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How to get car insurance in the U.S. with a foreign license
Preparing your paperwork to drive legally in the U.S. is a hassle, regardless of where you’re from.
If you're a short-term visitor, i.e. visiting the U.S. on vacation, your best bet for car insurance is to purchase it through your car rental company. If you're moving to the states or living in the U.S. long-term, it may make sense to buy insurance from an American insurance company. To drive legally in the U.S. as a foreign driver, you need insurance and a license from your country of origin, and you may need an International Driving Permit.
Car insurance with an international drivers' permit
As a foreign driver in America, it helps to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP serves as proof that you are licensed to drive in your home country. An IDP is NOT a valid driver's license. It simply serves as a translation for your foreign license and should always accompany the license of your native country. You will need to meet your home country's legal driving requirements first and be in possession of a legal license from your country of origin. Together, these two documents show proof of driving ability. You will not be required to take a sequential driving test in the U.S. if you have a foreign license AND an IDP.
- How to get an IDP
If you're over 18 and have a valid license, you can apply for an international driver's permit. Depending on your home country, the process of getting your IDP may vary. Consult your country’s transportation and regulation department. Remember, you cannot apply for an IDP in the U.S., as it must be done before arriving in the U.S. Moreover, your IDP must be issued by the same country from which your license is issued.
U.S. car insurance requirements
Insurance in the U.S. is regulated at the state level but priced by ZIP code. With some exceptions, most drivers are required to carry liability coverage, which includes both bodily injury and property damage coverages. There are a handful of no-fault states in the U.S. in which you're required to carry Personal Injury Protection instead of bodily injury. If you're leasing or financing your vehicle, you will also be required to carry Collision and Comprehensive coverage. Below are brief explanations of what these coverages do.
- Bodily injury liability: provides compensation for the medical bills and costs you cause to other drivers or pedestrians. This coverage applies on a per person/per accident basis. For example, the state minimum bodily injury liability insurance could be $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident.
- Property damage liability: provides compensation for the property you cause. This only applies on a per accident basis.
- Uninsured/underinsured: this coverage applies to bodily injury and property damage if the at-fault driver does not have insurance or enough insurance to cover your medical or property damages.
- Personal injury protection (PIP): this is required in no-fault states and covers your medical expenses after an accident — regardless of fault. You may have to purchase this and bodily injury liability coverage or just PIP coverage depending on your state.
- Collision: protects your vehicle if it's damaged in a collision in which you're at fault. A deductible applies — what you pay prior to your insurance company.
- Comprehensive: this protects your vehicle from damage outside of a collision — think weather, theft, vandalism, and animal-related claims. It also features a deductible.
How to get auto insurance in the U.S.
There are a couple of ways to get insurance in the U.S. as a non-citizen: you can get it from a car rental company or from a car insurance company. If you're vacationing in the U.S., consider purchasing insurance coverage from your rental car company. This will be cheaper and less time-consuming.
If you're staying in the United States on a long-term basis, you will have to purchase insurance from a U.S.-based insurance company. This can be difficult for a few reasons. Some insurance companies will not issue insurance policies to drivers without valid U.S. licenses. Without a U.S. drivers' license, insurance companies have a difficult time reviewing your driving history or credit score.
Some U.S. insurance companies issue policies for foreign drivers (rates may be higher). Farmers and Progressive allow applicants to state their possession of a foreign license on their quotes pages, indicating a willingness to offer policies to foreign drivers. The Zebra works with insurance companies across the U.S. to help foreign and U.S. drivers find car insurance quotes.
Car insurance for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
If you have immigrated to the United States and plan on staying long-term, you might explore buying a car and insuring that vehicle. Finding car insurance as an undocumented citizen can certainly pose a challenge, but there are ways to accomplish this in some states. Because the majority of car insurance companies require a driver’s license before they can sell you a policy, undocumented citizens must have a valid license in order to apply for insurance.
As it stands, only 11 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. have policies that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. You can apply for a license through each state’s DMV or go through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Insurance companies in the states that issue driver’s licenses to undocumented citizens are allowed to sell auto insurance policies to citizens who don’t have proof of legal presence in the U.S.
What's the average cost of car insurance in America?
Car insurance costs an average of $1,548 per year in the U.S. For a six-month policy, that comes out to $774, or $129 per month. Rates vary widely depending on a number of factors, including your age, credit history and driving history.
The type of coverage you choose may also impact your rates. Find below the average cost of various coverage levels.
|Coverages||6-Month premium||Monthly premium|
|State Min with 1000 Comp/Coll DED||$638||$106|
|50/100/50 BI/PD with 1000 Comp/Coll DED||$686||$114|
|100/300/100 BI/PD with 1000 Comp/Coll DED||$733||$122|
|State Min with 500 Comp/Coll DED||$726||$121|
|50/100/50 BI/PD with 500 Comp/Coll DED||$774||$129|
|100/300/100 BI/PD with 500 Comp/Coll DED||$821||$136|
These rates may vary by company and by the state in which you live. Enter your U.S. ZIP code below or call The Zebra at 888-444-9728 and a licensed insurance agent will help.
Frequently asked questions
Does foreign driving history transfer to the U.S.?
A driver's history from another country usually does not transfer to the U.S.
Why is credit history used to generate car insurance quotes?
Studies by the Federal Trade Commission show that drivers with poor credit not only file more claims than drivers with excellent credit, but their claims also tend to be more costly. Thus, drivers with a poor credit history tend to be more expensive clients. California, Hawaii and Massachusetts are among the only states to not use credit scores as a rating factor.
When should a driver apply for a license in the U.S.?
Drivers who live in the U.S. permanently should apply for a U.S. drivers' license. The requirements vary by state. A U.S. license allows drivers to compare more insurance companies and find more affordable rates.
Is it possible to get car insurance with a foreign license and a U.S. permit?
Yes. It is similar to having a foreign license. Call The Zebra's agency at 888-444-9728 to find coverage.
Can undocumented immigrants get car insurance in the U.S.?
Yes, in certain states. Undocumented citizens must obtain a valid driver's license through the state's DMV before applying for insurance, but insurance carriers in those select states are allowed to sell policies to this population.
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About The Zebra
The Zebra is not an insurance company. We publish data-backed, expert-reviewed resources to help consumers make more informed insurance decisions.
The Zebra’s insurance content is written and reviewed for accuracy by licensed insurance agents.
The Zebra’s insurance content is not subject to review or alteration by insurance companies or partners.
The Zebra’s editorial team operates independently of the company’s partnerships and commercialization interests, publishing unbiased information for consumer benefit.
The auto insurance rates published on The Zebra’s pages are based on a comprehensive analysis of car insurance pricing data, evaluating more than 83 million insurance rates from across the United States.