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Set yourself up: Getting an identification card and driver’s license

By: Faheel Haider
August 08, 2023

Set yourself up: Getting an identification card and driver's license is a part of the International Student Guide —  a resource carefully curated by current international students to equip new international students with the essential knowledge and insights you need to thrive in Toronto. View the full list of articles on the International Student Guide web page. 

As international students in a foreign country, carrying your passport or copies of it for identification purposes can be annoying. What if you forget your wallet? What if you lose your passport? These concerns will be on your mind on a night out or a long day trip.

It’s essential for you to get a Canadian identification card. With it, you simply go through your day to day activities involving identification without carrying your passport around. You can even fly domestically (inside Canada) with one! 

Since our campus is in the Canadian province of Ontario, international students can apply for two types of provincial identification cards: the Ontario Photo Card or an Ontario Driver’s License. You can only hold one at a time. 

Identification card sample
Ontario Photo Card

Image Source: Government of Ontario (external link) 

The Ontario Photo Card is for those who don’t have a driver's license and don’t intend on getting one any time soon.  

All you need to do is visit a ServiceOntario centre with your passport or other identity documents (external link)  and apply in person. After you apply, you’ll get the Photo Card delivered to your mailing address in 4 to 6 weeks.

 What is ServiceOntario? ServiceOntario centres are offices where residents of Ontario can go to get provincial services and vital documents that the province issues. They are located all over Ontario, and we have a number of centres near campus (external link) ! Once you apply for it, you’ll get it delivered to your mailing address in 4 to 6 weeks.

Cost: $35 CAD

Drivers License
Ontario Driver's License

Image Source: Government of Ontario (external link) 

The second type of identification card that you can acquire is your Ontario driver's license. This is a more common type of card that international students get and the process of getting one is very different from a lot of our home countries. 

The first thing that you should know is that getting an Ontario driver’s license is a three-step process!

  1. Secure your G1 License
  2. Afer 8 or 12 months, secure your G2 License
  3. After 12 months, get your full G License

You have up to five years to finish the whole process. After five years, if you do not get your full G licence, you will need to start over.

Cost: Dependent on which license level you're looking to get.

 G1 License

If you’re a first time driver, the first thing you need to do is get a G1 license. To get it, you simply need to complete a knowledge test which will ask you about basic rules of driving in Ontario. You can visit a DriveTest Centre to write your test, or book an appointment to write it at ServiceOntario (external link)  (there's one right by campus!)

Make sure you get plenty of practice before giving your test! There are a number of free online G1 tests available and a free online handbook (external link)  on the Government of Ontario website. 

Once you pass the test, you'll get your G1 License, but there are still a number of restrictions on it, like:

  • You can’t drive on 400-series highways or high-speed expressways
  • You'll need a G Licensed driver in the car with you at all times

All the restrictions for the G1 license (external link)  are mentioned on the Government of Ontario’s website.

After this, you'll need to wait one year to be eligible to give your G1 exit test, and get your G2 license. Your G1 exit test will involve a driving test on the road. If you’re in a hurry or if you don’t have anyone to practice driving with, you can take a government-approved driver education course and after completing it, you can take your G1 exit test in just eight months instead of a whole year.

Faheel Haider

"I already held a driver’s license from my home country of Pakistan. I visited the DriveTest centre with my passport, study permit, and Pakistani license. Since I had that license for only one year at that time, I was allowed to take the G1 exit test immediately instead of waiting for one year! The process is different for everyone if you hold a foreign driver’s license so you'll have to visit or call DriveTest to know what the process will be like for you. "

Faheel, International Student, Pakistan

 G2 License

Your G1 exit test, or G2 road test, will test basic driving skills including: 

  • Turning and stopping
  • Parallel parking 
  • Lane changes
  • Traffic lights and stop signs

After you pass your G1 exit test, you'll get your G2 License! This license will allow you more freedom to drive around.

For starters, you don’t need a G licensed driver with you when you're driving. You can also drive on any of Ontario's roads, including the 400-series highways.

 However, there are still some restrictions to a G2 license if you are 19 years and under, including: 

  • You can't drive with more than 1 passenger who is 19 years or under in your car, between midnight and 5 a.m. for the first six months of your G2 license. This does not apply, if:
    • You have a fully licensed driver in the car with four or more years of driving experience
    • You are driving with immediate family members

Cost: $159.75 (includes your knowledge test, G1 exit test and a five-year license) 

"I took three classes from an instructor to prepare for my G1 exit test, and I practiced driving in my uncle's car!"

Faheel, International Student, Pakistan

 G License

12 months after you get your G2 license, you can take your G2 exit test or G road test.

This is a more comprehensive test where you'll be assessed on:

  • Driving on the highway and major roads
  • Maintaining proper speeds
  • Lane changing and signalling 
  • Driving in business areas 

Learn more about the G2 exit test and how to prepare by visiting the Government of Ontario website (external link) . Once you pass your G2 exit test, you’re good to drive without additional restrictions!

 Tip: The good thing about getting a G license is that some jobs require it and if you plan on getting a car, insurance rates might be lower for you compared to G2 drivers. 

Overall, getting a provincial ID has been very beneficial for me. I have traveled domestically without my passport. All I needed to show was my Ontario Driver’s license at the airport. The same goes for checking into hotels, getting my Toronto Public Library card, getting my gym membership, and many other day-to-day activities. Ever since I got my G1 license, my passport has been locked safely in my documents folder and it only comes out when I need to travel internationally! 

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