Visitors to NS
We hope you enjoy your stay in Nova Scotia. The laws in Nova Scotia may be different from those in your own country, state or province. This information will help you understand some of the laws which may affect you during your visit. Click on a topic to learn more.
The legal drinking age is 19 years old. Persons under 19 are not permitted to buy alcohol and you must not buy alcohol for them. Anyone buying alcohol may be asked to provide proof of age.
Presenting false proof of age to purchase alcohol is an offence, if you are convicted you will be fined. Click here to see current fines.
You may buy alcohol from Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation retail stores throughout the province. There are also some independently licensed retail outlets. In addition, bars and restaurants may be licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on their premises. Some vineyards may also have a license to sell their wine. You can drink alcohol in a licensed premise, and in your home, hotel room, and, usually, your camp site (although some campsites ban alcohol at certain times).
You are not allowed to drink alcohol in public open spaces such as parks and beaches. It is against the law to be drunk and disorderly in a public place and the police may arrest you.
You may carry alcohol provided it is unopened in your vehicle, it is out of the reach of the driver, it is not being consumed in the vehicle, and is being transported from the place of purchase to the place of consumption (eg. liquor store to home, party, or hotel). Usually, it is best to carry it in the trunk of the vehicle and to retain the receipt.
There is a duty-free shop at the Halifax Airport which sells alcohol, tobacco and others product to people who are leaving Canada by air on an international flight.
Children on licensed premises licensed to sell alcohol:
Children and young persons under 19 years of age are allowed in licensed restaurants. They are also allowed in up to 9 pm, so they can have a meal with their parents or other adult such as a legal guardian.
Pubs which permit children must have a separate area for serving meals for this purpose.
Alcohol and Tobacco Import Restrictions
There are strict limits on the import of tobacco and alcohol for personal use into Canada. If you exceed the limit you may have to pay tariffs and taxes.
If you are 19 or older you may bring one carton (200 cigarettes) or 50 cigars into Canada without paying any extra charges. Contact the Canada Border Services Agency for further information, and see Information for Visitors to Canada on the Border Service Agency website.
The maximum tobacco you can bring into Canada without an importer's license, including the duty free allowance, is 2,000 cigarettes (10 cartons) or 500 cigars. This will be subject to tariffs and taxes.
If you are 19 or older you may bring 1.5 litres of wine (two 750ml bottles) into Canada without paying any extra charges. Contact the Canada Border Services Agency for further information, and see "Information for Visitors to Canada and Seasonal Residents" on the Border Service Agency website.
The maximum volume of wine you can bring into Nova Scotia, Canada without an importer's license, including the duty free allowance, is 9.1 litres with an absence of 48 hours or more. Excise duties and a provincial fee will have to be paid on the 9.1 litres. Contact the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission for further information.
If you are 19 or older you may bring 1.14 Litres of hard liquor (40oz US) into Canada without paying any extra charges. Contact the Canada Border Services Agency for further information, and see "Information for Visitors to Canada and Seasonal Residents" on the Border Service Agency website.
Contact the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission for information about the maximum volume of liquor you can bring into Nova Scotia, Canada without an importer's license, subject to tariffs and taxes.
Note: You can bring in your allowance of either wine or hard liquor but not both at the same time.
Safety is the most important consideration when venturing out on Canadian waters. Please remember these basic guidelines:
- You must have a properly fitting Canadian-approved lifejacket or personal flotation device on board for each person on the boat. Lifejackets should be worn at all times.
- It is a crime to operate a boat while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
- Do not head out on the water without a reliable weather forecast.
- Be aware of local navigational hazards.
- The boat owner is responsible for the safety of all passengers.
In the interest of safety, Canada has special rules for boats that have a motor:
Operators of a boat with a motor, including a Jet Ski or Sea Doo, must carry proof of competency on board at all times. The Canadian Coast Guard Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) is the most widely accepted proof of competency. To get a Pleasure Craft Operator Card you must pass a basic boating safety test. Canada's Office of Boating Safety has information about accredited Boating Safety course providers who can issue Pleasure Craft Operator Cards.
Failure to carry proof of competency risks a fine of $250.
Non-residents who do not have Canadian-issued proof of competency (eg. PCOC) must provide a certificate or other similar document issued by their country or state showing that they have met the boating safety requirements in their own place of residence. There are some exceptions for non-resident boaters who operate a pleasure craft for less than 45 consecutive days in Canadian waters.
If you are not a Canadian resident and want to learn more about the rules and regulations that apply to you, visit Transport Canada's Office of Boating Safety web page: 'Visitor Information - Requirements for Foreign Recreational Boaters in Canadian Waters'.
For more information about safe boating in Canadian waters:
- Read our 'Safe Boating 2013' article - legalinfo.org/legal-information-topics/boating-safety.html
- contact Transport Canada's Office of Boating Safety at www.tc.gc.ca, or call 1-866-995-9737 (Marine Safety – General Inquiries).
Canada has strict federal gun control laws.
When you enter the country, you must declare any firearms and ammunition at Customs. The Customs officer will tell you if you can bring the item into Canada.
If you are a frequent visitor you can apply for a Canadian Firearms license which is valid for five years. If not, you must complete a Non-Resident Firearms Declaration form and pay a fee. This declaration will act as a temporary license and registration certificate while in Canada and is valid for 60 days. Unlicensed non-residents who plan to borrow a firearm in Canada must obtain a Temporary Borrowing license.
Prohibited weapons and firearms have no legitimate recreational use and cannot be imported into Canada. Before you try to import a weapon, please check carefully to make sure it is not prohibited.
Canadian Definition of a Prohibited Firearm:
- A handgun with a barrel length of 105 mm (4.14 inches) or less, or designed or adapted to discharge a 25 or 32 calibre cartridge (see exceptions below)*;
- A rifle or shotgun that has been changed to make it less than 660 mm (26 inches) in overall length;
- A rifle or shotgun that has been changed to make it 660 mm (26 inches) or more in overall length, with a barrel less than 457 mm (18 inches) in length;
- An automatic firearm or a converted automatic firearm;
- Any firearm prescribed under the Criminal Code regulations to be prohibited.
Other examples of prohibited weapons are knives that open automatically, pepper spray, throwing stars, spiked wristbands, blowguns, brass knuckles, and stun guns (tazers).
Visitors can import a restricted firearm only to attend an approved shooting competition. Examples of restricted firearms are target pistols and short-barrelled, centre-fire, semi-automatic rifles or shotguns.
In addition to the Non-Resident Firearms Declaration form, you must have an Authorization to Transport (ATT) for all restricted firearms. The ATT is issued by the Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) of the province(s) through which you are traveling and where you are taking the firearm. The CFO will only issue ATTs for approved purposes, such as shooting competitions.
For more information you can contact the Canadian Firearms Centre at 1.800.731.4000 (Canada and US) or 506.624.5380 (other countries), or website: http://www.cfc-cafc.gc.ca/info_for-renseigneme nt/non-residents/default_e.asp
Food and Drugs
Canada has strict drug laws which control the import, sale and use of drugs. With the exception of medications prescribed for you by your doctor, you should avoid bringing any drugs including recreational drugs into the country. There are also restrictions on bringing into Canada certain food and agricultural products such as meat and plants.
Contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Canada Border Services Agency for further information, and see Information for Visitors to Canada and Seasonal Residents on the Border Services Agency website.
Visit novascotia.ca/help/ for other ways to find help in the province.
In an Emergency:
Police, fire, ambulance - throughout Nova Scotia there is an emergency telephone number. Call 911
To contact the police when there is no emergency, look in the Blue pages of the phone book for Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Municipal Police, or visit:
- Nova Scotia RCMP detatchments contact information: rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ns/detach/index-eng.htm;
- Directory of municipal police agencies in Nova Scotia: novascotia.ca/just/Policing_Services/agencies.asp
In case of an emergency contact the police or look in the inside front cover of the telephone book for contact numbers for emergency/crisis services.
Nova Scotia 211:
Referral service for government, community and social services in Nova Scotia. Interpretation available in over 100 languages. Visit ns.211.ca or dial 211 in Nova Scotia, or 1-855-466-4994 toll free outside Nova Scotia. TTY service dial 1-888-692-1382.
If you need to contact a lawyer, they are listed in the Yellow pages of the phone book under Lawyers or call the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia at 902-455-3135 (in the Halifax/Dartmouth area, or from outside Nova Scotia), or 1.800.665.9779 (if you are in the rest of the province).
If you are arrested, you have a right to talk with a lawyer and the police must allow you to do so. They will also give you an emergency number where you can get immediate free legal advice.
The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia is a non-profit organization providing Nova Scotians with information about the law.
Hunting and Fishing/Protection of Wildlife
If you want to fish or hunt in Nova Scotia you need a valid license or permit. A license must be signed and display the address of the person to whom it is issued. You should have the license with you while hunting or fishing and produce it for inspection if asked by a conservation officer.
It is an offence to hunt or kill wildlife, except during the open season for the species of wildlife specified on a valid license.
Contact the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture for further information about rules for non-residents and visitors who wish to fish in provincial rivers, and the Department of Natural Resources for information about hunting.
A conservation officer may search and arrest, without a warrant, any person he or she has reasonable and probable grounds to believe has committed an offence under the Wildlife Act.
Most public places and tourist attractions have waste bins for litter.
Nova Scotia has a recycling program. Often, special containers are provided for material which can be recycled such as drinks cans and bottles.
You must not throw litter on the street, in parks or other public places, from your vehicle, or in the sea, lakes or rivers. If you are on a walking trail or other place where there are no garbage containers, you should take your litter with you.
You can be fined for littering.
On the Road
a. General rules of the road
b. Cell phones
c. Smoking in a vehicle
h. Daytime running lights
i. Roadside license suspensions (drinking & driving)
a) General rules of the road
Drive on the right-hand side of the road.
- Speed limits are posted on road signs in kilometres per hour (1.6 km = 1 mile).
- Drivers are expected to drive at a speed suitable to the weather conditions.
- Speeding fines are double in school and construction zones, and if passing an emergency vehicle stopped on the road or shoulder with its light flashing
- No vehicle may overtake or pass a school bus on which the lights are flashing red.
Please make allowances for other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, skateboarders, roller skaters and elderly and disabled users of automated wheelchairs.
b) Cell phones
It is against the law to use a hand held cell phone or text message while you are driving. You are still allowed to use a hand held cell phone while driving if it is an immediate emergency or if you are using a hands free device. The fine for a first offence of using a cell phone or text messaging while driving is $233.95, and 4 points are added to your driving record on conviction. Click here for more about distracted driving.
It is against the law to smoke in a vehicle when a minor (anyone under 19) is present, even if a sunroof, window, or a door is open. Click here for more information about Nova Scotia smoking laws and tobacco.
If your vehicle is directly or indirectly involved in an accident you must immediately stop at the scene.
The driver involved in the accident must:
- give his or her name and address
- give the name and address of the insurer of the vehicle
- give the vehicle registration number
- show his or her driver's license to the people involved in the accident or to witnesses
If there is serious injury or death, you must contact the police as soon as possible.
If there are minor injuries or property damage of $1000 or more, or if you cause damage to an unattended property, you must contact police within 24 hrs.
e) The Police
Police patrol roads and highways to see that speed restrictions and other laws are obeyed. They also investigate accidents and help drivers who have vehicle problems. Police may stop any driver they believe is breaking the law.
If police stop your vehicle you must obey. You should stay in your vehicle unless police ask you to step out of the vehicle.
Be prepared to show:
- your driver's license
- the registration papers for that vehicle
- safety inspection sticker
- proof of insurance
There are laws against drinking and driving. If the police have reason to believe that you are driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, they can arrest you. They can also ask you to take a breathalyser test at the police station.
If they take you to the police station, they must tell you that you have a right to speak with a lawyer and give you the opportunity to do so.
Click here for more information about 'you and the police'.
f) Rules for using roundabouts and rotaries
The rules for Nova Scotia roundabouts are much the same as rules for roundabouts in many other parts of the world.
The rules are:
- vehicles drive counter-clockwise around a roundabout
- vehicles already on a roundabout have right of way
- if you are approaching a roundabout slow down, give right of way to traffic on the roundabout, proceed only when it is safe to do so
- rules for rotaries are the same as rules for roundabouts
- watch for pedestrians and cyclists
Lights at roundabouts/rotaries:
- If there are traffic lights at the roundabout you must obey them
- A red light with a green arrow underneath means that you give way to traffic on the roundabout and proceed only when safe to do so
- A red light on its own means stop until you get a red/green light. You must then give right of way to traffic already on the roundabout and proceed only when safe to do so
- If you have a green light and no red light, you may proceed
Directions from a police officer at a rotary / roundabout:
If a police or traffic officer is directing traffic you must obey him or her.
In Nova Scotia, you are required to wear a seatbelt while the vehicle is in operation. There are a few exceptions, for example, if you have an exemption letter from your doctor based on a medical condition. You must be able to show the letter at the request of a police officer. If there are children in the vehicle, the driver is responsible for ensuring that all children under 16 are wearing a seatbelt or other appropriate restraint such as a babyseat. You must not allow a child to be carried on the lap of a front seat passenger. For a full list of exemptions from seat belts click here.
Here are the child restraint safety rules of the road:
- An infant is a child who is less than one year old or a child of any age who weighs less than 10 kg (22 lbs). Infants must be secured in a child seat that faces the rear of the car. It must meet the applicable Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The rear-facing child-seat must not be secured in a passenger seat that has an active frontal airbag.
- Children aged between one and nine and who weigh more than 10 kg (22 lb) but less than 18 kg (40 lb) must be placed in a child restraint system that meets the applicable Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
- Children under 9 years old, who weigh 18 kg (40 lb) or more but who are less than 145 cm (57 in.) in height must use a booster seat or other child restraint system that meets the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
These rules do not apply if you are visiting Nova Scotia from another province or country and you are driving your own vehicle, provided your vehicle complies with the child restraint safety laws of the province or country where it is registered. However, you and everyone else in the car, including children, must wear a seatbelt if one is available for the seat they are in.
For information about Canadas safety standards for child restraints systems visit:
- Transport Canada's 'Child Safety'website
- Canada Safety Council website
- Child Safety Link website - childsafetylink.ca: It operates from the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, NS, and has a Growth Chart outlining the stages of car seat safety
- Transport Canada's Vehicle Safety website (includes information about children & safe travel)
h. Daytime running lights
Drivers must use low-beam daytime running lights during daylight hours in Nova Scotia. Antique cars are exempt from this rule. The fine for a first offence of failing to use daytime running lights is $176.45. Go to novascotia.ca/tran/roadsafety/daytimelights.asp for details about this law.
For more information about the rules of the road visit Nova Scotias Registry of Motor Vehicles website.
i. Roadside driver's license suspensions for drinking & driving
Roadside license suspensions for drivers who get a warn on a roadside screening test, or whose breath test shows a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08 (50 to 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood) are :
7 days for a first suspension within 10 years;
15 days for a second suspension within 10 years;
30 days for a third or subsequent suspension within 10 years.
The police may also impound the drivers vehicle, and any towing and storage fees would have to be paid by the person who picks up the vehicle from the impound facility. Drivers who receive a roadside suspension also have to pay a license reinstatement fee.
The above penalties under Nova Scotia's Motor Vehicle Act are in addition to any criminal or other charges that may result from the same incident.
Click here for information about drinking & driving.
New rules under Nova Scotias Motor Vehicle Act require drivers to give cyclists extra room, and to stay out of bike lanes. The new rules apply as of 1 June 2011. Here is what you need to know!
When passing a cyclist you must:
- make sure there is enough space to safely pass, and
- leave one metre of space between your vehicle and the cyclist.
You are allowed to safely cross the centre line of the road in order to pass a cyclist.
You are not allowed to drive in a bike lane. There are some exceptions. For example, you may go into a bike lane if you need to:
- go around a left-turning vehicle or cyclist, or
- avoid hitting something on the road such as a pedestrian, animal, or other vehicle.
You must always yield right of way to any cyclist in the bike lane, and you are not allowed to park in a bike lane.
When riding your bike, you should:
- ride in the bike lane if there is one, or on the right side or shoulder of the road
- go with the flow of traffic, and
- stay in single file unless you are passing another cyclist.
The fine for not giving a cyclist one-metre of space is $291.45 for a first offence, while the fine for driving in a bicycle lane when you shouldnt is $693.95 for a first offence.
Click here for more about bicycle safety -gov.ns.ca/snsmr/access/drivers/be-a-safe-bicyclist.asp
Reviewed May 2015
Protection of Forests and Prevention of Fires
The Province takes measures to provide effective protection of forests and woodland during times when they are most vulnerable to fires, referred to as the 'fire season.'
Please be aware of the dangers of forest fires and the risk to people, wildlife and property during the fire season. You should not light a fire or cause a fire to be started in or within one thousand feet of forest or woodland during this time. You should be careful where and how you discard cigarette butts, as these can cause fires. When risk of forest fire is high the Province will issue a warning, it is an offence to light a fire in these areas if such a warning is in place.
In the counties of Queens, Shelburne, Yarmouth, Digby, Annapolis, Kings and Lunenburg the fire season lasts for the period between April 1 and October 15 each year, in the case of other counties of the Province, the period lasts between April 15 and October 15 each year. The fire season may be extended or shortened depending on weather conditions in each particular year.
The province may ban camping or access to high risk areas during the 'fire season.
Nova Scotias Smoke-Free Places Act prohibits smoking in all indoor workplaces and public places. Outdoor licensed areas and patios are also required to be smoke free. Click here for a complete list of places where smoking is prohibited, or call Nova Scotias Office of Health Promotion and Protection at 1-800-565-3611.
It is against the law to smoke in a vehicle when a minor (anyone under 19) is present, even if a sunroof, window, or a door is open. The fine for a first offence of smoking in a vehicle while a minor is present is $397.71.
If you commit an offence under the Smoke-Free Places Act and are convicted you may be fined up to $2,000.
Tax Rebates for Visitors
Effective April 1 2007 a new GST/HST rebate program, called the Foreign Convention and Tour Incentive Program, replaced Canadas old GST/HST Visitor Rebate Program.
Tax rebates are no longer available for tax paid on personal goods bought after March 31, 2007. In some very limited circumstances claims for a tax rebate may still be made under the old Visitor Rebate Program for short term accommodation. Contact the Canada Revenue Agency website: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/bsnss/tpcs/gst-tps/rbts/vstrs/fctp-eng.html- for further information about the new Foreign Convention and Tour Incentive Program, as well as eligibility requirements for making a claim under the old Visitor Rebate Program.
Tobacco Sales and Purchase
Because tobacco contains an addictive drug, it is against the law for retailers to sell or give tobacco products to anyone under 19. Persons wishing to buy tobacco may be required to show proof of age.
If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person under the age of 19 years is in possession of tobacco, the officer may search and confiscate any tobacco in their possession.