You will need car insurance as a driver in the United States, even if you are not an American citizen. Auto insurance with an international drivers license being necessary in the United States it is important to know which type of coverage you need, and how long that coverage will last.

For example 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 are planning to stay here for a long time, you may need to buy car insurance for non-U.S. citizens from a U.S. based insurance company. It can be a long and confusing road, but don’t worry, we will steer you through this.

Key Highlights
  • You can buy car insurance for non-U.S. citizens if you have an IDP, and a valid license issued by your home country.
  • It will not be easy to get car insurance for a non-U.S. citizen if you have no driving history in the United States.
  • If you want to rent a car, you can get insurance from the rental company as long as you have an IDP.
  • Car insurance providers consider your age, driving history and credit history when deciding to insure or not insure a foreign driver.

What Is an International Driving Permit?

International driving permit, commonly known as an IDP, is a document that you get from your home country to prove that you are licensed.

However, an IDP is not considered a valid driver's license in the United States, instead it is a translation for your foreign driver’s license. And it should always be accompanied with the original domestic driving license.

Besides, you will have to fulfil your native country's driving requirements and get a hold of a legal driving license. Having a legal driving license and an IDP is enough to prove your driving ability. If you have both the documents, then you will not have to appear for any driving test when you arrive in the U.S.

Do I need an international driver’s license for driving in the USA?

Yes, you need an international driver's permit for driving in the U.S. In order to get the permit, you will have to fill an application form and submit your identification details. Make sure you apply for an international driver's permit before leaving your native country.

Depending on your country, you may need to contact your local postal office or automobile association for more information on getting an IDP.

How to get an IDP?

You can apply for an international driver’s permit (IDP) if you are at least 18 years or older and possess a valid drivers' license. To get your IDP you'll need to check with the transportation and regulations department of your respective country.

Also, make sure you get your IDP before arriving in the U.S. You can only get an IDP from the country where your license was originally issued.

What Should I do if I Want to be Insured to Drive, but I don’t have an International Driving Permit?

OK, now things get a little trickier and more frustrating. Sorry, and we wish we didn’t have to say that. But it’s true. Because you can only get an international driving permit out of the United States, which doesn’t issue them, you’ll almost certainly have to get a driver’s license in the state that you live in.

And that can be a hurdle, says Francis Jervis, a British expat who moved from London to California and then to New York and back to California again. He made the attempt to get his driver’s license in 2012, after finishing grad school, was unsuccessful and then didn’t try again until last year.

(When he lived in New York City and its extensive public transit system for several years, he didn’t feel like he needed a car.)

Jervis, who now owns a company called Augrented, an apartment review website, says that some of the hurdles you might face in getting your license – depending on the state you live in – include having to go to driving school, which can get expensive. You also may want to go to driving school, if you don’t have much experience driving, as was the case for Jervis.

But what was really hard for Jervis was – he didn’t own a car and couldn’t buy one without car insurance. Meanwhile, because he didn’t own a car, he couldn’t practice driving in one for his test. To practice driving in a professional instructor’s car takes a lot of time and money.

“Turns out it’s about the same cost to get a pilot’s license,” quips Jervis.

He ended up using the car of a friend to practice in. His friend sat in the passenger seat while Jervis drove them around for many, many hours.

(Incidentally, Jervis had been worried that his friend’s car insurance might go up, with Jervis being behind the wheel, but his friend was told that there would be no change in the rates. Which will probably be the case for most people, though if you have a friend or family member letting you drive and practice in their car, he or she may want to contact their insurance agent to ask, just in case, but you’ll probably find that there’s no problem with you practicing behind the wheel – as long as the licensed and insured driver is with you and sitting in the front passenger seat.)

On the plus side, Jervis says that once he felt he was comfortable enough driving on American roads, the driving test was easy – far easier than what his international friends have told him driving tests are like in other countries.

A couple years ago, "The Daily Mail" wrote an article about some of the hardest driving tests in the world, and it backs up Jervis’s assertion that you may be nervous about taking an American driving test, but you probably shouldn’t be.

In Denmark, for instance, you might be asked to drive on a slippery track and you have to take seven hours of first aid theory. In England, you may be asked to drive backwards around a corner. In Japan, you may be asked to reverse around an S-curve -- and need to take a hearing and physical fitness to drive.

What are the insurance requirement in us?

If you have plans to stay in the U.S. for more than a month, it will be wise of you to get your own car instead of getting a car on rent.

In order to drive in the U.S., you must have a valid license and auto insurance policy that meets state-mandated requirements. Most states require drivers to carry liability coverage, which vary by state but typically include property damage and bodily injury protection.

Car insurance coverages required

  • Liability coverage: It covers bodily injury and property damage of the other driver if you are at fault in an accident.
  • Collision coverage: You'll be protected when you're at fault in a collision and your car is damaged. It comes with a deductible that you pay before insurance kicks in.
  • Comprehensive coverage: It covers damages to your vehicle that are not caused by collisions instead provide protection against any damage related to weather, theft and vandalism.
  • Underinsured / Uninsured motorist coverage: It will help you pay medical bills and even cover property damage if the other driver at fault does not have auto insurance.
  • Personal injury protection: It will cover the cost of your medical treatment after a collision regardless of who is at fault.

The coverage requirement can vary by state, so before buying any of the coverages check with your state's department of motor vehicles (DMV).

How do I Get Car Insurance if I am a Non-U.S. Citizen?

Hopefully before you came to the United States, you were able to secure an international driving permit, or an IDP. That serves as proof that you can drive in the United States. That said, some states require you to not only have your IDP with you when you’re out and about, but also your home country’s license.

So if you have an IDP, and your home country’s license is valid, then the process may end up being very easy. You look for a car insurance carrier that you trust and like, and get some quotes, and then talk to the insurance agent at the carrier to make sure that you will be able to get a policy. Or before you look for quotes, you can call an insurance agent or broker and ask.

Still, even if you find an insurer who will cover you, you’ll want to shop around for quotes and see if you can do any better – so you can get the best rate and coverage.

That’s what Zhaneta Gechev recommends. Gechev is the founder of One Stop Life Insurance, which sells online life insurance. She is originally from Bulgaria and is based out of Las Vegas. She also has had first-hand experience looking for auto insurance while on an international driver’s license.

“The best thing you could do is simply reach out to a broker,” she says, adding: “You could ask friends and family who they have their insurance with.”

If it makes you feel any better, Zoriy Birenboym, CEO of eautolease.com, an auto leasing website, says that they have had a lot of customers with international driving permits – and he says that most insurance companies will insurance drivers with IDPs.

“They usually make you get a defensive driving course, and they also want you to be usually over 25 years old,” Birenboym says. “Then once they insure you, they give you usually six months to a year to get a normal state issued driver's license.”

Once I do have My U.S. Driver’s License, is it easy to find Car Insurance for a Non-U.S. Citizen?

Yes and no. You will probably find an insurance carrier to insure you, but not every carrier be clamoring to sign you up, unfortunately. “When we arrived in the states in 2005, we did not have US driver's license and had to search for companies to offer us auto insurance,” Gechev says.

The irony? During this time, Gechev started working for State Farm – and couldn’t get car insurance from them.“At that time, you were considered an inexperienced driver if you hadn't had your US license for more than three years. So even with the U.S. license, I had to seek other carriers,” Gechev says.

And that’s why it can be hard to find car insurance for foreign drivers. If you haven’t been driving for a long time in America, or at all, other than perhaps taking a driving test in a friend’s car, an insurance company doesn’t know whether you’re a potentially safe driver or one who will take a lot of risks.

You have no substantial driving history in the United States, and so it’s hard for an insurance company to come up with a price for your monthly premiums.

What Factors are Car Insurance Carriers Looking for when Deciding to Insure or Not Insure a Foreign Driver?

Good question. There are a number of things that could make it harder or easier to get car insurance if you are non-U.S. citizen and hoping to drive in the USA with a foreign license – or even if you’re a non-U.S. citizen and you have a state driver’s license.

Your age: As Birenboym mentioned earlier, insurers tend to look more favorably on non-U.S. citizens who are 25 years of age or older (actually, 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 under 18 and a non-U.S. citizen, your odds of being insured are going to be extremely low.

Your driving history: If you’ve had any accidents or speeding tickets, that might hurt your chances of being insured, although more likely, you’ll be insured – but your rate will be higher.

Your credit history: Insurers can look at your credit history to determine your eligibility for insurance and your rates, except for the state of California, Hawaii and Massachusetts, where that’s against the law.

Car insurance for short-term Foreign visitors

If you are visiting the United States for a short period, let's say for some work related stuff or vacation, it may not be worth buying a car insurance policy. It is best to get temporary car insurance coverage from any car rental agency which will cover any accidents that occur during your stay in the United States.

This coverage serves as a type of auto safety net and is equal to liability coverage. It provides protection against costly damages caused by unintentional collisions with other vehicles on the road.

Car insurance for long-term Foreign visitors

If you are going to stay in the U.S. for an extended time and planning to buy or lease a car, it is important to get an insurance policy of your own.

In most states, auto insurance is necessary to drive or even register a vehicle. However, for international visitors, it can be difficult or expensive to get car insurance depending on what state they are visiting.

What’s the Difference Between Car Insurance for Short-Term and Long-Term Foreign Visitors?

If you’re here for the short-term, and you’re renting a car, as long as you have an IDP, you probably can easily get car insurance from the rental company. But you may want to follow Nicco Schaal’s advice and rent ahead, from the country you live in.

Schaal is a business owner who lives in Obertshausen, Germany and owns Domain-inventory.com, selling English, German and French website addresses.

“I often travel to the United States and usually rent a car at the airport with one of the principal agencies. Everything always runs very smoothly,” Schaal says. “The reason and the secret are to book the car in Germany with the German Automobile Club (ADAC). Rentals always include total coverage, and the agents in the United States, at the pick-up point know that.”

He adds: “Certain credit card companies, like American Express, also add insurance when a reservation is made with their card.”

But there are plenty of drivers who aren’t vacationing or coming for short business meetings – especially in the age of the coronavirus – but may be here for college or visa workers. And they may need to buy and insure a car.

People in those situations, Gechev says, “might be able to obtain a driver's license that matches the expiration of their visa or simply look for carriers that are lenient on international driver's licenses. Regardless, of cost, it is necessary to find a carrier. You could buy a policy and pay for it on a monthly basis until you sell the vehicle.”

On the other hand, if you’re staying for a long time, and your foreign driver’s license is set to expire, and you can’t drive a rental around indefinitely, you’re back to probably back to needing to get an American driver’s license for the state you’re in – and then getting car insurance.

Generally, all roads lead to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Gechev says, “We would advise international drivers to try to get a US license as soon as they can. I understand that sometimes that may not be obtainable due to immigration status, inability to speak English or pass the written test.

However, there are states that are a bit more lenient when it comes to the issuance of a driver's licenses and that might be an option.”

So if I am a U.S. non-citizen and I want a driver’s license, and I’m having trouble getting one, what should I do?

Don’t panic. Don’t stress. It may be an anxious situation since many people need cars to get to work in America, but there are insurance companies that are going to work with you – and some of them will be more likely to insure you if they know that you’re moving to the area and establishing your residence in the state.

But one way or another, if you’re a non-U.S. citizen who wants to get car insurance, you’re going to get from Point A to Point B.

It may take a few phone calls and comparing one insurer to another, but you’re going to find a good insurer. And compared to everything you’ve likely already done to move from one country to another, you may even find getting car insurance as a foreign driver a breeze and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Frequently Ask Questions for international car insurance?

International driving permits expire after a year, but it also depends on the format of the permit your country offers. Make sure to keep track of your license expiration date because your IDP will expire once you lose the driver's license from your home country.

We recommend that you apply for an international driving permit in person before arriving in the U.S, but if you can't, then you can do it by mail. For instance, you need to drive to reach a particular destination and your stay exceeds for more than a month. You have the option to send the request by mail and have it back once approved.

Renting a car is the best option for you to get around if you're only visiting for a short amount of time. International driving permit allows you to drive and you'll be able to rent a car and travel wherever your destination may lie.

You should have enough coverage before you hit the road. Try to get some or all the coverages mentioned below to prepare for driving in the USA

  • Personal accident policy– If you get hurt in a car accident, it will pay for your medical treatment.
  • Loss damage waiver – It is an additional insurance coverage that you can buy if you rent a vehicle.
  • Additional liability insurance– It covers the damages and bodily injuries that you cause to others.
  • Personal property coverage– Pays for the valuables if they are lost or damaged.

Make sure to buy adequate coverage to protect yourself from the costs of unforeseen accidents.

There are so many good reasons to get a U.S. driver's license, you can find some of them mentioned below:

  • This will keep you from being fined: Drivers license for non U.S. citizens is a good option if you want to reduce your risk of being fined.
  • Makes communication with local authorities easier: It is always a good idea to have documents with you that make it easier to interact with local authorities.
  • Low insurance premium: Getting a US driver's license can help you save money on insurance. Not having one makes it difficult for insurers to assess the risk you pose as an insured and so they charge accordingly with higher rates.