You need car insurance as a driver in the United States even if you are not an American citizen.

Car Insurance for Non U.S. Citizens

Auto insurance with an international driver’s license is necessary in the United States, so it is important to understand which type of coverage you need and how long that coverage should last.

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 we have the definitive guide to car insurance for non-U.S. citizens.

Key Highlights
  • 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.
  • 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 international driving permit.
  • Car insurance providers consider your age, driving history and credit history when deciding to insure or not insure a foreign driver.

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

Yes, you need an international driver's permit to drive in the U.S. In order to get the permit, you will have to fill out an application form and submit your identification details. Make sure you 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.

What is an international driving permit?

An 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 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. Having a legal driving license and an IDP is enough to prove your driving ability – with both the documents, you will not have to appear for a driving test in the U.S.

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 driver’s 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 here’s where things get a little trickier: You can only get an international driving permit outside the United States as the U.S. 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 ex-pat who moved from London to California and New York. He first attemped to get his driver’s license in 2012 but was unsuccessful, so he didn’t try again until recently.

Jervis, who 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 the chicken-and-egg situation: He didn’t yet own a car and couldn’t buy one without car insurance for non-U.S. citizens but because he didn’t own a car, he couldn’t practice driving for his test. 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 countless hours.

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

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 friends have told him about driving in other countries.

What is the insurance requirement in the U.S.?

If you have plans to stay in the U.S. for more than a month, it will be wise of you to purchase or lease a car instead of getting a rental car.

In order to drive in the U.S., you must have a valid license and an auto insurance policy – one 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 that are required in the U.S.

  • Liability coverage: It covers the bodily injury of the other driver and any property damage 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 and instead provides protection against any damage related to weather, theft, animal/vehicle collisions and vandalism.
  • Underinsured/Uninsured motorist coverage: It will help 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: This coverage, also known as PIP, will cover the cost of your medical treatment after a collision regardless of who is at fault.

How do I get car insurance if I am a non-U.S. citizen with an international license?

Your international driving permit serves as proof that you can drive in the United States. However, some states require you to not only have your IDP but also your foreign license.

If you have an IDP and your foreign license is valid, then the process to get car insurance may be simple. You look for a car insurance carrier that you trust and like, get a few quotes and comparison shop for the best car insurance companies for foreigners in the USA.

Zhaneta Gechev is the founder of 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 while with an international driver’s license, which is what Gechev recommends:

Zhaneta Gechev Founder of One Stop Life Insurance
Zhaneta Gechev
Founder of One Stop Life Insurance

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.

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

Zoriy Birenboym, CEO of eautolease.com, an auto leasing website, has a great deal of experience working with non-U.S. citizens who are seeking car insurance. He is from New York City, and shares his experience:

Zoriy Birenboym CEO of eautolease.com
Zoriy Birenboym
CEO of eautolease.com

We had a lot of customers with international driving permits, and most insurance companies will insure drivers with IDPs.

“They usually make you get a defensive driving course, and they also want you to be over 25 years old,” he says. “Then once they insure you, they give you 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 will be clamoring 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.

The irony? During this time, Gechev started working for State Farm – and couldn’t get car insurance from them, either.

“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.

And 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 are car insurance carriers looking for when deciding to insure – or not insure – non-U.S. citizens?

Good question. There are a number of things that 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 eligibility for insurance and your rates, except in California, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

Car insurance for short-term foreign visitors

If you are visiting the United States for a short period, 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 type of coverage is equal to liability coverage, which 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 register a vehicle.

What’s the difference between car insurance for short-term and long-term foreigners in the USA?

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 your country of origin.

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

Nicco Schaal owner of Domain-inventory.com
Nicco Schaal
Business Owner - Owns Domain-inventory.com

“I often travel to the United States, and usually rent a car at the airport with one of the principal agencies,” he says.

“The reason everything rooms smoothly 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.”

Frequently asked 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 if you lose your 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, if you need to drive to reach a particular destination and your stay exceeds 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. An international driving permit allows you to drive, and you'll be able to rent a car and travel wherever you like.

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 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: This pays for valuables if they are lost or damaged. Make sure to buy adequate coverage to protect yourself from the costs of unforeseen accidents.

There are many good 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 with you 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.

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Laura Longero
Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.