The United States attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Some of them stay for a just a couple of weeks and some for a lot longer. One of the things that all visitors to the US have in common, however, is that if they intend to drive a car in the states, they must have some type of car insurance. There are no exceptions to this rule. Short term visitors will usually either rent a car or borrow one from friends or family. In either case, it is the responsibility of the renter or lender to make sure that the visitors will be legally covered by insurance. Visitors staying longer-term may buy a car to get around in. In this case, it is the visitor’s responsibility to ensure that the car has enough car insurance to legally drive in America.
Car Insurance for Non-US Citizens… Is it a must?
Any vehicle on the US road system must have insurance. This includes cars on the road that are not owned by Americans. The United States law clearly states that drivers who arrive in the US from a foreign country can drive on US roads as long as they have taken the necessary steps to ensure that their insurance has been extended to cover driving in the USA.
For drivers entering the country from Canada or Mexico, this is certainly something to take into consideration. If you are from either of these countries, make sure that your existing car insurance coverage will cover you for when you drive over the border. The patrol guards at the border check-points will often times check to make sure that you have valid insurance before entering the country. They will also make sure that you have a valid drivers license.
Canadian and Mexican drivers licenses will be valid to use in the United States, but drivers entering the country that are citizens of other countries might need to have an international driver’s license to drive in the US.
For visitors entering the country by plane or boat, and not driving their own vehicle over the border (not from Canada or Mexico), you will need to buy auto insurance on your own, as your car insurance coverage back home most likely will not cover you in the US. Continue reading below to find out what car insurance coverage you will need.
What kind of insurance policy should I get?
The extent of car insurance coverage that a non-US citizen will be required to buy depends on the type of vehicle, who owns it, and its value. The law states that all vehicles must have liability coverage only, or liability coverage with fire, theft, property damage coverage, bodily injury coverage, and personal injury protection (PIP). These coverage requirements apply to private passenger vehicles, motorcycles, and light passenger vans.
If a non-US Citizen is renting a car, the rental car company will be sure to take care of the insurance requirements before renting it to the visitor. Rental car companies want to protect their product, so they will go over every insurance detail with a fine-toothed comb before renting it away. Before purchasing insurance from a rental car company, however, first check to see if your credit card company will provide insurance coverage for rental cars.
If a non-US Citizen is borrowing a car from a friend or family member, then the value of the vehicle has to be taken into account. If the owner has “full coverage” insurance on their vehicle, then it should be safe to drive regardless. If the car owner has liability insurance that meets his/her state’s minimum requirements, then it might not be necessary to take out a policy with higher coverage, but it still might be a good idea. To be 100% safe, a relatively low-cost method of ensuring that the car is fully covered is for the policyholder to add the foreign guest as a temporary additional driver on the owner’s policy.
If a non-US Citizen is buying a car in the United States, then the value of the car will again play a role in determining how much insurance coverage is needed. If the car is of low-value, then liability-only or liability coverage with fire, theft, property damage coverage, bodily injury coverage, and personal injury protection coverage will probably be sufficient. If the car is of a higher value, then comprehensive insurance will be a must.
A few final things to be aware of about applying for auto insurance in the United States are:
- Unless you are entering from Canada or Mexico, an international driver’s license might be required and it will need to be applied for and issued in the visitor’s country of origin.
- Contrary to many reports, visitors to the US are NOT required to have a local social security number (SSN) in order to apply for car insurance in America. Just let the insurance company know that you do not have one and it should not be a problem.
- For a foreign visitor, taking out a short-term auto insurance policy (under 6 months) can be an expensive endeavor, and it may be more cost effective to take out long-term insurance and then cancel the policy before the end of the visit.
Some final words regarding car insurance for non-US residents…
Before arriving in the United States, non-US Citizens, who intend to drive a car during their visit, should make a few inquiries on the steps involved before arriving. Asking friends and acquaintances for tips is always a good idea. Contacting an American insurance broker, however, is probably the most recommended thing to do before stepping foot on US soil and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Buying car insurance for a non-US citizen who is visiting the country does not need to be a complicated matter. All that is needed is some local knowledge and a little common sense, both of which are things that a local insurance broker can help with.
Renting a car is usually the first option for most short-term visitors, in which case the rental company will take care of all of the details before renting-out the car. Borrowing and buying a vehicle is a more complicated issue that would require the visitor to contact a local car insurance company on their own accord.
No matter what, it is of extreme importance that the visitor follows all local laws and meets the local insurance requirements of whatever place they intend to travel to. The United States is a great place to visit, but has a vast, complex legal system that is not always forgiving to foreign visitors who do not respect the law.