How to Get a Custom License Plate in Ontario?

By Arthur Dubois | Published on 03 Aug 2023

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Like it or not, our vehicles say so much about us. If you choose a flashy sports car over a brown sedan, you’re telling the world about yourself via your ride. But you can certainly speak volumes with a custom licence plate with a unique message.

For example, a fan of Star Wars could get a laugh with JEDI IAM, CAR2D2 or TOY YODA on a Toyota Corolla. Or you could point out you’re driving an electric vehicle with a note like SKIP GAS or BY BY GAS. 

In this article, we will explore the ins and outs of getting a custom license plate in Ontario. From understanding the basics to navigating the application process, we have got you covered every step of the way.

What is a Custom License Plate?

A custom license plate, also known as a vanity plate, reflects your personality and interests. It can feature a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols that hold meaning for you. Perhaps you want to display your name, a favourite phrase or a memorable date. Your custom license plate can transmit your message in a fun way.

If you buy a car in Ontario, this process truly makes the vehicle your own. Imagine driving down the highway and seeing a license plate that spells out LOST or OMG MOVE. Instantly, you get a glimpse into the driver’s sense of humour and their love for driving. Custom license plates allow you to make a statement without saying a word.

Eligibility Criteria for Custom License Plates in Ontario

Now that you understand the basics, let’s talk about the eligibility criteria for getting a custom license plate in Ontario. While custom license plates offer a world of creative possibilities, you must meet certain requirements before you can get one.

Age and Residency Requirements

To qualify for a personalized license plate in Ontario, you must be at least 16 and have a driver’s licence for this province. This ensures that only individuals who could legally drive could acquire a personalized license plate.

Ontario takes pride in its diverse population, so custom license plates allow residents to showcase their individuality and personal interests. As a long-time resident or recent arrival, having a custom license plate can express your connection to this vibrant province.

Further, you must also clear away any past fines for speeding or other highway infractions before making your purchase. You can buy a plate for yourself or as a gift to another driver.

Vehicle Specifications

When it comes to cars, Ontario allows custom license plates for various types, including sedans, SUVs and sports cars. This means that regardless of the type of vehicle you own, you can still personalize your license plate to reflect your personality or interests.

For cars, trucks and larger vehicles, your message can take up two to eight characters. However, if you add a logo as well, you can only write out six characters. These can be letters or numbers. For motorcycles, you face a limit of two to five characters. However, you cannot put personalized licence plates on limited-speed motorcycles. Typically, these vehicles cannot go over 70 km/h.

Yet, you can also add custom plates to a commercial vehicle. We’ve seen a tow truck with NOCAR4U and hearses with EXPIRED and UR NEXT south of the border. A tire recycler once put plates on his truck that read TIRED. Why not share our ability to laugh on our vehicles too?

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for a Custom License Plate

Now that you know the eligibility criteria, let’s dive into applying for a custom license plate in Ontario. Although it takes a few steps, the process unfolds in a quite straightforward way.

Before we get started, let’s explore some interesting facts about custom license plates. Did you know that Ontario offers almost 70 different graphic designs for custom license plates? For example, you could add a graphic from this menu:

  • 25 community organizations
  • 11 sports teams
  • 10 heritage groups
  • 6 universities
  • 5 charities
  • 4 professions (professional and volunteer firefighters, paramedics and engineers
  • 3 government icons
  • 2 environmental groups
  • 2 heart-themed logos
  • 1 arts group (square dancers, really!)

Additionally, these custom license plates express your personality and also support various causes. For example, the proceeds from some custom license plates go towards funding hospitals or supporting environmental initiatives.

For veterans, you can order a licence plate with a poppy on it to reflect your military service. However, you cannot personalize your motorcycle plate if you add a graphic. Finally, amateur radio operators can order custom licence plates with their call letters on them.

Choosing Your Custom License Plate Design

First, you must come up with a clever idea for your custom license plate. Take some time to brainstorm ideas that best represent your personality or interests. You could combine numbers and letters that hold personal meaning or a unique design that speaks to your individuality. If someone already used your idea, you’ll have to come up with a Plan B.

Some drivers refer to a nickname or a favourite saying. You could opt for the quintessential Canadian SORRY EH? Or you could tie in the car model name. For instance, RUBIKS on a Nissan Cube or KIA PET on your KIA Rio. Think about how you can make other drivers’ smile during their commute – and yours!

Once you have decided on your design, make a note of it to complete the application form. You have to keep it short so think about what letters you can exclude but still have a legible message. You can always use numbers like 8 to replace ‘ate’ sounds or X instead of ex.

Completing the Application Form

With your design in mind, it’s time to complete the application form. You can fill it out online or at your local ServiceOntario location. Fill out the form accurately, providing all the necessary information, such as your personal details and chosen license plate design.

When filling out the application form, double-check your information for accuracy. Any errors or missing information can delay the processing of your application. Take your time and ensure that all the required fields are properly filled out.

If you choose to submit it online, you will receive a confirmation email with further instructions. If you prefer to submit it in person, make sure to bring all the required documents and identification, such as your driver’s licence or registrant identification number (RIN).

If you want to buy a custom licence plate as a present, you can buy a gift certificate for the person. However, if you choose one for them, you can only transfer it once before attaching it to a vehicle. 

This also applies if another driver sees your unique plate and offers to buy it from you. If you do this, you get another chance to come up with a catchy new custom plate! Alternatively, if you are selling your car in Ontario for good, why not give your old plates new life by passing them onto another driver?

Paying the Application Fee

At this time, you must pay an application fee, which varies depending on the type of custom license plate you choose. You can pay online or in person at a ServiceOntario location via Visa, Mastercard or Interac® Online. Here’s what each option costs:

  • Convert a regular licence plate to a personalized licence plate for any vehicle – $310
  • Add a graphic to a personalized licence plate – $141.10
  • Replace a personalized plate – $100.70
  • Graphic licence plate – $82.15
  • Replace a graphic licence plate – $54.60

This fee covers the production and processing of your custom license plate and contributes to various programs in the province. By applying for a custom license plate, you support important causes and make a positive impact in your community.

Keep in mind that the fee is non-refundable, so fully commit to your design choice before submitting your application. Take some time to reflect on your decision to ensure you truly send the right message to other drivers.

Once you have paid, you will receive further instructions regarding the delivery of your custom license plate. Typically, your plates will go into the mail within four weeks.

And there you have it! A step-by-step guide to applying for a custom license plate in Ontario. Remember, this is a unique opportunity to showcase your individuality and support meaningful causes. So, take your time, choose a design that speaks to you and smile as you dream of seeing it on your bumper.

What to Expect After Application

With your completed application and payment submitted, what happens next? Let’s take a look at what you can expect after applying for a custom license plate in Ontario.

Processing Time for Custom License Plates

Once your application lands in an inbox, staff at the Ministry of Transportation will process it. On average, it takes approximately six to eight weeks to produce your custom license plate and deliver it to your address.

During this processing time, your application will go through several stages. First, it will be reviewed by a licensing officer who will ensure you provided all the necessary information and that the application is complete. They will also check for any errors or inconsistencies that may need to be resolved before the production of your custom license plate can begin.

Once your application passes the initial review, it goes to the production team. Here, skilled technicians will use specialized equipment and materials to create your unique custom license plate design. They will carefully follow the specifications you provided in your application, ensuring that every detail is accurately reproduced. 

Next, your custom license plate will undergo a quality control check to ensure that it meets the highest standards. This includes verifying the colours, font and spacing, then checking for defects or imperfections in the final product.

Previously, inmates at jails in Millbrook and Lindsay, Ontario made licence plates, including the custom ones. However, since 1991, Trilcor Industries (operated by the Ministry of the Solicitor General) has manufactured all Ontario plates in Milton, Ontario. After outsourcing the work in 2017-18, it came back to Trilcor again due to quality control issues. 

After the quality control check, the plates get packaged and prepared for delivery. The Ministry of Transportation takes great care in packaging and handling your custom license plate to ensure that it arrives in pristine condition. In fact, they even have a personalized licence plate service guarantee.

Installing Your Custom License Plate

Once you have received your custom license plate, it is your responsibility to properly install it on your vehicle. The Ministry of Transportation provides guidelines on how to securely attach your license plate to ensure it remains visible and complies with the law. If you are unsure about the installation process, don’t hesitate to seek assistance from a professional or contact ServiceOntario for guidance.

Ontario stands among three Canadian provinces that require drivers to have plates on the front and back of each vehicle. Therefore, you must put both plates on your vehicle.

Each plate comes with four holes for screws. Simply remove your old plates and replace them with the new ones. Some cars only have two spots to attach the top of your plate to the car. You’ll need a Phillips screwdriver with a cross-shaped end to affix your new plates.

When you trade in a car in Ontario, you take your custom licence plates with you. After all, the plates belong with the driver, not the car. Now, you get a chance to add them to your new ride!

Rules and Regulations for Custom License Plates in Ontario

While having a custom license plate allows for personal expression, you must follow the rules set by the Ontario government. These guidelines ensure that license plates remain respectful and within the boundaries of the law.

Acceptable and Unacceptable License Plate Designs

When designing your personalized license plate, adhere to the acceptable guidelines set by the government. In short, you cannot use inappropriate language, offensive content and references to illegal activities. 

Above all, the rules aim to prevent the use of:

  • sexual messaging or references to sexual or other bodily functions
  • abusive, obscene language and derogatory slang in any language, even text-messaging 
  • religious meaning or messaging, except for formal designations, such as Father or Reverend
  • reference to the use, sale or effects of legal or illegal drugs
  • alcohol brand names
  • slurs to political figures, dignitaries or law enforcement officials
  • negative or derogatory messages with respect to government
  • false associations with a public institution and/or law enforcement
  • reference to well-known figures or names
  • messages that promote discrimination or bias against individuals
  • messages that express contempt, ridicule or superiority of anyone under Ontario’s Human Rights Code

For example, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation has rejected these personalized Ontario licence plates: 1 PHATASS, SHIT.SHO, IHATE401, MRCOVID and TRUMPED1. On the religious front, drivers couldn’t get MERYXMAS, FRUMHELL or LUCIFER4. Other failures include: GANGST3R, V1OLENCE, 1BIGWILY, LAFART, BUY.WEED, BEER2GO AND SO.HIGHH.

On top of those criteria, the message must be easy to read. For example, if you repeat a letter four times or more, it makes it harder for people to report it to the police. Even some messages that use S instead of 5 may not pass the test. For instance, these plates never made it to a public road:

  • NOT45ALE

Also, you cannot order a plate that mocks the graphic you’ve chosen. In other words, if you intend to criticize a rival sports team, you’re out of luck. If you don’t pass the review for any of these criteria, you get a refund with an administrative fee deducted. In other words, you want to get it right the first time.

Finally, your request must not violate any intellectual property or trademarks by using a brand slogan. However, you still have a wide variety of options to find something that works for you.

Renewing Your Custom License Plate

Custom license plates in Ontario must be renewed annually. Failure to renew your license plate can result in fines or even having your personalized plate revoked. Keep track of the renewal date and ensure you complete the renewal process on time to avoid any issues.

You can sign up for email reminders so you never lose track. You just need your driver’s licence number, health card number and postal code. 

Now that you are armed with the knowledge of how to get a custom license plate in Ontario, it’s time to embark on your creative journey. Express your individuality, show off your style and turn heads with a custom license plate that is uniquely you. 

Start brainstorming design ideas, gather the necessary documentation and follow the step-by-step process to make your personalized plate a reality. Get ready to hit the road in style and let your personality shine with a custom license plate in Ontario!

Arthur Dubois is a personal finance writer at Hardbacon. Since relocating to Canada, he has successfully built his credit score from scratch and begun investing in the stock market. In addition to his work at Hardbacon, Arthur has contributed to Metro newspaper and several other publications