Car insurance is required if you drive a car in the United States, even if you're not a resident. The best car insurance for foreign drivers depends on how long you plan to be in the country. Short-term visitors to the US can get rental car coverage directly from the rental company. Long-term foreign drivers who purchase or bring a car should buy a car insurance policy from a U.S. company. And some states may require you to get a US driver's license if you're staying for a few months.
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.
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 and check the laws in the state you will drive in.
Car insurance for long-term international visitors
Progressive offers online car insurance quotes as low as $68 per month for foreign drivers with an internaional driver's license. That's only $2 more per month than a US citizen would pay.
If you're staying in the U.S. for a few months 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.
You may also be able to get coverage from popular car insurance companies 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 you can call to speak to an agent who specializes in helping drivers with foreign licenses get car insurance.
Local insurance companies that sell auto insurance to foreign drivers
A handful of smaller auto insurance companies advertise that they offer 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 insurance companies that sell car insurance to foreign drivers include:
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.
License requirements vary by state, so check with your state's DMV to see whether you need to get a license. 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 to compare rates.
United States car insurance requirements
In the U.S., car insurance requirements vary by state, including 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 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. And insurance companies and rental car companies usually won't sell you coverage that does not meet the legal minimum.
Common required car insurance coverage
- Liability coverage: Pays the other driver's medical and car repair expenses if you cause a crash.
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: Covers your own medical and car repair expenses if the other driver causes a crash but does not have insurance.
- Personal injury protection: Pays for your medical bills after a car crash, regardless of who causes the accident.
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:
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, meaning you might have to pay 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 need to get an IDP before you arrive in the U.S. because 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 required to by state law. An IDP will prevent 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 between states.
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 a scam.
You may be required to get a U.S. license
Depending on the laws where you’re staying in the U.S., you may be required to get a local driver's license to legally drive there. For example, in Florida, international visitors must get a Florida driver's license if they live there for more than six months or are employed there.
How to get car insurance as an undocumented immigrant
All states require a license to drive a car, and most require auto insurance as well. For undocumented immigrants, this can be a serious challenge. Without a driver's license, you cannot purchase an auto insurance policy that lets you 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 check 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:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
Frequently asked questions
How do I get car rental insurance in the USA for foreigners?
If you're visiting the U.S. for a short time and renting a car, the easiest solution is to buy a policy from the car rental agency. If you're renting a car for a period of a month or more, it may be worth it to contact a car insurer for your own policy. Progressive, for example, will sell foreign drivers policies completely online.
How much is car insurance for international drivers in the U.S.?
Your car insurance rates will depend on where you are staying, your driving history and what kind of car you're insuring, but a foreign driver in Texas will pay about $68 per month for a basic policy.
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:
|Bodily injury liability||$30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident|
|Property damage liability||$25,000|