May 17, 2020

Car Insurance for Foreign Drivers

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Planning on driving when you visit the U.S.? You're going to need car insurance. Find out how to get the right coverage for cheap.

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Not all foreigners visiting the U.S. need to buy car insurance. It all depends on your length of stay and the transportation available to you. Read on to learn more about when to buy car insurance.

Topics Covered in This Article:

U.S. Federal Law for Foreign Drivers

The United States has both federal and state laws pertaining to foreign nationals who plan to drive while in the country.

The federal law applies to all international drivers, whether they are here for:

  • Vacation;
  • Short-term visit;
  • School;
  • Work.

All foreigners driving in the U.S. must:

  • Be age 21 or older;
  • Have a valid driver's license from their own country;
  • Have car insurance.

This law applies to both foreign visitors and foreigners living in the U.S.

In addition to federal law requirements, some U.S. states also require international drivers to have an international driving permit. More on getting one in the next section.

International visitors also may need a U.S. tourist visa or an electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA) visa waiver. These documents are required to enter the United States.

Check the expiration date on your driver's license to be sure it won't expire during your U.S. travels. You cannot drive or obtain car insurance in the U.S. with an expired driver's license.

What Is an International Driving Permit?

An international driving permit (IDP) is a form of identification that allows an individual to drive a car in any country other than their own. It also may be required to get car insurance in the U.S.

An IDP is valid in 150 countries. It contains the following information that can be translated into 10 different languages:

  • Your name;
  • Your photo;
  • Your driver information.

Not all countries or jurisdictions recognize IDPs, so be sure to check the requirements for where you are traveling.

An IDP is issued in the state, jurisdiction, or country where you live. It is only legal when accompanied by your country of residence's valid driver's license.

Driving without a required IDP comes with hefty fines.

How to get an IDP: You obtain an IDP in your home country. It may be issued by a government agency, police station, your local motor vehicle department, or a private entity authorized to issue them.

You can apply for an IDP six months in advance of your travel date.

The application process typically requires these steps:

  1. Complete the IDP application form.
  2. Have 2 passport pictures taken to submit with the application.
  3. Bring a method of payment for the permit fee.
  4. Bring the application, passport photos, and your valid driver's license to the designated agency.
  5. Take your newly issued IDP home with you.

With some authorized agencies, you can obtain an IDP by mail. If allowed, you need to submit:
  • The completed application form;
  • A photocopy of both the front and back of your driver's license;
  • Your original passport photos signed on the back;
  • The applicable permit fee.

Auto Coverage Requirements for Foreigners

U.S. federal law requires all foreign visitors driving on American roadways to have car insurance.

Before driving in the U.S., international visitors must either:

  • Ensure their current auto insurance from home extends coverage to the U.S.;
  • Buy auto insurance.

Each U.S. state has certain insurance coverage requirements. State minimum coverage limits extend to foreign drivers as well.

Non-U.S. residents only need to buy the minimum auto insurance coverage required for the state in which they are living. If you temporarily drive into another state, you do not have to meet that state's minimum coverage requirements.

Common to most U.S. states is bodily injury and property damage liability coverage. In some states, personal injury protection replaces the bodily injury requirement.

What is Bodily Injury Liability Coverage?
Bodily injury liability coverage helps pay for the medical bills of others that result from a car accident you caused. It also covers legal expenses, funeral costs, and other accident-related injury expenses.

It is sold in per-person and per-accident coverage limits. Each state dictates the minimum coverage amount drivers must have.

For example, a state with a 20/50 minimum bodily injury limit means $20,000 per person and $50,000 per accident of coverage.

What is Property Damage Liability Coverage?
Property damage liability helps pay for property damage that results from a car accident you caused.

It is sold in per-accident coverage limits, with each state setting its own minimum coverage limit.

What is Personal Injury Protection?
Personal injury protection (PIP) pays for your medical bills resulting from a car accident, regardless of who caused it. Coverage includes hospital care, ambulance transport, home health care, and lost income.

PIP is common in no-fault states. In these states, it doesn't matter who caused the accident. The applicable insurance companies pay the losses of their policyholders involved in the accident.

In some states, both PIP and bodily injury liability coverage are required.

In addition to liability coverages, international visitors financing or leasing a vehicle must also buy comprehensive and collision coverages.

What is Comprehensive Coverage?
Comprehensive coverage helps pay for damage to your car caused by fire, theft/vandalism, weather, or other damage not caused by a collision.

What is Collision Coverage?
Collision coverage helps pay for damages to your car as a result of an accident you caused.

Both comprehensive and collision coverage are sold per accident and include a deductible. A deductible is the amount you pay out of pocket before your insurer pays the rest of the claim.

As part of your trip planning, check the Department of Motor Vehicle websites for the state(s) you plan are staying in. This research will ensure you buy the proper amount of car insurance for your travels in the U.S.

It is a criminal offense to drive without auto insurance in the U.S. Penalties range from hefty fines to vehicle seizure.

Requirements for Short-Term Visitors

Short-term foreign visitors driving in the U.S. must have auto insurance from an insurance company that does business in the United States.

Short-term foreign visitors are defined as staying no more than 3 months.

If your trip involves staying a week or more in several states, you'll need to check all those state's minimum insurance requirements.

If you plan on driving during your stay, all states require that you have:

  • Your foreign driver's license;
  • A biometric passport;
  • Auto insurance coverage.

Currently, Georgia is the only state that requires an IDP for short-term international drivers.

The requirements for international drivers pertain to all types of motor vehicle driving situations, such as:

  • Renting a car;
  • Using a car-sharing service;
  • Using a family member's or friend's car.

Many car rental agencies have changed their policies and are now requiring an IDP when renting a car. Some have also upped the required age to rent a car from 21 to 25.

Renting a Car
Car insurance included in a rental car agreement generally meets most state requirements. The cost of rental car insurance is high, usually around $40 a day. And that doesn't include the cost of a loss damage waiver, which covers damage to the rental car.

Check your credit card benefits first before buying the rental car agency's coverage. Some include car rental insurance if you use the credit card for the car rental.

Also check any travel rewards or group discounts from auto clubs or shopping clubs you belong to.

Shop around and get quotes from the numerous rental car agencies. Compare both the base rental insurance price and the added protection, like the loss damage waiver.

Using Car- Sharing
Most car-sharing networks in the U.S. require international drivers to be at least 25 years old. To open an account, you need to provide a photo of your passport, driver's license, and your face looking directly into the camera.

Expect to pay a joining fee, around $25 to $35, and some charge a monthly membership fee. Then, you pay by the hour or day to use a car-share vehicle. Rates vary by service and city, with a range of $8.25 to $14.99 an hour. Daily rates average around $75.

Car insurance is typically included in the usage price of the vehicle. Some rates also include the cost of gas.

Plans and rates vary between car-sharing services, so shop around. Before joining, read the agreement to be sure it provides the legally required coverage for the states you are traveling in.

Borrowing a Car
Family members or friends lending you their car should contact their auto insurance company. Most policies cover any individual driving the vehicle, but you should verify if this includes foreign drivers.

The auto insurer may require the policyholder to add the foreign guest as a temporary additional driver to the auto policy. The purpose of getting temporary auto insurance coverage is to help cover the costs if an accident occurs.

Car Insurance for Residents in U.S. Bordering Countries
Residents of Canada and Mexico who cross the border into the U.S. to work, shop, or visit must comply with U.S. auto insurance requirements.

Border service officers often check for a valid driver's license and auto insurance before allowing you to drive over the border.

Mexican and Canadian drivers can use their own country's driver's license and are not required to get an international driving permit to enter the U.S.

Requirements for Long-Term Visitors

In most U.S. states, foreign visitors who stay for more than 3 months are considered to be temporarily living in the U.S.

In these instance, you may need to get a U.S. driver's license and car insurance from a U.S. provider.

Some things to know:

  • Residency requirements for getting a U.S. driver's license differ among states. Check with the motor vehicle department in the state where you plan to reside.

  • Even if you don't need to get a U.S. license, most states require foreigners staying long term to have an international driving permit.

  • Car insurance is required. Check the state where you plan to reside for its minimum insurance requirements.

  • You need a driver's license to buy car insurance from a U.S. auto insurer. Some will accept a valid driver's license from your home country.

If you plan on renting a car, using a car-share service, or borrowing a car, the same auto insurance requirements for short-term international visitors apply.

Leasing a car is a common option for long-term foreign visitors. A short-term lease ranges from 12 to 24 months. More common leases range from 24 to 36 months.

Alternatively, you can buy a new or used car. At the end of your stay, you can either sell it or export it to your home country.

Both options involve a temporary U.S. registration and a U.S. driver's license.

In order to register the car, proof of auto insurance is required. Two available options are:

  • Buy temporary auto insurance coverage. Among the car insurance companies offering short-term auto insurance are Nationwide, GEICO, and Progressive.

  • Save by buying a 1-year auto insurance policy. However, look for auto insurance companies that allow you to cancel coverage at any time without charging a short rate fee or penalty.

Very few insurers will sell a car insurance policy to foreign drivers without a state-issued driver's license.

Insurers With Options for Non-Citizens

Many U.S. insurers will only sell auto insurance policies to foreign drivers if they have a U.S. driver's license. Some may also require a U.S. address.

Farmers and Progressive insurance companies are among the very few that accept an international driver's license when providing online auto insurance quotes.

Other major insurers, like State Farm, GEICO, and Allstate, do not sell auto insurance online to foreigners.

International visitors are not required to have a U.S. Social Security number to buy car insurance in the U.S.

How Much Is Car Insurance for Foreigners?

When pricing an auto insurance policy, insurers use an applicant's driving history, driving experience, accident and violation records, and credit history.

Since this information is not often available to car insurers, foreign drivers may pay more for an auto insurance policy than U.S. residents.

On average, car insurance for foreigners costs between $310 for the state minimum and $825 for full coverage for a 6-month policy.

Progressive has the cheapest rates for foreign drivers. A 6-month policy costs about $395. Farmers is somewhat higher at about $675.

The cost may run higher depending on your age, gender, and where you are living in the U.S.

Compare the cost of a 6-month and a 1-year auto insurance policy. It might be cheaper to buy the 1-year policy and cancel it when your visit ends.

Where to Find Cheap Car Insurance for Foreigners

The best way for international visitors to find cheap car insurance is to contact U.S. providers before arriving in the United States.

A good source is insurance comparison websites. These online companies work with many auto insurers throughout the U.S. They know which ones offer car insurance to foreign drivers. They also can get you quick and easy policy quotes for comparison shopping.

Another option is a U.S. insurance broker. Search for a broker in the state where you plan on staying for most of your visit.

Insurance brokers have extensive dealings with many auto insurance providers. They know which ones insure foreign drivers and provide the cheapest rates. This is helpful since most U.S. insurers do not give online price quotes or issue a policy online to foreign drivers.

A broker can also advise you on what to do if you plan on visiting multiple states for the same length of time.

Instead of a traditional auto insurance policy, ask about non-owner car insurance. This cheap car insurance covers you when sharing, borrowing, or renting a vehicle. Policies typically provide bodily injury and property damage liability coverages only.

How to Buy Car Insurance as a Non-Citizen

Foreigners buying U.S. car insurance go through a similar application process as U.S. residents. These steps include:

  1. Shop online to get quotes using an insurance broker or insurance comparison website. For non-residents, this step should be done before arriving in the U.S.

  2. Contact the insurer to confirm it sells auto insurance policies to drivers with a foreign driver's license. Also ask about other eligibility requirements, like an international driving permit.

  3. Have pertinent information ready. This includes your foreign driver's license number, your contact phone number or email address, your mailing address while in the U.S., and vehicle registration details (if available).

  4. Submit payment. You will be asked to pay for the first month of insurance to secure the policy.

  5. Bring your policy with you. The policy may be provided to you via email or through the insurer's customer portal. You may want to print the declarations or coverage page and keep it with you as you travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is my auto insurance policy from my home country valid in the U.S.?
A. Not necessarily. It's best to check with your auto insurer to find out. Also, depending on where you are visiting in the U.S., the state may require additional coverage or higher coverage limits than your current policy.

Q. Can a non-citizen get U.S. car insurance?
A. Yes, a few U.S. auto insurers sell car insurance policies to foreigners.

Q. How do international drivers get insurance?
A. There are 4 ways:

  1. Rent a car while visiting the U.S. Car rental insurance can be purchased from the rental car agency.
  2. Use a car-sharing service. Car insurance is included in the usage price.
  3. Be added to the car insurance policy of a family member or friend.
  4. Buy U.S. auto insurance before leaving your home country. Check out insurance comparison websites or insurance marketplaces online. Alternatively, contact by phone or email an insurance broker or agent in the area of the U.S. you will be visiting.

Q. Do I need a U.S. driver's license to get car insurance in the U.S.?
A. No. Some insurers will cover you even if you don't have a U.S. driver's license. But getting a license can lower your rates if you plan to live long term in the U.S. Check the requirements in your state to apply.

Q. Will my driving experience and history transfer to a U.S. auto insurance policy?
A. Probably not. Most likely, you will be considered a new driver and pay higher rates. But, you'll see your premium decline after 6 months in the U.S. if you don't have any traffic violations or accidents.

Q. How much car insurance do I need when traveling in the U.S.?
A. All states require some form of bodily injury and property damage liability coverage. Keep in mind that this only covers injuries and damages you cause to others. It does not include your own injuries or damages to your car.

Q. Can I add a foreigner to my car insurance?
A. Yes. You have two options:

  1. Adding the international driver to your policy as an additional driver: Your insurer will need to know if this person will be operating your vehicle regularly or occasionally.

  2. Adding the international visitor's vehicle and its drivers to your policy: Your auto insurance carrier will discuss coverage options, restrictions, and added costs.

In both cases, contact your insurer to find out its procedure. Typically, you will need to provide the international driver's name, date of birth, and international driver's license number.

Bottom Line

All drivers in the U.S., including foreign visitors, must have car insurance. However, that doesn't necessarily mean an auto insurance policy from a U.S. insurer.

Car insurance is usually included when foreign drivers rent a car, use a car-sharing service, borrow a car, or lease or buy a new or used vehicle.

To take advantage of these options, you need to secure certain documentation before leaving for the U.S. You also may need to contact a U.S. auto insurance provider for guidance on available options and insurance requirements.

As part of your trip planning, compare your car insurance options to determine which one is best for your visit. Then, take the time to compare prices online to get the best value.

You'll enjoy your stay in the U.S. much better if you make car insurance arrangements beforehand.

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