While car insurance can protect the car you're driving, its primary purpose is to protect other people you might injure in a crash. That means that as a matter of public policy, non US citizens can (and should!) get insurance if they're driving in the US. That's true whether you're an international student, a temporary worker, or a tourist.
When is car insurance required for foreign nationals driving in the US?
The answer is pretty much always if you ever get behind the wheel. Insurance is regulated by the states, not the federal government. And while regulations differ a bit from state to state, almost every state requires all drivers to carry a minimum level of insurance. Minimums vary, but they are often around $25,000 per person injured in an accident, to a total of $50,000 per accident.
How do I get car insurance as a non-US citizen?
This depends on how long you're driving and for what purpose. Here are the most common situations:
- You rent a car as a tourist for a few days or weeks - Usually, it's simplest to buy insurance by the day from the rental car company. Check out our explanation of how rental car insurance works.
- You drive an employer-owned vehicle for work only - This doesn't include commuting to and from where you're living. In this case, make sure you're covered by your employer's commercial auto insurance policy.
- You drive a borrowed car - If a friend or family member loans you their car occasionally, you should be covered on their policy automatically (just make sure they have insurance!). If you live with them and/or drive the car regularly, you need to be added to the policy, which will increase how much they pay. Otherwise, you and they risk having a claim denied if you get in an accident and you aren't listed on the policy.
- You buy or lease a car or get a car subscription for over a month - As long as you're using the car for personal use, including commuting to and from work, you just need a regular personal lines car insurance policy.
- You buy or lease a car or get a car subscription for over a month and you drive for your own business - This one is more complicated. You either need a personal car insurance policy with a business use endorsement or a commercial auto policy. You should talk to an insurance agent to figure out which suits your needs.
What documents do I need to buy a car insurance policy in the US if I'm an expat?
- Your home country driver's license or an International Driving Permit (depending on the state).
- Proof of address like a lease or a utility bill.
- Your car lease or proof you bought your car.
- If you're eligible for certain auto insurance discounts, like a homeowners discount or an alumni discount, you may need to provide proof that you qualify. Typically you have a few weeks after you buy a policy to send these in.
Can I buy auto insurance from any insurance company if I'm not a US citizen? How do I choose one?
Unfortunately, no. Insurance companies in the US are broadly allowed to decide who they will write coverage for. Some choose not to write foreign drivers at all, while others only insure people with a certain number of years of driving experience in the US, which screens out many international visitors.
Also, not every car insurance company writes insurance in every state in the US, and even within a single state, pricing can vary a lot. For all of these reasons, it's best to choose an insurance agent who works with foreign drivers frequently. Most people ask their friends and colleagues for recommendations.
While being a non-US citizen may make buying insurance a little more complicated, it's really important to get car insurance if you'll drive while you're in the United States. For more information, check out our post on how to save money on car insurance as a foreign national.
Enjoy your stay!