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How non-citizens can drive and insure a car in the United States


Driving a car

To drive in the United States without a valid U.S. driver's license, you need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). You need to have an IDP before going to the United States; you cannot get one here. You should also carry your license from your home country, as it will be required in some states for you to drive.

Residents (Non-U.S. Citizens)

If you live in the U.S. but are not a citizen, you should be aware that residency requirements for obtaining a U.S. driver's license are different in each state. Check the requirements and find out how to apply in your state's department of motor vehicles. If you are eligible to apply for a driver's license, you must get a driver's license from the state where you live.

Insuring a car

Not all insurance companies will sell you insurance if you don't have a valid United States driver's license. Some will if you have a valid foreign license, but only if you are getting a U.S. license within a short period of time, usually 30 to 45 days. No insurer will sell you insurance if you don't have a valid license; international driver permits only allow you to drive internationally, not insure a car.

International students can learn everything they need to know about the process by reading our international student guide to driver licenses and car insurance.

If you're able to buy car insurance, start comparing quotes on car insurance to find yourself the best rate. If you want to learn more about car insurance before jumping into the buying process, read our guide on how to buy car insurance online, which will walk you through some of the basics of car insurance in the United States.

Buying and registering a car

Buying and registering a car can also be tough without an established U.S. credit history and state driver's license, but it can be done. Look for a dealer that is experienced with buyers who have visas and pay cash for the vehicle if possible, since financing when you have only a year on your visa will be difficult. Almost all states require you to show proof of auto insurance when you register your vehicle, so make sure you can get this before buying a car. Our guide on how to insure a new car explains the process in detail.

Renting a car

Renting a car is a viable option while you obtain a U.S. license or a car for yourself. Most rental companies will rent a car to you if you have a driver's license from your home country that is in English.

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5 Responses to "How non-citizens can drive and insure a car in the United States"
  1. jean Van der Elst

    I'm coming from Mexico to the USA. I have a Belgian registered car. It can stay one year in the USA. Who can offer me an insurance policy for the car?

  2. ian

    An IDP does not allow a holder to drive overseas, it is a translation of their own countries driving license should that license NOT be in English. One is NOT available for UK residents wishing to drive in the USA and it seems to me that insurers are consistently asking UK residents for proof of this non existent permit in order to offer lower rates, which makes no sense.

    1. Elizabeth May 25, 2017 at 7:50 AM

      I don't believe this not correct as far as UK residents with UK driving licenses are concerned. You get an IDP from either the RAC or the AA (can apply at some Post Offices even), and both will not only issue one for people intending to drive in the USA (costs a bit under $10) but recommend that you have one. The AA application form doesn't even ask where you are going when you apply. I had one when I drove in Pennsylvania, got insurance through the AAA with it. Remember though, an IDP is NOT a license, you MUST have your original UK license with you as well.

        Reply »  
    2. Cat February 17, 2017 at 7:16 PM

      You can get an International Driving Permit from the Post Office for about $5. It translates into English AND into other languages, hence "International". Granted you don't really need it to go from an English speaking country to an English speaking country, but if a police officer with a gun (rightly or wrongly) asks me where my Permit is, I'd like to hand it over, rather than say "Umm..."

        Reply »  
  3. Cosimo

    California does not recognize international driving permits. You can drive with a foreign license only until you become a resident (see DMV site).

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