When Do I Need to Buy Out of State Car Insurance?

When Do I Need to Buy Out of State Car Insurance?

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Your car insurance policy will cover you for temporary trips out of state, but for long-term stays, you may need to update your policy to match your new residence. You can't live in one state and buy car insurance in another. In general, your car insurance should correspond with your state of residency—where you actually live. So if you haven't moved houses, you can probably keep the same car insurance. However, there are some exceptions for part-time residents like college students and people who spend the winter in warmer climates.

Does My Insurance Cover Me When I'm Traveling Out of State?

For shorter trips of a few days or weeks, almost all car insurance policies will cover you anywhere in the United States, regardless of how far you travel or how frequently you make the trip. This includes vacations to other states as well as commuting from one state to another, such as if you live in New Jersey and drive into New York City for work.

Additionally, if you have the minimum legal coverage for your state and get in an accident while on an interstate trip, your insurance policy will function as though you had the appropriate minimum amount of car insurance for the state in which the accident occurred. For example, if you live in Tennessee and you get in a crash in a no-fault state, you would be able to use PIP coverage to pay for your medical costs after the accident, even if you don't have that coverage.

Traveling Internationally

You shouldn't assume your car insurance policy is valid in other countries, even if you can drive there. Some car insurance policies will protect you if you're driving to Canada but may not in Mexico or other countries south of the U.S. Check with your insurance company before you go, as they can confirm whether your policy will cover you. And if you don't already have coverage, your auto insurance company will likely be able to sell you a temporary endorsement to cover you while you're traveling.

You Can't Live in One State and Have Insurance in Another

In general, you need to buy car insurance in your state of residency. It's typically illegal to live in one state and register your car in another. Plus, if your insurer finds out, it will likely cancel your coverage and deny any pending insurance claims you have. Every state has its own definition of residency, but typically, if you continuously live in a state for more than a few months, or live and work full time there, you are considered a resident.

For people who split their time between multiple states, such as snowbirds who own a winter home in a warmer climate, or college students who attend college out of state, the answer is a little complicated. In general, you must register and insure your car in a state in which you are a resident. Since every state has its own definition of what constitutes a resident, that means the requirements for who must register their vehicle will depend on the state you will be living in part-time. For example, Arizona requires drivers to register their car with the Arizona DMV if they live in the state more than seven months per year. But in Arkansas, it's only six months.

Additionally, some states (as well as Washington, D.C.) require you to register your car with the DMV even if you do not qualify as a legal resident—so check with your area's DMV to see what you need.

Exception: College Students Who Attend School Out of State

College students who attend school in a different state than where they grew up may or may not need to buy a new policy—it largely depends on the laws of the state. For example, people going to college in Idaho are specifically allowed to maintain out-of-state registration, while Connecticut students are not. Some states, like Massachusetts, allow out-of-state students to maintain a primary registration elsewhere, but must notify the local police department of the vehicle.

Within a given state, you are more likely to be required to purchase student car insurance in the state the school is located if the following are true:

  • The student legally owns the car and has their own separate insurance policy (not on the parents' insurance).
  • The student lives in the state year-round (i.e., does not go home for breaks).

In either case, we recommend that you check with your insurance company to see if you are required to update your policy in order to protect your vehicle while at school, just to be safe.

Exception: Seasonal Residents and Snowbirds

People who own multiple homes and split their time among them will generally have to register their vehicles and buy insurance in whichever place they spend the majority of their time. For example, if you live eight months out of the year in Connecticut but spend four winter months in Florida, you would buy insurance in Connecticut, with that policy covering you even while you're in Florida.

Keep in mind that some states require you to register your car even if you're residing in that state temporarily. For example, people who stay in Georgia for more than 30 days at a time must register their car with the Georgia DMV, even if they are not residents. Additionally, if you have a vehicle you keep at your secondary home year-round, you'll need to buy coverage for the state in which the car is located.

Exception: Members of the Military

Most states allow members of the military to keep their car registration and insurance in the state they maintain their legal residence, even if they are stationed in a different state for months or years at a time. You'll need to check your state's residency laws, as well as verify with your insurance company that you're adequately insured. It can also help to get insurance through a company that specializes in working with members of the military, like USAA or GEICO.

Mark is a Senior Research Analyst for ValuePenguin focusing on the insurance industry, primarily auto insurance. He previously worked in financial risk management at State Street Corporation.

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