiful campervan that met all our needs!
The most common misconception about buying a campervan as a tourist
When you go to Canada or the United States, you’ll see lots of tourists drive big RV’s. Most of these people are driving big campervans that weigh somewhere between 3,500 kg and 4,500 kg.
But pretty much all of these are rented.
Which means that the tourists that are driving these are insured through the rental company.
If you’re looking to buy a campervan in Canada, you’re playing by different rules.
What to consider as a tourist buying an RV/campervan
If you’re buying your own vehicle, you’ll need to register and insure it.
Registering a campervan as a tourist in Canada comes with its own challenges.
But insuring? That’s where Rachel and I found the biggest challenge.
If we had bought a Class C motorhome that weighed 3,505 kg (just 5 kg more than our Dutch driver’s license allows), then we’d do something extremely risky.
But why is that? 3,505 kg is still less than the maximum limit of 4,500 kg of a standard Canadian driver’s license, so who cares?
Your insurance company will care.
If you get in a crash, your insurer will look at what vehicle you’re allowed to drive based on your own driver’s license.
For us, that meant trouble. If we had bought a vehicle of 3,505 kg, we would be able to buy and register it, but insuring it? Nope.
And even if the insurer was easy and lenient (they aren’t), we would still be in huge trouble if we ever would have caused damages while driving the vehicle.
So let me repeat: it’s the rules in your home country, with your actual driver’s license, that matter.
The rules in Canada (and the United States) don’t matter.
How can you get around this?
There are 3 options:
- Option 1: Be careless and follow the local rules (and not those of your home country).
Strangely enough, this is actually the most common route. We’ve met plenty of travelers who had bought a big Class C RV while they wouldn’t have been allowed to drive it in their home country. But now that they were in Canada, they thought it was fine.
“Because all the locals do it too!”
And to be fair, most people get away with it. In fact, most people aren’t aware of the huge risks that they’re exposed to.
Would I recommend you go this route? No. Would you get away with it? Maybe. Do with this information as you will! 🙂
- Option 2: Buy a vehicle that you’d be allowed to drive in both Canada and your home country
This is what we did when we bought our Roadie: a campervan that had everything we needed and still weighed less than 3,000 kg.
This little bad boy has a kitchen, white, grey and black water tanks of ~100L, a toilet, running water, lots of storage space, a comfortable king size bed, a seating/dining area in the front, and can even sleep 3 adults!
It takes a bit of effort, but there are some beautifully-engineered campervans that have all the luxury of a Class C RV packed inside a smaller vehicle!
- Option 3: Get a suitable driver’s license before you travel to Canada
Most countries have similar driver’s licenses.
You’ve got the standard license, and then you’ve got a “commercial license”. The naming can differ, but the principle remains the same.
A commercial license allows you to drive heavier vehicles with more than 2 axles.
If you want to travel Canada or the United States with your own motorhome, you might want to look into upgrading your license before traveling!
Why is there so many misinformation?
I want to address the different type of advice that you’ll find online.
If you’re buying an RV/campervan, most people selling one will tell you that it’s perfectly OK for you to drive their vehicle. We’ve had this happen to us too. In reality, these people just want to sell their vehicle, and they don’t understand that the rules are different for a tourist with a foreign driver’s license.
Then there’s the bad advice that you’ll find on places like Facebook and Reddit.
As I said before, there are lots of people who manage to buy, register, and insure their vehicle, even though it is too heavy for them to drive on their actual driver’s license. Most of these people are unaware of the risks. They do not know that if they damage something (or someone) while driving their overweight vehicle, it’s almost certain that their insurance company will not be covering the damaged.
In other words, these people would be in serious trouble if they actually got into an accident.
Before you call BS: I’ve actually been on the phone with dozens of insurance providers, and they’ve all told me the same story. It’s your actual driver’s license (and the rules of your home country) that matters!
Then why is there so much bad advice? It’s simply a case of survivorship bias. The people who’re telling you it’s okay have just not had the bad fortune to get in trouble.
What about police? We actually contacted the local authorities in Canada and asked them this question. They said that it’s not them you need to worry about. Most officers won’t care if you’re driving a vehicle that’s too heavy for your own license. They don’t know the rules to all foreign driver licenses. So in that sense, they make a judgment call: Would a Canadian be allowed to drive this with a standard driver’s license? Yes? Then this tourist is likely OK.
So in other words, you probably won’t get pulled over by the local authorities if you’re driving an RV that weighs 3,505 kg. But again, it’s not the police you need to worry about. It’s your insurance policy that you need to consider.
This was actually the most challenging part of buying a campervan in Canada (for us). It’s relatively easy to find a seller. It’s a bit more challenging to register your new vehicle. But the most challenging obstacle is insurance, and you simply cannot find good insurance for a vehicle that you’re not allowed to drive.
If you’re currently going through these hurdles and have a question, let us know in the comments! We’ve gone through the process of buying a campervan as a tourist, and it definitely wasn’t easy. I hope that by sharing our experiences, we can make it a little less hard for you!