If you're moving to the US from abroad, as long as you have a valid drivers license, you can buy car insurance. You'll pay a small surcharge that will be waived once you get a US driving license.
What do I need to buy car insurance in the US if I don't have a US driving license and I'm new here?
You'll need the following to buy car insurance in the US:
- A valid license from your home country
- Licensing information for your spouse and any other family members of driving age who live with you in the US
- The address where you'll park overnight if you have a car
- A debit card, credit card, or bank account information to make your first payment
- You may also need an International Driving Permit
How do I know if I need an International Driving Permit?
While immigration and customers are handled by the US government, licensing and car registration are handled by the states. You can find links to each state's Department of Motor Vehicles here.
Start with the state you'll be living in, then also check with any states you'll drive in to see if you need an International Driving Permit. Also, make sure you understand how long you can drive with a Permit before you need to get a state license if you're staying in the US permanently.
Who do I call to buy insurance?
In the US, insurance is sold by two kinds of agents, independent agents and captive agents, and directly by insurance companies. If you want to learn more about the nuances of each, check out our article on insurance distribution options. (Just be aware that we are an independent agency, so we have an opinion!)
In short, independent agents sell insurance from multiple companies and can often get you several quotes to compare. Captive agents sell insurance from one company, like State Farm or Allstate. And then, to make it even more confusing, many insurance companies sell directly to consumers, and also through the agency channel.
The easy thing about this is that the price level differs by insurance company, but on average is the same across all three channels. Agents get paid a commission, but insurance companies pay for advertising to make direct to consumer sales. It all balances out.
One thing you do want to make sure of, though, is that you find an insurance agent or company that is used to writing car insurance for people without a US license. Some companies won't write international drivers licenses at all, and many agents don't do it a lot.
(And you can always call or text us - contact info is at the bottom of this page!)
What kind of car insurance do I need as an international driver?
The kind of car insurance you need depends on whether you have regular access to a car or not, and whether you are using it for business or personal use. You need to discuss the specifics with the agency or insurance company you choose, but here's a cheat sheet:
- If you buy, lease, or sign up for a long term car subscription for your personal use, which includes commuting, you just need a regular personal auto insurance policy.
- If you don't drive a car regularly but want to make sure you're covered for your liability when you rent, borrow or share a car, you might need a personal non owner auto policy. This is also called a named nonowner policy.
- If you're going to rent a car from a big car rental chain, like Hertz or Avis, for a weekend trip a few times, you're probably better off just buying coverage for those days at the rental car counter.
- If you drive a car for work (not commuting, but for work travel, visiting job sites, etc.), you'll need a commercial auto policy. Start by asking your employer what kind of coverage they have in place.
As someone new to the US, where do I buy other kinds of insurance?
The agent or company you pick to work with will usually be able to help you with renters, condo, or homeowners insurance, as well as an umbrella if you need extra liability coverage. They can likely also help you with pet health insurance if you're interested, possibly life insurance if you need it, as well as any small business coverages you might need.
Health insurance is a whole different beast in the US, and you probably know. Much of the health insurance in the US is provided through employers, so best to check with your employer to start.
Travel insurance is not normally sold through insurance agents in the US, so you'll want to find a company that sells directly to consumers.
Do I need to tell my insurance agent or company if I get a US license?
Oh, yes, you definitely should! You're usually paying a surcharge on your policy if you don't have a US license. Your agent or insurance company won't be notified of your new license automatically, so let them know. They'll add your license to your policy and the price should go down.
Why is car insurance so expensive in the US?
We wrote a whole article about why car insurance is so expensive for people with a foreign driver's license. It comes down to not qualifying for common car insurance discounts, not showing up in databases insurers use to calculate your rate, and fewer options since some insurance companies will only insure people with a US license.
Where can I learn more about car insurance in the US?
We designed this guide to insurance for first time car buyers. Even if you're not buying a car, you'll probably find the information helpful. Good luck, and feel free to reach out to us if we can help!