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Car Insurance for International Visitors to the U.S. & Those with a Foreign Driver’s License

Car Insurance for International Visitors to the U.S. & Those with a Foreign Driver’s License

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Car insurance is required of anyone who drives or owns a car in the United States, even if the driver is not a resident of the U.S. or has a foreign driver's license. But the best car insurance depends on how long you plan to be in the country. Short-term visitors to the United States who rent cars can typically buy the necessary insurance coverage directly from the rental company.

Longer-term international visitors who purchase cars (or bring one from their home country) may need to buy auto insurance from a U.S.-based company. Additionally, some states require longer-term visitors to get a license, even if they don't intend to stay permanently.

Car insurance for short-term foreign visitors

People who are visiting the U.S. for a short time, such as for a vacation, probably won't need to buy car insurance from a stand-alone insurer. The easiest option is to get temporary insurance coverage directly from the car rental company. This coverage serves as an equivalent to liability insurance, which pays for any damage or injuries you might cause to another driver if you're deemed at fault in an accident.

Most car rental companies will also offer you another layer of protection that pays for any damage to the car itself, instead of simply covering your legal liability after an accident. Whether the peace of mind from additional coverage is worth the extra fee is largely a personal decision based on your comfort with driving in the U.S. and your tolerance for financial risk.

{"backgroundColor":"ice","content":"\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EMost car rental companies will also offer you another layer of protection that pays for any damage to the car itself, instead of simply covering your legal liability after an accident. Whether the peace of mind from additional coverage is worth the extra fee is largely a personal decision based on your comfort with driving in the U.S. and your tolerance for financial risk.\n","padding":"double"}

Additionally, visitors from Canada, especially those driving their own cars, will likely be protected by their Canadian insurance while driving in the U.S. Check with your insurance company, as well as the laws in the state you will drive in, to be sure.

Car insurance for long-term international visitors

If you're staying in the U.S. for a sustained period of time and are planning on buying or leasing a car, you will need to get your own insurance policy. Auto insurance is a requirement in order to register and drive a vehicle in most states. Unfortunately, car insurance is not always simple or cheap to get for international visitors.

Progressive stands out among popular car insurance companies because it allows you to get a quote online with an international license. A six-month minimum coverage policy for a driver with a foreign license costs just $25 more than for a U.S. driver, which breaks down to just over $2 more each month.

Insurer
Price for foreign driver
Price for American driver
Progressive$408$383

You may also be able to get coverage from another major national insurance provider by speaking with an insurance agent on the phone or in person. State Farm, for example, requires you to enter a Social Security Number or a driver's license number to get a quote online — but some of their agents specialize in helping drivers with foreign licenses get car insurance.

Small insurers that sell auto insurance to foreign drivers

A handful of smaller auto insurance companies advertise that they provide insurance for drivers with foreign licenses. However, several of these providers — such as Infinity and Gainsco — specialize in working with high-risk drivers, which means they may charge higher rates.

Small insurers that sell car insurance to foreign drivers include:

  • Hallmark
  • Gainsco
  • Assurance America

In general, visitors from overseas are likely to pay more for car insurance. American car insurance companies use your driving history — like how long you've been licensed and recent accidents — to determine your rates. Without a U.S. license, an insurance provider won't have access to this information and may charge you higher rates.

{"backgroundColor":"ice","content":"\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EIn general, \u003Cstrong\u003Evisitors from overseas are likely to pay more for car insurance\u003C\/strong\u003E. American car insurance companies use your driving history \u2014 like how long you've been licensed and recent accidents \u2014 to determine your rates. Without a U.S. license, an insurance provider won't have access to this information and may charge you higher rates. \n","padding":"double"}

You may be required to get a U.S. license

Depending on the laws of the place in which you’re staying in the U.S., you may be required to get a local driver's license in order to legally drive there. For example, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, international visitors must get a Virginia driver's license if they live there for more than six months or are employed there.

Application requirements vary by state, so check with your state's DMV to see whether you need to get one. Regardless of local laws, the best way for any driver — whether they have a U.S. or foreign driver's license — to get affordable insurance is always to compare rates.

United States car insurance requirements

In the U.S., car insurance requirements vary by state, both in terms of the type and amount of coverage mandated. Fortunately, if you have coverage that meets the legal limits in one state, you will be covered if you travel temporarily to another.

For example, if you fly into New York City and rent a car at the airport, you'll have to get coverage that meets or exceeds the limits in New York. But if you drive to another state, like New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you won't need to worry about meeting the auto insurance requirements there. Furthermore, insurance companies and rental car companies usually won't sell you coverage that does not meet the legal minimum.

Common required car insurance coverages

  • Liability coverage: Pays the other driver's medical and car repair expenses if you are at fault in a crash
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: Covers your own medical and car repair expenses if the other driver is at fault but does not have insurance
  • Personal injury protection: Pays for your medical treatment after a car crash, regardless of who is responsible

Not all of these coverages are required or available in every state, so check with your host state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if you're concerned about meeting its requirements.

For example, the minimum insurance requirements in California are as follows:

Coverage
Minimum coverage amount
Bodily injury (BI) liability insurance$15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident
Property damage (PD) liability insurance$5,000 per accident

The state insurance minimum will be the cheapest, but there are tradeoffs to buying the lowest allowed amount of insurance. In many states, buying the minimum amount of insurance only covers the other driver's injuries and damages, leaving you on the hook for repairs to your own car.

Do I need an international driver's permit as a foreigner in the U.S.?

To drive in the U.S., foreign residents must have their foreign license with them. Some states also require foreign residents to have an international driver's permit (IDP) to legally drive within their borders.

An IDP is a document issued by your home country that translates your driver's license into several languages, including English. Because the permit is only a translation of your regular license, you'll need both documents to be considered "licensed" in places that require it. You will also need to get an IDP before you arrive in the U.S., since the U.S. does not provide them to international visitors.

We recommend getting an IDP when visiting the United States, even if you're not obligated to by state law. An IDP will mitigate any confusion or difficulty if you get in a crash or are pulled over, especially if your home license is not in English. It also allows you to travel freely among states if your itinerary changes.

{"backgroundColor":"ice","content":"\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EWe recommend getting an IDP when visiting the United States, even if you're not obligated to by state law. An IDP will mitigate any confusion or difficulty if you get in a crash or are pulled over, especially if your home license is not in English. It also allows you to travel freely among states if your itinerary changes.\n","padding":"double"}

The term "international driver’s license" or IDL is sometimes used colloquially to describe an IDP. However, this is an inaccurate term, and any organization claiming to issue or accept an IDL is likely in error or outright fraudulent.

Getting car insurance as an undocumented immigrant

All states require a license to drive a car, and the vast majority require auto insurance as well. For undocumented immigrants, this poses a serious challenge. Without a driver's license, you cannot purchase an auto insurance policy that allows you to drive.

If you are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, you can get a driver's license in any state. If you are not eligible, though, you may not be able to get a driver's license — and consequently, you won't be able to get insurance. Only 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia currently permit undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses.

The process for getting a driver's license as an undocumented immigrant varies among these states, so consult your state's DMV website for steps on how to obtain a license. The states where unauthorized immigrants can get a driver's license include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Methodology

We compared Progressive's rates for two 30-year-old male drivers with clean records who live in Austin, Texas. Both drivers have not had auto insurance in the past 31 days and plan to put 10,000 to 11,999 miles per year on the 2015 Honda Civics they purchased within the last month.

One driver has moved from outside the U.S. within the last two months and holds a foreign driver's license; the other has not moved at all and holds a U.S. driver's license. Both have been licensed to drive for at least three years and are employed full-time as engineers.

Both drivers opted for a minimum-coverage policy, which in Texas includes the following limits:

Coverage
Limit
Bodily injury liability$30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident
Property damage liability$25,000

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.