How to register and insure your car in Alberta


I recently moved to Alberta from British Columbia, and had to go through the process of registering my car in Alberta, as well as signing up for Alberta health insurance and getting an Alberta driver’s license and ID. Boy it was not a straightforward process, mainly because the resources were not great. I created this guide to help anyone who is moving to Alberta from another province get an idea of what is involved. Disclaimer—use this guide at your own risk.

How to get an Alberta driver’s license or ID card

Do I need an Alberta driver’s license or ID?

Apparently, if you plan to stay in Alberta for at least several months, you need to get an Alberta driver’s license or ID. I’m not sure what the exact rules are, but people have told me that settlers have up to 90 days to get an Alberta ID. If you fail to get one after 90 days, and you get pulled over by the police, they may give you a ticket.

How do I get an Alberta driver’s license or ID?

The easiest way to do this, is to go to the nearest Alberta Motor Association (AMA) store. Bring your existing driver’s license or piece of ID, additional pieces of government-issued ID such as your passport, proof of residency or citizenship card, as well as a bill (such as your credit card bill or utility bill) that shows your Alberta address.

To take advantage of AMA’s bizarre and wonderful array of services (which range from helping you get a driver’s license, to selling you fire extinguishers, to insuring your cows), you need to be an AMA member. They will also serve you if you are a member of an AMA affiliated organization, such as BCAA (British Columbia Automobile Association).

Warning! They may shred your previous ID or driver’s license

Be warned that they may confiscate and shred your existing driver’s license or ID. If you have an ID that you cannot afford to lose, call AMA first to ask whether they will need to shred your particular ID.

How to register and insure your car in Alberta

1. Get a power-of-attorney from your car manufacturer

If you lease your car, contact your car manufacturer’s leasing department and ask them to email you a power of attorney (POA) letter which states that you have the right to register and insure the car in Alberta.

2. Get an out-of-province car inspection request form

Go to the nearest Alberta Motor Association (AMA) store and bring your car’s registration, insurance papers, as well as your driver’s license. Ask them to give you an out-of-province car inspection request form.

3. Get your car inspected

Bring your car to a reputable mechanic or dealership to get it inspected. It may cost between $75 to $300 plus shop fees and taxes. There is a little bit of art involved in this process.

The more expensive but safer method

The safest method, especially if your car is still under bumper-to-bumper warranty, is to bring it to a reputable dealer. For instance, if your car is a BMW, bring it to a BMW dealer. They will charge more than non-dealer shops, perhaps $300 plus shop fees and GST, but the benefit of this approach is that they may be more likely to give your car a clean bill of health, and if deficiencies are found, these deficiencies may be repairable under warranty. This is the route I took.

The cheaper but more adventurous method

To save money, you can take the car to a non-dealer mechanic. They may charge you $180 or less, plus shop fees and taxes. However, there is a risk associated with this. You’re basically at the mercy of the mechanic. Sometimes, a mechanic may claim that your car needs work even when it’s practically fine, and will not give you the certificate until the car is fixed. Now your $180 out-of-province inspection can suddenly turn into an $1,800 repair job. Worse, depending on the nature of the alleged deficiencies, the mechanic may even forbid you from driving the car until it is fixed. Cha-ching!

If this happens to you, you are legally entitled to bring the car to another repair shop for the repairs. After the car is fixed, the original mechanic must agree to re-inspect the car. Hopefully at that point he will sign off on the out-of-province inspection certificate. If your car is still under a bumper-to-bumper warranty, this tactic can be useful as it allows you to theoretically save money on the out-of-province inspection, and if repairs are needed, you can get them done at the dealership and covered by the warranty.

Caveat emptor

Be warned, however, that with this tactic, the customer can be left in limbo if the dealer refuses to fix the car under warranty. This can happen if the dealer feels that no repairs are actually needed.

In short, this entire out-of-province inspection regime is broken, expensive, and unnecessarily bureaucratic, and reform is desperately needed. Take my situation for example. I just spent $315 to reassure the Albertan government that my 3-year old, $70,000, perfectly functioning and meticulously serviced BMW is safe to be driven on Albertan roads.

4. Register and insure your car at AMA

If you survived your our-of-province inspection without getting a stroke or acute coronary event, bring the papers to AMA to insure and register your car in Alberta. Be prepared to spend a few thousands dollars.

5. Update your car lease folks

If you lease your car, contact your car’s manufacturer’s leasing department to update them. Your manufacturer should adjust the taxes on your lease payments to just the 5% GST that Albertans pay. Hurray!

6. Cancel your other auto insurance

If you want.

How to get Alberta health insurance coverage

Go to the nearest Alberta Motor Association (AMA) store. If you are Canadian, bring your passport, ID, and proof of Alberta residency, such as a utility bill showing your Alberta address. If you are not Canadian, it’s probably a good idea to just bring every single immigration and residency-related document you have, plus proof of Alberta residency (i.e. the utility bill). They will give you a form to fill out. You should ask for this form from the receptionist, so you can start filling it out while you wait in line. After your form is processed, your Alberta health insurance information will arrive in the mail.