You need car insurance as a driver in the United States, even if you are not a U.S. citizen.
If you are a short-term visitor and want to rent a car, you can get the necessary coverage from the rental company. But, if you plan to stay here for a long time, you may need to buy car insurance for non-U.S. citizens from a U.S.-based company.
Here’s the definitive guide to car insurance for non-U.S. citizens.
- You can buy car insurance for non-U.S. citizens if you have an international driving permit and a valid driver’s license issued by your home country.
- If you want to rent a car, you can get insurance from a rental company if you have an international driving permit.
- Car insurance providers consider your age, driving history and credit history when deciding whether or not to insure a foreign driver.
- Car insurance requirements in the United States
- Types of car insurance coverage in the U.S.
- How do foreigners get car insurance in the USA?
- Car insurance for foreigners on short-term U.S. visitors
- Car insurance for long-term international visitors to the U.S.
- Car insurance with an international driving permit (IDP)
- How do you get an IDP?
- Do I need an international driver’s permit to drive in the USA?
- FAQs: Car insurance for non-U.S. citizens in the U.S.
Car insurance requirements in the United States
If you have plans to stay in the U.S. for more than a month, it will be wise for you to purchase or lease a car instead of getting a rental car.
To drive in the U.S., you must have a valid license and an auto insurance policy for non-U.S. citizens that meets state-mandated requirements. Most states require drivers to carry liability coverage, which varies by state but typically includes property damage and bodily injury protection.
Types of car insurance coverage in the U.S.
- Liability coverage: Liability covers the other driver’s bodily injury and any property damage if you are at fault in an accident.
- Collision coverage: Protects you if you’re at fault in a collision and your car is damaged.
- Comprehensive coverage: Protects against weather-related damage, theft, animal/vehicle collisions and vandalism.
- Underinsured/Uninsured motorist coverage: Helps you pay medical bills and even cover property damage if the other driver, who is at fault, does not have auto insurance.
- Personal injury protection: PIP covers the cost of medical treatment after a collision regardless of who is at fault.
How do foreigners get car insurance in the USA?
Your international driving permit proves you can drive in the United States. However, some states require you to have your IDP and your foreign license.
Zhaneta Gechev founded One Stop Life Insurance, which sells online life insurance. She is originally from Bulgaria and is based in Las Vegas. She also has had firsthand experience looking for auto insurance with an international driver’s license.
Even if you find an insurer who will cover you, you’ll want to shop for quotes to get the best rate and coverage.
“The best thing you could do is simply reach out to a broker,” says Zhaneta Gechev, founder of One Stop Life Insurance. “You could ask friends and family who they have insurance with.”
Like shopping for any other insurance policy, compare policies and insurers – but remember that not every carrier will clamor to sign you up.
“When we arrived in the States in 2005, we did not have U.S. driver’s licenses, and had to search for companies that would offer us auto insurance,” Gechev says.
Even though Gechev worked for State Farm then, she couldn’t get car insurance from State Farm.
“At that time, you were considered an inexperienced driver if you hadn’t had your U.S. license for more than three years. So, even with the U.S. license, I had to seek out other carriers,” Gechev says.
That’s why it can be hard to find car insurance for foreigners in the United States: If you haven’t been driving for a long time in America, or at all, an insurance company doesn’t know whether you’re a safe driver or one who will take a lot of risks. Since you have no substantial driving history in the United States, it’s hard for an insurance company to determine a price for your monthly premium.
What factors do car insurance carriers look at for non-U.S. citizens?
Several things could make it harder or easier to get car insurance if you are a non-U.S. citizen and hoping to drive in the United States with a foreign license – or even if you’re a non-U.S. citizen and you have a state driver’s license:
- Your age: Insurers tend to look more favorably on non-U.S. citizens seeking car insurance who are 25 or older (that’s the case for American drivers as well). Even if you have an IDP or a state driver’s license, if you’re younger than 25, you may have trouble getting insured – and you’ll likely pay higher monthly premiums than older immigrants. If you are younger than 18 and a non-U.S. citizen, your odds of getting car insurance are very low.
- Your driving history: If you’ve had any accidents or speeding tickets, that might hurt your chances of being insured, but it definitely will increase your premiums.
- Your credit history: Insurers can look at your credit history to determine your insurance eligibility and rates, except in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan.
Car insurance for foreigners on short-term U.S. visitors
If you are visiting the United States temporarily, it may not be worth buying a car insurance policy. It is best to get temporary car insurance coverage from any car rental agency, covering any accidents during your stay in the United States. This type of coverage is equal to liability coverage, which protects against costly damages caused by unintentional collisions with other vehicles on the road.
Car insurance for long-term international visitors to the U.S.
If you are going to stay in the U.S. for an extended time and planning to buy or lease a car, it is crucial to get an insurance policy of your own. In most states, driving or registering a vehicle requires auto insurance.
Car insurance with an international driving permit (IDP)
An international driving permit, commonly known as an IDP, is a document you get from your home country to prove you are licensed.
However, an IDP is not considered a valid driver’s license in the United States. Instead, it is a translation of your foreign driver’s license. And it should always be accompanied by the original driving license from your country of residence.
You also must fulfill your native country’s driving requirements to obtain a legal driving license. A legal driving license and an IDP are enough to prove your driving ability – so you do not have to take a driving test in the U.S.
How do you get an IDP?
You can apply for an international driver’s permit if you are at least 18 years or older and possess a valid driver’s license. You must check with your home country’s transportation and regulations department to get your IDP.
Also, ensure you get your IDP before arriving in the U.S. You can only get an IDP from the country where your license was initially issued.
Do I need an international driver’s permit to drive in the USA?
Yes. You need an international driver’s permit to drive in the U.S. You must fill out an application form and submit your identification details to get the permit. Apply for an international driver’s permit before leaving your home country.
Depending on your country of residence, you may need to contact your local post office or automobile association for more information on getting an IDP.
FAQs: Car insurance for non-U.S. citizens in the U.S.
How long will my international driver’s permit be valid?
International driving permits expire after a year, but it also depends on the format of the permit your country offers. Keep track of your license expiration date because your IDP will expire if you lose your driver’s license from your home country.
What happens if you don’t apply for your permit before arriving in the U.S.?
We recommend that you apply for an international driving permit in person before arriving in the U.S., but you can do it by mail if you can’t. For instance, if you need to drive to reach a particular destination and your stay exceeds a month, you can send the request by mail and have it back once approved.
Can I rent a car instead of purchasing auto insurance?
Renting a car is the best option if you only visit briefly. An international driving permit allows you to drive and rent a car and travel wherever you like.
What are the benefits of obtaining a U.S. license?
There are many reasons to get a U.S. driver’s license. Here are a few:
- Avoid fines: Obtaining a driver’s license for non-U.S. citizens reduces the risk of being fined.
- Makes communication with local authorities easier: It is always a good idea to have documents that make it easier to interact with local authorities.
- Low car insurance premium: Getting a U.S. driver’s license can help foreigners save money on car insurance. Not having one makes it difficult for insurers to assess the risk you pose, so you’ll pay higher rates.
– Geoff Williams contributed to this report.