Buying a new vehicle or used car gives you an undeniable sense of freedom, allows you to display your personal style, and provides the option to go anywhere on a whim. All in all, it's an exciting venture. 

Well, everything but the paperwork, that is. Once you familiarize yourself with the process though, motor vehicle registration in Canada isn’t scary. Just think of it as the least sexy hurdle on the way to driving the car you've had your eye on. To get you out on the road without any hiccups, follow these steps to streamline the motor vehicle registration process.

Motor vehicle registration in Canada

What You Need for Motor Vehicle Registration

Regardless of where you register your vehicle, you'll need the following items to ensure a smooth registration and receive your registration certificate.

  • A driver's licence
  • Bill of sale signed by the buyer and seller
  • Transfer of ownership document
  • Certificate of title)
  • A safety inspection number or certificate, known by different names depending on the province
  • Proof of liability insurance (sometimes referred to as a pink slip and possibly other insurance 
  • Licence plate number
  • Other vehicle information, such as the odometer reading and VIN (vehicle identification number)
  • Payment of sales tax, which varies by province

If you have unpaid fines or parking tickets, you’ll want to take care of those, as Ontario and almost all provinces require payment before allowing you to register a vehicle.

Clipboard with motor vehicle registration form

Vehicle Registration Requirements by Province

Registering a motor vehicle in Canada varies by province. While the procedure shares some similarities across the country, each province has its own caveats. Still, motor vehicle registration is fairly straightforward overall. To help you out, check out this provincial breakdown of everything you need to register your vehicle.

Note: Keep in mind that you'll need all of the required documents above to register a road vehicle in Canada. Any variations for each province will be listed below, if necessary.

Alberta

  • Where to Register: Service Alberta
  • Registration Fees: $84.45 for one year; $159.45 for two years
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 6 days for used vehicles; 14 days if using old plates on a new vehicle
  • Sales Tax Rate: 5%

British Columbia

  • Where to Register: Insurance Corporation of British Columbia
  • Registration Fees: $18 registration fee; $46 license fee, both renewable annually
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 30 days for used vehicles; 10 days if using old plates on a new car
  • Sales Tax Rate: 12%
  • Other Requirements: Buyer must have Transfer/Tax Form from Autoplan to complete registration (document given by owner); vehicle may have to pass an emissions test in Fraser Valley or Lower Mainland

Manitoba

  • Where to Register: Manitoba Public Insurance
  • Registration Fees: $139 per year
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 6 days
  • Sales Tax Rate: 11%
  • Other Requirements: New Vehicle Information Statement (if the vehicle is brand new), typically must purchase insurance from Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI), and for cars manufactured before Sept. 1, 2007, the new owner must ensure a vehicle immobilizer is installed

New Brunswick

  • Where to Register: Service New Brunswick
  • Registration Fees: Done by weight and range from $61 to $189 with annual renewal
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 14 days
  • Sales Tax Rate: 15%

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Where to Register: Digital Government and Service NL
  • Registration Fees: $180 annually; $104 annually for seniors
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 10 days
  • Sales Tax Rate: 15%

Nova Scotia

  • Where to Register: Service Nova Scotia
  • Registration Fees: $13.20 registration fee; $80.15 license fee (renewable biannually)
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 30 days
  • Sales Tax Rate: 15%
  • Other Requirements/Notes: The bill of sale in Nova Scotia is referred to as the notice of sale

Ontario

  • Where to Register: Service Ontario
  • Registration Fees: $120 (one year) or $240 (two years) in Southern Ontario; $60 (one year) or $120 (two years) in Northern Ontario
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 6 days
  • Tax Rate: 13%
  • Other Requirements: Buyers must receive a Used Vehicle Identification Package (UVIP) from the seller, as this contains the information necessary to get the vehicle registered; a Safety Standards Certificate must be presented during registration

Prince Edward Island

  • Where to Register: Access PEI
  • Registration Fees: $100 annually
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 7 days
  • Tax Rate: 15%

Quebec

  • Where to Register: CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) Quebec
  • Registration Fees: $200.43 annually
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 30 days
  • Tax Rate: 14.975%
  • Other Requirements: The Canadian Automobile Association of Quebec recommends the buyer and seller sign a contract although it isn't mandatory; sellers must also disclose all defects through the Warranty of Quality, and if they don't the buyer has three years to settle the case in or out of court

Saskatchewan

  • Where to Register: Saskatchewan Government Insurance
  • Registration Fees: Registration fees in Saskatchewan vary by the year, make, and model of the vehicle
  • How Long to Register After Purchase: 7 days
  • Tax Rate: 11%

Regardless of province, once you've completed the registration process, you'll receive a registration sticker — also known as a decal — to put on your licence plate (or a new licence plate) and registration papers (vehicle permit). Some agencies provide these onsite while others send them in the mail within five to 10 business days. However you receive these documents, make sure to put these papers in your vehicle in case you're pulled over by the police.

The registration of commercial vehicles may also have different requirements from province to province compared to passenger vehicles. Make sure to check with the appropriate agency to find out everything you need.

How To Renew Your Motor Vehicle Registration

Most provinces require a vehicle registration renewal either annually or biannually. However, this process is much less involved than the original motor vehicle registration process. In each province, car owners can now renew their registration online, as long as you don't have any changes to the registration. These changes may include a change of name or change of address.

Unless you're required to go in person to renew your registration, skip the line and use the online service. All you need is some personal and vehicle information and a debit card or credit card (Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted options). Be mindful that each province may also have a window to renew your registration online before the expiration date. If this time window lapses, you will have to renew in person.

And if you're forgetful, don't stress. Every province will send you a renewal notice in the mail so you have a few months to renew your registration online.

Ontario vehicle licence plate

Plate Transfers and Personalized Plates

Unless you live in Newfoundland and Labrador, the idea is simple: licence plates always stay with the seller of the vehicle. Newfoundland and Labrador reverse this idea and the plates always stay with the vehicle.

If you want to show off your style or set your vehicle apart from the pack, personalized licence plates are a fun way to go. Each province has its own customizations, allowing you to spell something out in letters or numbers that expresses your personality. 

To obtain custom plates, you'll have to fill out a special form at each province in Canada. After review, the Ministry of Transportation or a similar governmental organization decides whether to issue the plates based on whether they pass certain tests (no vulgarity, promotion of crime, etc.). Most personalized plates are renewable annually, regardless of the province. 

Clutch lets you skip the paperwork for motor vehicle registration

Does Motor Vehicle Registration Sound Overwhelming? Let Clutch Help

Unless your dream growing up was to work at the Ministry of Transport of Ontario, motor vehicle registration isn't glamourous. But as a driver, it's essential to keep you legal, avoid fines, and streamline the car buying process.

Keeping things simple is what makes Clutch a great ally for your next vehicle purchase. Not only do you get perks like a 210-point inspection, a fair value trade-in, and a 90-day, 60,000-km warranty, but you also get to skip the registration process. Instead, we'll do it for you. That's like jumping to the front of the line at Canada's Wonderland. The only thing left for you to do is pop the keys in the ignition and enjoy one of life's greatest pleasures: the freedom to go anywhere.

Disclaimer: Although this blog post touches on many of the points necessary to register a motor vehicle, make sure to review local regulations and laws before completing any transactions.