How to insure a vehicle in the United States as a non-US resident

Insurance is a legal requirement on American roads.

Take a minute to learn the fundamentals of auto insurance in the United States, below.

International visitors researching the rules, regulations, and laws for buying, registering, and insuring a vehicle in the United States of America

The Four Major Auto Risks

The first step in understanding auto insurance in the United States is understanding what risks auto insurance protects you against.

Liability Risks - Insurance Legally Required

Liability insurance is often called "third-party insurance" outside of America.

Liability - Bodily Injury

Driving a vehicle creates a risk of bodily injury liability.

If you are found legally responsible for causing an accident that hurts someone outside of your vehicle, you are liable for bodily injury.

Bodily injury liability includes the cost of the injured party's medical bills as well as the legal costs involved.

Liability - Bodily Injury insurance covers medical and legal costs incurred by others created by an accident that you're responsible for. It is legally required to drive a vehicle on public roads throughout the United States.

Liability - Property Damage

Driving a vehicle also creates a risk of property damage liability.

If you are found legally responsible for causing an accident that causes damage to someone else's property - whether that property is another vehicle or some other type of property, such as a building - you are liable for property damage.

Property damage liability includes the cost of repairing the damage caused as well as the legal costs involved.

Liability - Property Damage insurance covers these property damage and legal costs incurred by others created by an accident that you're responsible for. It is legally required to drive a vehicle on public roads throughout the United States.

Collision and Comprehensive Risks - Insurance Optional

Collision and Comprehensive insurance is often called "first-party insurance" outside of America.

Collision

Driving a vehicle creates a risk of damage to your own vehicle in a collision.

If someone else is found legally responsible for the accident, they and/or their insurance must pay to repair the damage to your vehicle.

But if you are involved in an accident, and nobody else is found legally responsible, you'll either have to live with the damage to your vehicle or pay to have it repaired.

Collision Insurance covers the costs to return your vehicle to its pre-collision condition, and is optional throughout the United States.

Comprehensive

Owning a vehicle creates a risk of damage to your own vehicle by a number of non-collision perils.

These perils are (mostly) things that could happen to the vehicle when it's parked.

Comprehensive Insurance covers the costs to return your vehicle to its pre-event condition in the events of:
  • Natural disasters (floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions)
  • Fire
  • Riots and vandalism
  • Theft of all or part of the vehicle
  • Fallen objects (hail, trees, branches, projectiles, etc.)
  • Broken windshield
  • Contact with animals (see *Nerd note below)
Comprehensive coverage is optional throughout the United States.
*Nerd note: Even though hitting an animal seems like it should be a collision risk, insurance companies treat it as a comprehensive risk, for a very good reason. Collision claims cause a driver's insurance rates to increase more than comprehensive claims. Swerving to avoid a deer because your rates will go up and flipping your car as a result is more costly for everybody, so insurance companies classify animal contact as a comprehensive risk to avoid creating the wrong incentives.

The "Missing" Auto Risk

Auto insurance covers the costs of bodily injury and property damage that you may cause to others, and (optionally) damage to your vehicle. But it doesn't cover bodily injury to yourself.

Own Medical

Liability insurance covers the risk of causing harm to someone else or their property, and collision and comprehensive insurance cover the risk of damage to your own vehicle.

But what about injury to yourself?

If you are injured in an accident, and nobody else is responsible, auto insurance only provides limited financial assistance.

Many insurance companies offer Medical Payments coverage that pays a limited amount (usually up to $5,000) to cover minor medical bills, regardless of fault.

However, auto insurance doesn't cover medical costs beyond the Medical Payments limit - or, for that matter, medical costs incurred when an auto isn't involved.

The United States does not have universal healthcare, and most non-US health plans do not provide coverage in America.

In order to cover the risk of injuries to yourself during your visit, you need health insurance - specifically, Emergency Medical Coverage.

Emergency Medical Coverage covers the cost of medical bills incurred when you're outside of the coverage territory of your primary health plan.

Most travel insurance includes Emergency Medical Coverage.

Medical costs in the United States can get pricey. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you're totally covered by your auto insurance. Make sure you have medical coverage for yourself throughout your visit.

Insurance Limits and Deductibles

You cause an accident and $50,000 of damage someone else's brand new Tesla.
How much does your insurance company pay? It depends on your policy limits.

The limit is the maximum amount your insurer will pay out.

Liability Limits

Liability insurance pays for damage you may do to:
1) someone else, or
2) their property.

Auto liability insurance policies have separate limits for:
1a) Bodily Injury, per injured person,
1b) Bodily Injury, per accident, regardless of the number of people injured, and
2) Property Damage

So auto liability policies have limits that look like this:
50 / 100 / 50
Meaning the insurance company will pay out up to:
1a) $50,000 in bodily injury claims per injured person,
1b) $100,000 in bodily injury claims per accident, and
2) $50,000 in property damage claims per accident
Limits commonly offered by insurance companies include:
  • State minimum
  • 25 / 50 / 25
  • 50 / 100 / 50
  • 100 / 300 / 100
  • 250 / 500 / 100
Everything else being equal, liability policies with higher limits cost more than liability policies with lower limits.

Collision and Comprehensive Limits

Since collision and comprehensive insurance apply to losses to your vehicle, the limit of this coverage is, basically, the market value of the vehicle.

If the cost to repair damages exceeds a pre-determined percentage of the vehicle's value (usually 80%), the insurance company will declare the vehicle "totaled" and pay the policy holder 100% of the vehicle's value.

Everything else being equal, comprehensive and collision policies on higher-value vehicles (whose limits are naturally higher) are higher than comprehensive and collision policies on lower-value vehicles.

Deductible

Known in other parts of the world as excess, the deductible is the amount that the insured must pay out before the insurer will begin paying.

The most common deductible amount for Comprehensive and Collision coverage is $500, although deductible amounts of $1,000 or $1,500 are not uncommon.

Everything else being equal, higher deductible amounts lower the cost of the insurance policy.

Deductibles do not feature in liability coverage - the insurer pays the full cost of the claim.

The Cost of Insurance

How expensive is auto insurance in the United States for international visitors?

Liability Insurance Cost

A number of factors determine the cost of auto liability coverage. These include:
  • The insured's age (older => cheaper)
  • Points on the insured's driving record (less => cheaper)
  • The policy's limits (lower => cheaper)
Below are indicative costs for a six-month liability policy for a 35-year-old primary insured with limits of 100 / 300 / 100:
Vehicle Type
6-Month Policy Cost
Motorcycle
$250
Light Vehicle
$750
Recreational Vehicle
$500
These policy costs are indicative and subject to change without notice.

Collision and Comprehensive Insurance Cost

A number of factors determine the cost of collision and comprehensive coverage. These include:
  • The vehicle's value (lower => cheaper)
  • The deductible (higher => cheaper)
  • The model, make, and year's loss history (lower => cheaper)
As a rule of thumb, collision and comprehensive insurance coverage costs 3-6% of the vehicle's value per six-month policy term.
This rate is indicative and subject to change without notice.

Insurers in America

Liability insurance is required to drive a vehicle on public roads in the US.
(Note: Some dealers may require you provide proof of insurance before closing a sale.)

Below are top-rated insurers that don't require a US driver's license.

Progressive

Progressive is the third-largest auto insurer in the United States. It holds an A+ rating - the highest possible rating - from A.M. Best. Their rates are competitive, and they consistently earn high marks for customer satisfaction.
Progressive is not the ideal insurer for all visits, however. Customers wishing to take out an RV insurance policy must also have a "primary transport vehicle" - in other words, they won't insure drivers whose only vehicle is an RV.
Learn more about Progressive

National General (Good Sam)

Good Sam is an iconic name in American RVing. They focus on saving RV'ers money through membership-focused services, such as campsite discounts.
Good Sam Insurance Agency offers insurance underwritten by National General, another top-rated US auto insurance company.
National General insures drivers whose only vehicle is an RV, making them the best option for international visitors who only wish to travel in an RV.
Learn more about Good Sam Insurance

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