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Car insurance for foreign drivers in USA
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The United States, a melting pot of cultures and experiences, welcomes millions of foreign visitors each year. For those traveling from abroad, understanding how to navigate car insurance in the U.S.A. can be a crucial aspect of their journey. Whether visiting as tourists or residing here on visas, foreign drivers may need personal transportation to access the nation's sprawling metros. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for car insurance in the U.S.A. for foreigners, which Bankrate explains in detail below.
US car insurance for short-term visitors
For short-term visitors to the U.S., whether traveling for business or leisure, navigating car insurance requirements can be a key part of planning their trip. For those who opt to rent a car, the most practical solution is often to obtain rental car insurance directly from the vehicle rental company. This approach simplifies the process, as short-term visitors generally are not eligible to purchase policies directly from standalone car insurance providers in the U.S.
Vehicle rental companies usually provide a range of insurance options. These include baseline liability coverage, collision coverage or loss-and-damage waivers, personal effects coverage and personal accident coverage. Opting for one or more of these insurance choices can provide adequate protection for short-term stays in the U.S., aligning with the specific needs of the visitor.
For Canadian drivers, the situation often proves more convenient. Canadian auto insurance policies are typically valid in the U.S., and in many cases, these policies may extend to cover rental vehicles. However, it is advisable for Canadian drivers to verify the extent of their coverage with their insurance company, as well as with the rental car company, to ensure adequate protection during their stay in the U.S.
US car insurance for long-term visitors
For long-term visitors, such as students or specialized workers on visas, finding suitable car insurance can be a significant aspect of their stay. While obtaining affordable car insurance for foreigners in the U.S.A. can be challenging without an American driver's license, there are viable options available. It's possible (and often advisable) for these individuals to apply for a U.S. driver’s license, even if they hold a valid license from their home country.
Having an American driver's license could ease the process of acquiring car insurance. Most insurance providers favor a U.S.-issued license as it helps them assess the driver's risk profile more accurately. For foreign drivers in the U.S.A., this step can not only facilitate the acquisition of car insurance but may also lead to more economical rates. Additionally, building a driving record here could be beneficial in the long run, as a history of safe driving might result in lower insurance premiums over time.
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 operate a vehicle with a foreign license. You may only be able to drive with an overseas driver’s license for up to three months.
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 is not mandatory, having one may be 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 their choice and see that you are a valid driver.
To get an international driver’s permit, contact your home country’s traffic or motor vehicles agency to apply for one before you plan to leave. It may take around two weeks to receive your IDP, so be sure to apply well in advance. An IDP is typically valid for one year from when you get it and includes your information displayed on the driver’s license. You will likely need to provide a passport-style photo that the agency can attach to the IDP.
US car insurance requirements
Car insurance for foreign drivers in the U.S. also 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 helps pay for damage and injuries others sustain in an accident you cause. A small number of states also require you to have underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance, which steps in to help pay your expenses if the party at fault does not have insurance.
In no-fault states, drivers usually carry coverage for personal injury protection (PIP) and/or medical payments to cover their medical expenses regardless of fault in addition to liability coverage. PIP pays for medical and burial costs, lost wages, childcare expenses and other household services, regardless of who was at fault in the accident. Medical payments coverage only covers medical payments.
Car insurance rates by state will vary based on local factors such as local cost of living, population density and crash statistics. Your car insurance rates will also vary based on whether you have full or minimum car insurance coverage. While minimum coverage car insurance is typically cheaper, it can leave you financially vulnerable in the event of an accident. If your car insurance doesn’t cover the full amount of damages, you may end up having to pay out-of-pocket. Minimum coverage also does not include coverage for damage to your own vehicle. Full coverage car insurance, on the other hand, includes coverage for your vehicle, may include other optional types of coverage and is more likely to protect your finances.
Do I need to buy car insurance if I visit the US?
Car insurance is legally required for all foreign visitors operating a vehicle in the U.S. (except in New Hampshire), regardless of how temporary your stay may be. If you plan on driving a rental car in the U.S., most rental companies will offer the option to purchase coverage for the entire rental period, as the protection extends to the rental vehicle itself.
Some foreign visitors choose to ship their foreign vehicles to America instead. This is an option that will require you to purchase a separate car insurance policy before you can legally operate your vehicle on U.S. roadways. Many of the cheapest car insurance companies can help you find the right amount of coverage for your foreign vehicle at an affordable rate, so you can begin driving as soon as it arrives.