- For international drivers in the US, most states allow you to drive with your foreign driver’s license, although a few states will also require an International Driving Permit which must be obtained in your country of origin.
- Many US insurance companies sell auto insurance for foreign drivers, but it pays to shop around because it can be expensive.
- As an American driving abroad, whether an expat, a student, or a visitor, you are required to purchase insurance in most foreign countries. However, you may still want to carry supplemental international insurance purchased in the US to ensure adequate coverage should you be in an accident.
Going to school abroad, on vacation, considering a move? Or like so many people today, are you planning to travel and work remotely from exotic locations? In this new world without limits, you can pursue the life you want, but there are still basic issues, like car insurance, that you must situate.
These may be questions you are asking yourself. Can non-US citizens drive with a foreign license in the US? Do you need temporary car insurance for foreign drivers? If you are a US citizen visiting Mexico or Canada, do you need different car insurance?
We’ll look at these issues for foreign drivers driving in the US and also take a look at getting insurance as an American traveling to a foreign country.
Driving in the US with a Foreign Driver’s License
Americans love their cars and the infrastructure of most major metropolitan cities and rural areas are laid out to be car-centric. That means that visiting the US may require driving. So, does your current driver’s license work in the US?
Most states in the US will allow you to operate a vehicle with a foreign driver’s license. However, there are a few states where you need an International Driving Permit (IDP). IDPs can be obtained in your home country.
An IDP can be a smart choice if you are traveling through multiple states or plan to be here for an extended period. There’s no need to take a test — the IDP simply translates your home country driver’s license into English.
If you are planning to obtain car insurance during your stay, an IDP may be required by the insurance company.
Can I Get a US Driver’s License?
It isn’t necessary (or even possible) for short-term stays.
However, if you intend to stay for an extended visit or will be employed and receive a Social Security Number (SSN), then you will want to get a driver’s license in your state of residence.
Temporary Car Insurance for Foreign Drivers
Now that you have the driver’s license figured out, you need to decide on car insurance for international drivers.
Keep in mind, it is illegal to drive without car insurance in most US states — only Virginia and New Hampshire forego the mandatory requirements. However, while Virginia and New Hampshire don’t require car insurance, they do require a large financial bond or cash deposit be in place to cover a potential accident.
Ideas for Short-Term Foreign Drivers
Get on Someone’s Policy
If you are going to be in the US for a short time, you may want to be added to someone’s existing policy (if it’s allowed). This saves the hassle of find car insurance for a short visit.
Rental Car Insurance
All rental car companies in the US offer rental car insurance. It is usually quite affordable to get full coverage for a short term stay and will pay off big if you are in an unfortunate accident. Also, many credit card companies will offer car insurance if you use their card to pay for your rental fees.
Ideas for Long-Term Foreign Drivers
If you plan to be in the US for an extended period of time, it may make sense to get car insurance for international drivers through a reputable insurance company.
The best way to find reasonable rates is to contact an insurance marketplace, like einsurance.com. Here you can get your questions answered and find out pricing for an international insurance policy from the companies that carry this type of product.
Types of Car Insurance for International Drivers
Before you talk with an insurance agent, it’s a good idea to understand the types of insurance available. You can get full coverage insurance or opt for liability insurance. Keep in mind, if the car you will be driving is not owned outright or is leased, you will be obligated to purchase full coverage comprehensive coverage to protect their asset.
Full Coverage Insurance
Full coverage insurance policies include liability coverage (outlined below) as well as comprehensive coverage which covers your medical costs and any damage done to your car, including vandalism, weather, and theft.
Liability Coverage Only
While liability coverage meets state requirements for minimum coverage, it is not recommended unless you are driving a car that has little or no replacement value.
Liability coverage will have bodily injury coverage for any injuries sustained by the other people in the accident as well as property damage coverage to help pay for any damage to other people’s property or vehicles.
Some states will also require liability coverage that includes personal injury protection (PIP) coverage that will cover your medical costs should you be injured.
Lower Insurance Costs When in the US
Car insurance can be expensive in the US. Most insurance companies determine their rates based on your driving record and credit history (among other things) and since you don’t have either in the US, you are treated as a ‘high-risk driver’.
For cheap insurance for international drivers try these tips:
- If, determined by your circumstances, you can obtain permanent residency and a state-based US driver’s license, then by all means do. Once you have a valid driver’s license and can build up some safe driving time, you will be seen as less of a high risk and eligible for lower rates.
- Since you are considered a high-risk driver, then you may get better rates if you drive a car that has strong safety features.
Drivers from Canada and Mexico
Canadian drivers are not required to have an international driver’s license or special insurance when traveling in the US. They are fine using their regular Canadian driver’s license and insurance anywhere in the states.
Mexican drivers can use their Mexican driver’s license for up to three months before needing to get an international driver’s license. However, their insurance from Mexico is valid as long as it meets each state’s requirements for coverage.
What if You are an American Driving Abroad?
Many countries require you to carry local compulsory liability coverage. However, you may want to consider purchasing international car insurance from an US car insurance company to supplement your local foreign policy.
Does My Existing Car Insurance Cover Me in a Foreign Country?
No (except in Canada, but more about that below). Domestic insurance policies do not cover you outside the US because of territory restrictions.
When Renting a Car
If you are traveling abroad and plan to rent a car, it’s highly recommended that you get the best coverage offered by the rental company (or your credit card company if you are paying by card). And while they should be current on the specific country’s legal requirements, it’s always a good idea to double check with that country’s embassy website to ensure you obtain the proper coverage.
When Driving Your (or Someone Else’s) Vehicle
Whether you make a temporary move to a new country and take your vehicle or you borrow someone else’s car, you will need to purchase an international car insurance policy that offers borderless world-wide coverage.
You can get insurance once you are in country, but it may be easier to contact your local US insurance broker for help in obtaining the right coverage for your needs. Most major insurance companies either offer international insurance policies or can refer you to an insurance company that does.
What About My Driver’s License?
The US State Department recommends that you get an IDP as an official translation of your current driver’s license. This way, no matter what country you are visiting, you have an official document allowing you to drive.
The IDP is easy to obtain and there is no test required — just contact the American Automobile Association (AAA). They accept applications online, by mail, and at their local branch offices.
The State Department also recommends reviewing the country’s driving laws before arriving. Different countries have driving laws that may be difficult to understand, but are the law, nonetheless. For example:
- It’s illegal in Australia for drivers to stick their arms or hands out the window except to signal. The fine can be over $200. And if you splash a person waiting at a bus stop by driving through a puddle, you risk a fine of $2,200.
- You can’t drive while wearing flip-flops or sandals in Spain without risking a €200 fine.
- In Sweden, it’s illegal to drive without lights on (anytime of day or night).
- And if you’re a smoker, don’t even think about smoking and driving in Greece.
While some of these laws may seem outlandish, countries do have laws that differ from the laws in the US and it’s your responsibility to understand them when driving in that country. You can get driving laws and safety information at each country’s embassy or their consulates in the US.
Driving in Canada or Mexico
In Canada, your current driver’s license and car insurance are valid. However, in Mexico, your driver’s license will be valid, but you will need to purchase Mexican insurance immediately upon crossing the border (or hopefully before).
Penalties for driving without valid Mexican insurance can be steep and if you get into an accident, you can be in serious legal trouble, especially if alcohol is involved.
Whatever country you drive in, be sure to always carry adequate documentation (both printed and digital if possible) while keeping a second set safe at your hotel or apartment.
Finding Car Insurance for International Drivers
Today, it’s more convenient than ever to find affordable car insurance for international drivers. In the past, you would have to track down individual insurance companies and contact each one for a rate quote. This was especially difficult if you were living in another country, had a language barrier, or had limited access to the internet.
Today, an insurance marketplace, provides all the information you need as well as a quote engine that allows you to add some of your personal information to get a free, no-obligation insurance rate quote from multiple national insurance companies.
From there, you can compare rates, talk with the individual agents, and select the insurance coverage option that works best for you and your circumstances.
The Final Word
Travel, whether for work, education, or vacation, is an opportunity to see the world. And being able to drive in a foreign country allows you even more freedom. All it takes is a little pre-planning and a few dollars.
If you are a foreign national visiting the US, it’s important to obtain car insurance and to have the right driver’s credentials, preferably an IDP. That means obtaining either a full coverage policy or a liability only policy which is dependent on the type of vehicle you will be using.
If you are traveling through multiple states, it’s also important to understand the driving laws from state to state as well as the insurance requirements.
As a US citizen traveling aboard, you will want to obtain international insurance through your trusted insurance broker or through an insurance marketplace where you can review multiple coverage options.
When you’re in the market to shop for an international insurance policy, einsurance.com is here to answer your questions and find you the best deal available.