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Car Insurance When Driving Abroad

Generally, in America, your driver's license and car insurance go hand in hand—even if it just means you're adding your newly-licensed name to your parents' policy. Thus, it's easy to remember that you need it on you while driving.

However, when you plan to drive abroad, acquiring car insurance very well might slip your mind. Additionally, there are other questions to as: Where do you get it? How much do you need?

Read on to learn about car insurance requirements, tips for driving abroad, and more.

International Car Insurance

Some, but not all, car insurance companies offer international car insurance—and those that do often limit coverage to certain countries. Therefore, your first step is contacting your current provider and asking about international car insurance to determine whether that coverage meets your needs.

Of course, your coverage also depends on whether you're driving your own vehicle or a rental, so make sure you ask about how this factor affects your provider's international coverage.

Below, we've outlined some general steps to help you obtain international car insurance.

Contact Your Current Provider

Your current car insurance provider might offer international car insurance; actually, some countries (such as Canada and Mexico) already might be included on your current policy.

Still, not all providers offer international coverage, so contact your provider and ask. An agent can review your current policy details with you and, if necessary, either add additional coverage to your existing policy (especially if the country in question requires more coverage) or help you with the details of applying for a separate international policy.

Using a Rental Car?

We'll go out on a limb and assume you'll rent a car during your travels abroad; if so, the company you purchase your international car insurance policy from might require information about the rental car before providing coverage options. (Generally, policies cover the vehicle and not the person.)

So, it's probably best to rent your car first; this way, you'll have the vehicle information to provide the insurance company. Also keep in mind most rental car agencies offer additional car insurance, should you require or just feel safer having it.

NOTE: Most likely, you'll need to rent your car with a credit card. Some experts consider this a bonus because many credit card companies offer additional financial protection. Contact your credit card company and ask about any additional coverage options.

Determine the Right Coverage Amount

Fortunately, most car insurance providers across the globe offer the same basic types of coverage, such as various forms of liability, comprehensive, and collision coverage; however, the required coverage amounts can vary.

Perhaps the best way to make sure your international car insurance policy meets both your own needs and the country's requirements is to speak directly with:

  • Your insurance provider.
  • The car rental company.
  • Your destination country's U.S. Embassy.

Complete the Paperwork

Generally, you'll complete the application with the international car insurance provider or the rental car agency (or both, depending on your needs). Depending on the company, you might do this in person, online, by mail, or by fax.

Before beginning the application, remember:

  • You'll need specific information about your vehicle (rental or personal).
    • Examples include make, model, year, etc.
  • You'll need information about the exact coverage types and amounts you want and require.
    • Again, your provider or your rental agency can assist with this.
  • You might need to present a copy of your International Driving Permit.
    • Check our section on International Driving Permits for details on how to apply.
    • Note that you might need to show your U.S.-issued driver's license, too.

An agent will provide you with information about any other required information depending on the company from which you're purchasing the insurance.

Driving & Car Insurance Documents

Before leaving home, make sure you have the following documents on hand at all times; you'll need them to prove you're legally allowed to drive in the foreign country:

  • Your International Driving Permit (IDP).
  • Your U.S.-issued driver's license.
    • Remember, your IDP is a translation of your U.S.-issued driver's license; while it states you can drive in the foreign country, your U.S. driver's license proves you can drive.
  • A copy of your international car insurance policy.

Passports

Although it isn't related to your legal right to drive in a foreign country, it's a good idea to keep your passport on hand. Not only do you need this document to travel abroad, but it also acts as an additional form of identification.

Passport not up to date? Check out our international travel section:

Tips for Traveling Abroad

Even if this isn't your first spin around the world, keep these tips for traveling abroad in mind:

  • Keep all necessary driving- and other travel-related documents with you at all times (see Driving & Car Insurance Documents above).
  • Research the other country's fuel costs and budget accordingly.
  • Learn the rules of the road and other country travel information.
    • Sometimes, U.S. Embassy websites provide you with information about topics like travel warnings and alerts; other times, you can call the Embassy and request driving-specific travel information.
  • Purchase an up-to-date map of the area where you'll be driving.
    • Some GPS tools allow for international map downloads, but they aren't always completely accurate—even if you rent the GPS device from your car rental company.
  • Pack an emergency gear case.
    • Your rental car agency might offer one, but if not, try to keep items such as reflective vests, traffic cones, and first-aid kits in the vehicle.
  • Learn the area's law enforcement contact information.
    • This will come in handy if you're involved in an auto accident or simply get lost.
  • If you receive a traffic or parking violation, make sure you fully understand how and when to pay your fine (or contest it, if you choose).
  • Be prepared to operate a manual transmission vehicle or pay more for an automatic transmission.
    • Many countries rely on manual transmissions, but it's sometimes possible to find automatic transmission vehicles at car rental agencies.
  • Consider using public transportation when traveling through higher populated areas (such as bustling cities).
  • Brush up on conversions from miles per hour (MPH) to kilometers per hour (KPH), as most foreign nations use the metric system.

Of course, some tips span the globe, so use common sense. For example, wear your seatbelt, don't drive distracted (i.e. while texting, talking on the phone, or engaging in other distracting behaviors), and never drink and drive.

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