Car Insurance for Drivers With International Driving Permits

Old Classic Car

Getty Images/

Hannah Mentz

You already know that to drive a car in the United States legally, you need to have car insurance. But what are you to do if you are visiting from abroad? And what about U.S. drivers who choose to drive outside of the United States? Do these individuals need car insurance, and how do they go about getting coverage? Driving in another country can be both scary and confusing. Do your research ahead of time will make it go a whole lot smoother.

What Is An International Driver’s Permit?

An international driver’s permit is a document that allows you to drive in 150 countries if you have a valid driver’s license in your home country. The IDP displays ten different languages and expires one year after it is issued, as long as your home country driver’s license has not expired. If you live in the United States, can get an IDP through AAA or AATA. An IDP is not a license in and of itself – an IDP just offers translated proof that you are a certified driver in your home country.

Do U.S. Drivers Need Car Insurance Abroad?

It depends on what country you are visiting. Just like each U.S. state has its own rules about whether or not you need car insurance, so does each country.

Once you do the legal research, use some common sense: Just because you do not legally need car insurance does not mean it is a good idea to go without. If your U.S. policy does not cover you abroad, then you will be on the hook for any damage to your vehicle or any damage you cause to yourself or others.

Will My U.S. Car Insurance Policy Work Abroad?

In most cases, your car insurance is only valid in the United States. One exception to this rule is Canada – if you enter the country in your car as a non-resident tourist, your car insurance policy will cover you while you’re driving around our neighbor to the North. Many car insurance policies will also cover you if you drive a short distance (generally fewer than 100 miles) into Mexico. You should check with your car insurance company and your credit card company so that you know exactly when and where you are covered. Some policies will work in Canada but not in other countries, but it varies by plan. Be sure to read the fine print and speak with your car insurance agent before planning an international trip.

Will My Foreign Car Insurance Policy Work In The United States?

It depends on your insurance provider. Most Canadian policies cover their drivers when they enter into the United States as a non-resident tourist. Again, check with your insurance agent for the specifics.

Do Non-U.S. Drivers Need Car Insurance In The United States?

No matter whether you are a resident or just visiting, you will have to follow state laws. If you want to drive during your time in the U.S., you will need to be insured while doing so. Each state has different laws for how you can go about getting car insurance and whether or not you will need to (or when you’ll need to) start the process of getting a U.S. driver’s license in order to do so.

Where Can Non-U.S. Drivers Get Car Insurance In The United States?

If you are just visiting, your rental car company should offer insurance, though more than just the bare bones minimum coverage is often very costly–around $40 per day. If you have booked a rental car through your credit card, sometimes your credit card company provides their own insurance, too.

If you are planning on moving to the United States, you should purchase regular car insurance using your IDP, but this is often more easily said than done.

Often, U.S. car insurance companies will only offer plans to those with a U.S. driver’s license, because insurance companies use your driving history and a variety of other measures to set prices – and these metrics are not often available for IDP drivers. The insurance companies that do offer plans for international driver's permit holders may have higher rates to account for the fact that they do not have as solid of an idea of how risky you are to insure. Of the largest national car insurance companies, only Progressive and Farmers offer insurance to international drivers.

If you do find a U.S. plan that will take you, they may stipulate that you have to get a U.S. driver’s license within a short period to stay insured.

If you are planning on staying in the U.S. long enough to require U.S. car insurance, you should speak with a car insurance agent to find a plan that is right for you. Because of your complicated situation, it is best not to try and go it alone using online tools that are unlikely to give you the results you seek.