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Planning on taking a car rental insurance in USA as a foreigners? It can be an appealing idea to drive through the red canyons of Arizona, or along the sunny Florida coastline. However, before you arrive to pick up your rental car, it is important to make sure it is properly insured. You do not want to find yourself financially liable to pay costly damage fees. If you are traveling to the US from another country, this affects how your car rental insurance works. Firstly, you need to understand how the process works in the United States.
Non-U.S. citizens can seek a car insurance policy whether in the country long-term or temporarily as a tourist, on an F1 student visa or an H-1B specialty worker visa. Nearly 45 million immigrants, 14% of the U.S. population, lived in the United States in 2019. If you’re one of these foreign-born drivers and need car insurance, the best car insurance companies in the U.S offer competitive options.
Car insurance is required if you drive a car in the United States, even if you’re not a resident. The best car insurance for foreign drivers depends on how long you plan to be in the country. Short-term visitors to the US can get rental car coverage directly from the rental company. Long-term foreign drivers who purchase or bring a car should buy a car insurance policy from a U.S. company. And some states may require you to get a US driver’s license if you’re staying for a few months.
People who are visiting the U.S. for a short time, such as for a vacation, probably won’t need to buy car insurance from a stand-alone insurer. The easiest option is to get temporary insurance coverage directly from the car rental company. This coverage serves as an equivalent to liability insurance, which pays for any damage or injuries you might cause to another driver if you’re deemed at fault in an accident.
Most car rental companies will also offer you another layer of protection that pays for any damage to the car itself, instead of simply covering your legal liability after an accident. Whether the peace of mind from additional coverage is worth the extra fee is largely a personal decision based on your comfort with driving in the U.S. and your tolerance for financial risk.
Additionally, visitors from Canada, especially those driving their own cars, will likely be protected by their Canadian insurance while driving in the U.S. Check with your insurance company and check the laws in the state you will drive in.
Progressive offers online car insurance quotes as low as $68 per month for foreign drivers with an internaional driver’s license. That’s only $2 more per month than a US citizen would pay.
If you’re staying in the U.S. for a few months and are planning on buying or leasing a car, you will need to get your own insurance policy. Auto insurance is a requirement in order to register and drive a vehicle in most states. Unfortunately, car insurance is not always simple or cheap to get for international visitors.
You may also be able to get coverage from popular car insurance companies by speaking with an insurance agent on the phone or in person. State Farm, for example, requires you to enter a Social Security Number or a driver’s license number to get a quote online — but you can call to speak to an agent who specializes in helping drivers with foreign licenses get car insurance.
A handful of smaller auto insurance companies advertise that they offer insurance for drivers with foreign licenses. However, several of these providers — such as Infinity and Gainsco — specialize in working with high-risk drivers, which means they may charge higher rates.
Small insurance companies that sell car insurance to foreign drivers include:
In general, visitors from overseas are likely to pay more for car insurance. American car insurance companies use your driving history — like how long you’ve been licensed and recent accidents — to determine your rates. Without a U.S. license, an insurance provider won’t have access to this information and may charge you higher rates.
License requirements vary by state, so check with your state’s DMV to see whether you need to get a license. Regardless of local laws, the best way for any driver — whether they have a U.S. or foreign driver’s license — to get affordable insurance is to compare rates.
Short-term visitors are individuals in the country for a few days or weeks, whether for business or personal reasons. Short-term visitors who will be driving typically rent a vehicle during their stay. For this reason, the most sensible option for short-term visitors is likely to purchase rental car insurance from the car rental company. If you’re only in the U.S. for a short amount of time, you typically won’t be able to purchase an insurance policy directly from a stand-alone car insurance provider.
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Vehicle rental companies typically offer a baseline liability coverage option, along with collision coverage/loss-and-damage waiver, personal effects coverage and personal accident coverage. Choosing from these rental car insurance options is likely the easiest way to obtain car insurance for a short-term stay in the U.S.
Canadian drivers can typically use their existing auto insurance while in the U.S. Your Canadian car insurance may also extend to covering a rental car. You may want to check with your auto insurance company and/or your rental car company before traveling to confirm the bounds of your car insurance.
Longer-stay visitors on a visa, such as students or specialized workers, may have trouble getting affordable insurance coverage if they do not have a U.S. driver’s license. However, the good news is that it is possible to get car insurance as a non-U.S. citizen.
Longer-term visitors may want to apply for a U.S. driver’s license, even if they already have a foreign license. Having an American license and driving record may help foreign drivers save money on car insurance down the line.
If you plan on temporarily driving in the USA with a driver’s license from your home country, be aware of the local rules about how long you may legally drive using 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 takes approximately 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 need to provide a passport-style photo that the agency can attach to the IDP.
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 pays for the damages and losses you cause to others. A small number of states also require you to have underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance, which steps in to pay your expenses if the party at fault did not have insurance.
In no-fault states, drivers carry coverage for personal injury protection (PIP) and/or medical payments to cover their medical expenses regardless of fault. In these states, drivers still carry liability coverage and are still liable to cover damages they caused in a collision. 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.
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 the USA 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 here in the U.S.
A REAL ID is a driver’s license that can also be used as identification when you fly. These IDs have security specifications, including a hologram meant to prevent the creation and usage of counterfeit IDs. The U.S. is phasing out traditional driver’s licenses and replacing them with REAL IDs.
If you are only visiting the United States for a short period and plan on renting a car, you will not need to buy a separate car insurance policy, but you will likely be required to have insurance provided by the rental agency to provide liability coverage. If you will be visiting friends or family and will not drive during your visit, or will use public transportation in a larger city, you will not need auto insurance.
The IDP only serves as a translation of your foreign driver’s license. You cannot replace your foreign driver’s license with an international driver’s permit.
In the U.S., car insurance requirements vary by state, including the type and amount of coverage mandated. Fortunately, if you have coverage that meets the legal limits in one state, you will be covered if you travel temporarily to another.
For example, if you fly into New York City and rent a car at the airport, you’ll have to get coverage that meets the limits in New York. But if you drive to another state, like New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you won’t need to worry about meeting the auto insurance requirements there. And insurance companies and rental car companies usually won’t sell you coverage that does not meet the legal minimum.
Not all of these coverages are required or available in every state, so check with your host state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if you’re concerned about meeting its requirements.
For example, the minimum insurance requirements in California are as follows:
|Coverage||Minimum coverage amount|
|Bodily injury (BI) liability insurance||$15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident|
|Property damage (PD) liability insurance||$5,000 per accident|
The state insurance minimum will be the cheapest, but there are tradeoffs to buying the lowest allowed amount of insurance. In many states, buying the minimum amount of insurance only covers the other driver’s injuries and damages, meaning you might have to pay for repairs to your own car.
To drive in the U.S., foreign residents must have their foreign license with them. Some states also require foreign residents to have an international driver’s permit (IDP) to legally drive within their borders.
An IDP is a document issued by your home country that translates your driver’s license into several languages, including English. Because the permit is only a translation of your regular license, you’ll need both documents to be considered “licensed” in places that require it. You will need to get an IDP before you arrive in the U.S. because the U.S. does not provide them to international visitors.
We recommend getting an IDP when visiting the United States, even if you’re not required to by state law. An IDP will prevent any confusion or difficulty if you get in a crash or are pulled over, especially if your home license is not in English. It also allows you to travel freely between states.
The term “international driver’s license” or IDL is sometimes used colloquially to describe an IDP. However, this is an inaccurate term, and any organization claiming to issue or accept an IDL is likely a scam.
Depending on the laws where you’re staying in the U.S., you may be required to get a local driver’s license to legally drive there. For example, in Florida, international visitors must get a Florida driver’s license if they live there for more than six months or are employed there.
All states require a license to drive a car, and most require auto insurance as well. For undocumented immigrants, this can be a serious challenge. Without a driver’s license, you cannot purchase an auto insurance policy that lets you drive.
If you are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, you can get a driver’s license in any state.
If you are not eligible, though, you may not be able to get a driver’s license — and consequently, you won’t be able to get insurance. Only 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia currently permit undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.
The process for getting a driver’s license as an undocumented immigrant varies among these states, so check your state’s DMV website for steps on how to obtain a license. The states where unauthorized immigrants can get a driver’s license include:
If you’re visiting the U.S. for a short time and renting a car, the easiest solution is to buy a policy from the car rental agency. If you’re renting a car for a period of a month or more, it may be worth it to contact a car insurer for your own policy. Progressive, for example, will sell foreign drivers policies completely online.
Your car insurance rates will depend on where you are staying, your driving history and what kind of car you’re insuring, but we found that a foreign driver in Texas will pay about $68 per month for a basic policy.
We compared Progressive’s rates for two 30-year-old male drivers with clean records who live in Austin, Texas. Both drivers have not had auto insurance in the past 31 days and plan to put 10,000 to 11,999 miles per year on the 2015 Honda Civics they purchased within the last month.
One driver has moved from outside the U.S. within the last two months and holds a foreign driver’s license; the other has not moved at all and holds a U.S. driver’s license. Both have been licensed to drive for at least three years and are employed full-time as engineers.
Both drivers opted for a minimum-coverage policy, which in Texas includes the following limits:
|Bodily injury liability||$30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident|
|Property damage liability||$25,000|