Does American Auto Insurance Cover Me Outside the USA?

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If you’ve ever rented a car while on vacation within the United States, you know that one of the ways rental car agencies try to make money is by selling you auto insurance coverage that, as long as you already carry coverage on your car at home, you probably don’t need, especially since most credit cards also provide some kind of rental car insurance.

If you’re going to be driving outside the United States, however, for the most part, your domestic insurance policy is useless. So what do you do? Here are some options:

  • “Instant” Insurance: If you’re traveling to Mexico or Canada and are using your own U.S. registered vehicle, you may be able to purchase “instant” auto insurance that covers you for the duration of your trip. Originally, this was only available through independent agencies in border towns, but now some mainstream insurers (GEICO for example) are getting in on the action.
  • Rental Car Insurance: While we generally advise people to skip the rental car insurance when traveling within the U.S., the reverse is true when renting a car anywhere else. Buy the auto insurance at the rental car counter, and be sure to go over all the details with the desk agent.
  • Consider Not Renting: Unless you really need to drive, skip renting a car in Europe. Most major European cities have excellent, inexpensive public transit systems as well as taxi fleets that even New Yorkers envy. Since rental car coverage overseas is not as comprehensive as the American version, this may be considerably less expensive in the long run, especially if you’re visiting England, Australia, or anywhere else where right-hand drive is usual.

This information is all very well and good if you’re vacationing outside the United States, but what if you’re moving overseas, either for a long-term assignment or permanently. It’s actually quite common for American citizens moving overseas to have their cars shipped as well, but there are a few things you need to know (aside from the actual transportation guidelines) before you can pick your car up at port.

For example:

  • Insure Before You Go: You must have valid insurance in place for the country where you’re going before you can drive your vehicle there. If your car is being transported by ship, you’ll have to prove to the customs officials that you have current insurance before you can drive it. The same is true if your vehicle is being transported overland.
  • What Kind of Coverage You’ll want to make sure you buy comprehensive, collision, and third-party liability coverage for all of Europe, plus a few other countries as well. Be aware that coverage options are subject to change based on various political situations, including war (no, really).
  • Mexico or Canada: Be aware that vehicle import laws for Mexico and Canada differ than those in Europe. Check with the local authorities before you assume that the coverage you have is enough.

Finding International car insurance while you’re still in the U.S. can be tricky. The one company that we are certain offers it is Geico, but there may be others. Remember, too, that once you have local plates for your country of destination, you’ll want to purchase permanent insurance there.