The main takeaway:

  • For international drivers in the United States, most states allow you to drive with your foreign driver’s license, although some countries will also require an International Driving Permit that must be obtained in your home country.
  • Many US insurance companies sell auto insurance to foreign drivers, but it is worthwhile to shop because it can be expensive.
  • As an American who drives your car on the plane, whether you are an expat, student or visitor, you are required to purchase insurance in most foreign countries. However, you may still want to carry supplemental international insurance purchased in the United States to ensure adequate coverage should you have an accident.

Going to school abroad, on vacation, and thinking about relocating? Or like a lot of people today, are you planning to travel and work remotely from exotic locations? In this new world without limits, you can pursue the life you want, but there are still basic issues, such as car insurance, that you have to locate.

These may be questions to ask yourself. Can non-US citizens drive with a foreign license in the United States? Do you need temporary car insurance for foreign drivers? If you are a US citizen and visiting Mexico or Canada, do you need a different car insurance?

We’ll look at these issues for foreign drivers who drive in the United States and also look at getting insurance as an American traveling to a foreign country.

Driving in the United States with a foreign driver’s license

Americans love their cars, and the infrastructure of most major cities and rural areas is designed to be car-centric. This means that visiting the United States may require driving. So, does your current driver’s license work in the United States?

Most states in the United States allow you to operate a vehicle with a foreign driver’s licence. However, there are a few states where you need an International Driving Permit (IDP). IDPs can be obtained in your country.

IDP can be a smart choice if you are traveling across multiple states or planning to stay here for a long time. There is no need to take a test – the IDP simply translates your country’s driver’s license into English.

If you plan to get car insurance during your stay, the insurance company may ask for an IDP.

Can I get a US driver’s license?

It is not necessary (or even possible) for short term stays.

However, if you intend to stay on an extended visit or will be employed and obtain a Social Security Number (SSN), you will need to obtain a driver’s license in your country of residence.

Temporary car insurance for foreign drivers

Now that you have your driver’s license, you need to decide on car insurance for international drivers.

Keep in mind that it’s illegal to drive without car insurance in most US states – only Virginia and New Hampshire drop the mandatory requirements. However, while Virginia and New Hampshire do not require auto insurance, they do require a large financial bond or cash deposit to cover any potential accident.

Ideas for foreign drivers in the short term

Get someone’s policy

If you will be staying in the US for a short time, they may want to add you to someone’s current policy (if allowed). This saves the hassles of finding car insurance for a short visit.

Car rental insurance

All US car rental companies offer car rental insurance. Getting full coverage for a short term stay is usually very affordable, and it will pay off a lot if you have an unfortunate accident. Also, many credit card companies will offer car insurance if you use their card to pay the rental fee.

Ideas for long-term foreign drivers

If you plan to stay in the United States for an extended period of time, it may make sense to obtain car insurance for international drivers through a reputable insurance company.

The best way to find reasonable rates is to contact an insurance marketplace, such as Here you can get answers to your questions and find out international insurance policy rates from companies that carry this type of product.

Types of car insurance for international drivers

Before speaking with an insurance agent, it is a good idea to understand the types of insurance available. You can get full coverage insurance or opt for liability insurance. Keep in mind, if the vehicle you will be driving is not wholly owned or rented, you will be obligated to purchase comprehensive coverage to protect its assets.

Full coverage insurance

Full coverage insurance policies include liability coverage (described below) as well as comprehensive coverage that covers your medical costs and any damage to your vehicle, including vandalism, weather and theft.

Liability coverage only

While liability coverage meets the state’s requirements for minimum coverage, it is not recommended unless you drive a vehicle with little or no replacement value.

Liability coverage will include bodily injury coverage for any injuries to other people in the accident as well as property damage coverage to help pay for any damage to other people’s property or vehicles.

Some states will also require liability coverage that includes Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage that will cover medical costs if you sustain an injury.

Learn more about individual state requirements here. Zip code link is over here.

Lower insurance costs when you are in the US

Car insurance can be expensive in the United States. Most insurance companies set their rates based on your driving history and credit history (among other things) and since you don’t own either in the US, you are treated as a “high-risk driver.”

To get cheap international drivers insurance, try these tips:

  • If, according to your circumstances, you can obtain permanent residence and a US-based driver’s license, then by all means do so. Once you have a valid driver’s license and can build up some safe driving time, you will be seen as less risky and eligible for lower rates.
  • Since you are considered a high-risk driver, you may get better prices if you drive a vehicle with strong safety features.

Drivers from Canada and Mexico

Canadian drivers are not required to have an international driver’s license or private insurance when traveling in the United States. They are fine with a regular Canadian driver’s license and insurance anywhere in the states.

Mexican drivers can use their Mexican driver’s license for up to three months before needing to obtain an international driver’s license. However, their insurance from Mexico is valid as long as it meets each state’s requirements for coverage.

What if you are driving abroad?

Many states require you to take on local mandatory liability coverage. However, you may want to consider purchasing international auto insurance from a US auto insurance company to supplement your domestic foreign policy.

Does my current car insurance cover in a foreign country?

No (except in Canada, but more on that below). Local insurance policies outside the United States do not cover you due to region restrictions.

When renting a car

If you are traveling abroad and planning to rent a car, it is highly recommended that you get the best coverage offered by the rental company (or your credit card company if you are paying by card). And while they should be up-to-date with the legal requirements of a particular country, it is always a good idea to double-check that country’s embassy website to make sure you have the proper coverage.

When driving your car (or someone else’s)

Whether you are temporarily moving to a new country and taking your car or borrowing someone else’s car, you will need to purchase an international car insurance policy that offers unlimited global coverage.

You can obtain insurance once you arrive in the country, but it may be easier to contact your local insurance broker in the United States for assistance in obtaining the appropriate coverage for your needs. Most major insurance companies offer international insurance policies or they can refer you to an insurance company that does.

What about my driver’s license?

The US Department of State recommends obtaining an IDP as an official translation of your current driver’s license. This way, no matter what country you are visiting, you have an official document that allows you to drive.

It’s easy to get an IDP and no testing required – just call American Automobile Association (AAA). They accept applications online, by mail, and at their local branch offices.

The State Department also recommends reviewing the country’s driving laws before arriving. Different states have driving laws that can be hard to understand, but they are the law nonetheless. For example:

  • It is illegal in Australia for drivers to hold their arms or raise their hands out of a window except to signal. The fine can be more than $200. And if you spray someone waiting at a bus stop by driving through a puddle of water, you risk a $2,200 fine.
  • You cannot drive while wearing slippers or sandals in Spain without risking a fine of €200.
  • In Sweden, it is illegal to drive without lights (at any time of the day or night).
  • And if you are a smoker, don’t even think about smoking and driving in Greece.

While some of these laws may seem strange, states have laws that differ from the laws in the United States and it is your responsibility to understand them when driving in this country. You can get driving laws and safety information in each of them Country Embassy or their consulates in the United States.

Driving in Canada or Mexico

In Canada, a current driver’s license and car insurance are valid. However, in Mexico, your driver’s license will be valid, but you will need to purchase Mexican insurance immediately after crossing the border (or hopefully before).

Penalties for driving without valid Mexican insurance can be steep, and if you get into an accident, you could be in serious legal trouble, especially if alcohol is involved.

Whatever country you’re driving to, always make sure you carry the appropriate documentation (printed and digital if possible) and keep a second set safe in your hotel or apartment.

Find car insurance for international drivers

Today, finding affordable car insurance for international drivers is more convenient than ever. In the past, you had to track down individual insurance companies and contact each one to get a quote. This was especially difficult if you live in another country, have a language barrier, or have limited internet access.

Today, the insurance marketplace provides all the information you need as well as a quote engine that allows you to add some of your personal information to get a free, no-obligation insurance quote from many national insurance companies.

From there, you can compare rates, speak with individual agents, and decide which insurance coverage option is best for you and your circumstances.

The last word

Traveling, whether for work, education or vacation, is an opportunity to see the world. And being able to drive in a foreign country gives you more freedom. All it takes is a little advance planning and a few dollars.

If you are a foreign citizen visiting the United States, it is important to obtain vehicle insurance and have the correct driver’s credentials, preferably an IDP. This means having a full coverage policy or a liability only policy which depends on the type of vehicle you will be using.

If you are traveling across multiple states, it is also important to understand state-to-state driving laws as well as insurance requirements.

As a US citizen traveling by plane, you will need to obtain international insurance through a trusted insurance broker or through an insurance marketplace where you can review multiple coverage options.

When you are in the market to purchase an international insurance policy, is here to answer your questions and find the best deal available for you.

About Catherine Morestad

Catherine has a background as a small business owner and coin dealer. Catherine has also enjoyed a career as a Regional Director and Operations Manager in Healthcare, specializing in Operations, Third Party Insurance Reimbursement, and Revenue Cycle Management.

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