Having a car in Whistler is certainly not necessary as the bus network is pretty good and Whistler is a small town, there aren’t many places to go in the winter! Parking has become a big issue recently, so don’t count on being able to drive to the hill everyday.
However, a car gives you a great deal of extra freedom & makes life easier. Trips to the city & road trips to other resorts also become a lot easier and affordable. You can also drive up to Squamish to buy groceries at reasonable prices.
However, buying a car in another country is a big outlay and a gamble if you don’t know your North American vehicles.
Good news! In previous years most nationalities had to re-take a theory and road test before being allowed a B.C. drivers license… from now on though, all you need to do is take your foreign license to ICBC, pay $55 and they hand you a shiny new Canadian drivers license! Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to every nationality… some people will still have to take the full theory then road test before converting… sorry Irish license holders!
You are able to drive on your foreign license for the first three months you are in Canada, but after that your insurance is invalid and you are driving illegally unless you convert. If you don’t have a full foreign license but planned on obtaining one in Canada, think again!
The process takes about 3yrs, unfortunately.
BUYING A CAR
We recommend buying a used car in Vancouver or the surrounding area (not up in Whistler) as there is far greater choice and much less snow and ice on the roads in winter. This means less salt on the roads, so vehicles tend to be in better condition for their age. Vehicles are also generally a little cheaper in the city. A good place to start is www.autotrader.ca.
Insurance in BC is very different to many parts of the world. All car insurance has to bought off the government controlled entity ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia). This does making buying insurance quite simple because you have no choice and there is no possibility of a lower premium. Insurance can be bought in 3, 6, 9 or 12 month portions and premiums are generally between $100 and $200 with the average being around $150. You do get a no claims discount with ICBC if you can produce letters from your previous insurers stating you had no accidents while with them (regardless what country it was in). You receive 5% off your insurance for each year of no claims proof produced.
If you plan on being in Canada awhile and want to build a credit rating, pay for your insurance by monthly direct debit.
Winter tires are not mandatory in BC but if your living in Whistler they are VERY HIGHLY recommended! They make a huge difference to how your car drives in the snow – it’s much safer. When buying a car having a good set of winter tires on the car or included is a big bonus. Tires will set you back around $100 a wheel installed on a normal car.
The only free parking in the village is in Day-lots 4 & 5 (which fill up early in the winter) for a full day of parking, or the other day-lots after 5pm/ It now costs $8 per day (or $30 per month) to park in daylots 1-3 in the winter. There are a couple of other parking areas around the village, but they all charge something now (link to municipal parking guide). Be aware that in the winter you can’t park anywhere “on street” due to snow removal – so if you are going to get a vehicle, make sure you have a private parking space!
It’s a pretty common plan to want to do some road-tripping during or after your season. If buying a van is too much hassle and planning for you, take a look at the Wicked Campers site! I’ve seen a couple about town and they look pretty sweet, and a quick online enquiry told me they were about $35 per day… that’s alright!