Car insurance for foreign drivers in USA

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According to Pew Research, the foreign population reached almost 45 million people in the U.S. by 2018. Many of those foreigners own or lease vehicles, pay for auto insurance and drive daily.

Getting car insurance when you’re in the country long term (or temporarily as a tourist, on an F1 student visa or an H-1B specialty worker visa) is possible. If you’re looking for car insurance for foreigners in the USA, there are a few options to consider.

U.S. car insurance for short-term visitors

Short-term visitors include individuals in the country for a few days or weeks. The visit may be for business or personal reasons. It’s likely that you’ll be renting a vehicle, which is the easiest option. When you rent a car, you can purchase additional insurance on a daily basis that provides you with financial protection if the vehicle was damaged, stolen or vandalized, or you caused an accident and damage to others.

Although renting a car is the most convenient way to access a vehicle, don’t forget to look out for charges that can affect your car rental cost, such as rental car insurance. For example, Enterprise charges (per day):

  • $5.13 to $13 for personal accident insurance and personal effects coverage
  • $8 to $17 for supplemental liability protection
  • $11.99 to $16.99 for a collision damage waiver, although some vehicle models could cost more

As you can see, adding a CDW to your rental vehicle can end up doubling the daily rental cost you were expecting to pay. To save on rental car insurance, check with your credit card company about whether you have extended rental vehicle coverage. You may be able to skip the expensive rental car insurance many people buy at the car kiosk and opt for your credit card’s coverage instead. Make sure your credit card offers international insurance that applies to the United States.

Canadian drivers can use their home country’s auto insurance while in the U.S. Check with your agent before you travel to confirm. The car coverage may be the same — if you own an older-model vehicle back in Canada with liability-only insurance but plan on renting a high-end new car in the U.S., your home’s car insurance may not provide enough coverage.

U.S. car insurance for long-term visitors

Longer-stay visitors on a visa, such as a student or specialized worker, may have trouble getting affordable insurance coverage if they don’t have a U.S. driver’s license. The insurance company will have less information to work with about the driver, potentially flagging the foreigner as higher risk.

For the best rates on car insurance for foreigners in USA, longer-term visitors should apply for a U.S. driver’s license. Having an American driving record will help you save on your car insurance when it’s time to buy a policy.

International drivers permits

If you plan on temporarily driving in the U.S. with a driver’s license from your home country, be aware of the local rules about how long you may legally drive on a foreign license. You may only be able to drive on an overseas driver’s license for up to three months.

It may not be an issue if you’re only visiting for a short period. But if you intend on staying stateside longer than a handful of weeks, some states advise you to get an international driver’s permit. Even if an IDP isn’t mandatory, having one is a good idea. The document doesn’t replace your foreign-held driver’s license — it serves as an accompanying translation of it. If you get pulled over, the officer can look up the translation of your foreign driver’s license in the IDP booklet in the language of his or her choice.

To get an international driver’s permit, contact your home country’s traffic or motor vehicles agency to apply for one. An IDP is typically valid for one year from when you get it and includes your information displayed on the driver’s license. You’ll need to provide a passport-style photo that the agency can attach to the IDP.

US drivers permits

A U.S. driver’s permit is not as difficult to get compared to other parts of the world. Many states provide study materials (online and printed) and tests in multiple languages. The cost of getting a driver’s license is also affordable compared to other countries. For example, preparing and getting a driver’s license in Germany could cost up to $3,700 vs. as little as $20 in the U.S.

U.S. car insurance requirements

Car insurance in USA for foreign drivers all depends on where you plan on staying. Each state in the U.S. has its own rules and insurance requirements. Most states only ask for liability insurance to legally drive, which pays for the damages and losses you cause to others. A small number of states also require you to have underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance, which steps in to pay your expenses if the party at fault didn’t have insurance.

Another type of coverage some states will require before you can legally drive is personal injury protection. Also known as no-fault insurance, it pays for medical and burial costs, regardless of who was at fault in the accident.

Frequently asked questions

What is a REAL ID?

A REAL ID is a driver’s license that can also be used as identification when you fly. The U.S. is phasing out traditional driver’s licenses and replacing them with REAL IDs.

Do I need to buy car insurance if I visit the U.S.?

If you’re only visiting America for a short period and plan on renting a car, you won’t need to buy car insurance. Your rental vehicle comes with some coverage and you can always pay a daily fee for additional coverage.

Can I use an international driver’s permit without a license?

The IDP only serves as a translation of your foreign driver’s license. You cannot replace your foreign driver’s license with an international driver’s permit.