UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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If you have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), then you may be wondering how to get car insurance in the United States.
Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about getting insurance as a non-citizen in the United States with an International Driver’s Permit (IDP).
You Need an IDP to Legally Drive in the United States
If you are visiting the United States and want to drive, then you need a valid International Driver’s Permit (IDP). You need to get this IDP before visiting the United States; you cannot get an IDP after arriving in the country.
It’s also recommended that you carry your driver’s license from your home country and your IDP when driving. Some states require you to have both. Car rental agencies may also require both the IDP and driver’s license.
If you are renting a car, then your rental car company already has insurance on the vehicle (it is required by law in every state). However, you may still be personally liable for any damage you cause to the vehicle. Consider using your credit card rental car insurance or car insurance from your home country. Or, some people pay the collision damage waiver (CDW) offered by the insurance company.
You May Already Have Valid U.S. Car Insurance
If you have an International Driver’s Permit and are visiting the United States, then you may already have insurance through one of several methods:
Your Home Country Insurance Provider: Your car insurance from your home country may cover trips to the United States. Check with your insurance company before you travel.
Your Credit Card Company: If you fully pay for your car rental using your credit card, then you might already have car insurance on your rental vehicle.
Your Rental Car Company: All rental cars in the United States are insured by law. Rental car companies will also sell you supplemental insurance that negates your personal liability (like collision damage waiver or CDW coverage).
Most Insurance Companies Will Not Sell Insurance Without a U.S. Driver’s License
Typically, major car insurance companies in the United States will not sell insurance to drivers without a valid U.S. license.
However, some insurers make exceptions if you are getting a U.S. license within a short period of time – say, within 30 to 45 days.
International Driver’s Permits (IDPs) only allow you to drive internationally: they do not allow you to insure a vehicle internationally.
U.S. Residents (Non-U.S. Citizens) Should Be Eligible for a U.S. Driver’s License
If you are a resident of the United States but not a citizen, then you can apply for a U.S. driver’s license.
States have different requirements for getting a driver’s license. You can view driver’s license requirements for each state here: https://www.usa.gov/motor-vehicle-services
Check the requirements from your state’s DMV, then apply for a driver’s license. Generally, if you are legitimately residing in a state (under a Green Card or any type of visa), then you should be able to obtain a license.
Once you have a valid U.S. driver’s license, you will have no trouble getting car insurance.
What About International Students?
If you are an international student in the United States, then you may need a car. What happens if you’re an international student with an IDP and want to get car insurance?
Most states in America allow you to drive with an IDP. As mentioned above, it’s recommended that you keep both your foreign license and IDP on you while driving.
Your IDP lets you legally drive in the United States, although you will need a U.S. driver’s license to get auto insurance.
Only certain non-immigrant visas allow foreign nationals to obtain a U.S. driver’s license, including those on F, M, and J visas (which includes international students). Additionally, you will need to have an active SEVIS record and number.
Your best option is to contact your Designated School Official (DSO) to inquire about the insurance and license process. Your DSO will be familiar with your state or institution’s rules.
Get ready to fill out lots of paperwork to get your U.S. driver’s license. You may need to provide your driving record from your home country, for example. This information – including any previous accidents or incidents – will be added to your DMV record in your state. Your car insurance company will reference this information on future applications.
Some states also require international drivers to complete an eye exam, written test, and driving test. Other states allow your credentials to carry over.
Other Ways to Get Car Insurance with an IDP
If you are visiting the United States, then the best way to get car insurance is to buy it from a rental car company. It can be difficult to find a car insurance company willing to insure you.
Alternatively, you can buy car insurance from your home country. In fact, your current car insurance policy (in your home country) may cover trips abroad. You might already be fully protected on overseas trips. In this situation, getting car insurance in the United States may be redundant.
Finally, you can find certain car insurance companies in the United States willing to insure foreign drivers with just an IDP, although their prices tend to be significantly higher. These companies may be unable to obtain much information about your driving history or credit score, for example, both of which are typically used when calculating premiums.
Most big-name insurance companies will not offer car insurance for foreign drivers with an IDP, although you should be able to find smaller, boutique car insurance companies willing to insure you.
At the time of writing, Progressive and Farmers are the two major car insurance companies that offer insurance to international drivers. However, your state may have smaller, local providers available.
If you have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) and are in the United States, then you have a few different options for obtaining car insurance.
If you’re just visiting the United States, then you can get car insurance through your rental car company, for example. Alternatively, you may already have valid car insurance coverage through your insurer in your home country or through your credit card company.
If you are residing in the United States but do not have a U.S. driver’s license, then getting car insurance can be difficult. Some insurance companies (including Progressive, Farmers, and certain smaller providers) insure non-U.S. drivers who have an IDP. As a student or permanent resident (non-U.S. citizen), however, your best and cheapest option is to apply for a driver’s license in your state.