Chelsey Tucker graduated with a Bachelor of History degree from Metropolitan State University in 2019. She now writes about insurance with her specialty being life insurance and has been quoted on Help Smart Phone and MEL Magazine.

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years. He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com.

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Apr 2, 2022

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The Lowdown

  • As an international student, you can drive in the U.S. with an International Driver’s Permit if the car is already insured
  • If you want to buy or rent a car yourself, you will need auto insurance, and for that you will need a U.S. driver’s license
  • The best auto insurance companies for you offer short-term policies and discounts for students

Whether you are visiting the U.S. for a summer of study or living here long-term as a full-time student, you will often need a car to get around. Many colleges and universities are located in densely populated areas with easy access to mass transportation, but this is not always the case. Regardless, you will often find the ability to drive a car beneficial during your stay in the U.S.

If you plan to use a car while studying in America, you will need auto insurance. We’ll help you find the best auto insurance companies for international students. If you’re ready to shop for the best car insurance rates in your area, enter your ZIP code here to get started.

Before International Students Can Get Insurance, They Need a License

You need insurance to drive legally in the U.S., but that’s not all you need. Before you can get insurance coverage, you must be licensed to drive in America. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this.

Can you drive in the U.S. if you have a foreign driver’s license?

Generally, the answer is yes, but it comes with conditions. Most states will allow you to use your home country’s driver’s license for a short period, provided you also carry an International Driving Permit or IDP. This document translates the data on your current license into a form acceptable in America. You will not be able to drive until you have this document.

If you are a student traveling from the U.S. to a foreign country, you can have your home country driver’s license converted into an International Driver’s Permit at the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). 

If, however, you are an international student coming to America, you will need to obtain your IDP in your home country if you want to continue to use your home driver’s license.

While you can use your driver’s license and IDP for some time, eventually you will need to get a U.S. driver’s license in order to drive in America. This will allow you to continue to drive legally. In addition, this will enable you to obtain auto insurance coverage so that you can rent or purchase a vehicle to use while studying in America. Before your temporary grace period expires, you will want to follow these steps to get a new license in the U.S. This will allow you to continue to drive legally.

How to Get a U.S. Driver’s License

This process is somewhat more difficult for an international student, so it is wise to do your research and get your paperwork in order. Use this information as a guide to help you obtain your U.S. driver’s license.

There Will Be a Lot of Paperwork

First, you will want to determine if you are eligible for a U.S. driver’s license. Check the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies to determine your lawful status before you apply.

The state you want to drive in will have its own rules and regulations as well, so ensure that you are informed of the specifications. Your school will usually have a Designated School Official (DSO) who can help you with this step. 

You will have to activate a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System record and be located in the U.S. for a minimum of 10 days before you can apply for your American driver’s license. There are also several documents that may be required from your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Each of these documents will need to be completed and in good standing, before you can request a driver’s license.

Stay in touch with your DSO, so that you don’t miss any filing deadlines. Verify that your personal information is correct and corresponds with all of your paperwork. Keeping track of these details will go a long way toward ensuring you get your license when you need it.

You Will Have to Pass the Tests

Once you have all the necessary forms and documents submitted, it will be time to get tested. There are a series of exams you must pass before you can be licensed to drive in the U.S. Specific details and requirements vary by state, but generally, you will be tested in three key areas.

You will need to pass a vision test to establish that you can see well enough to drive. Each state has its own set of qualifications to pass this test.

Next comes the written test. You will want to study, as these tests can be tricky. You will need to learn the specific rules of the road in your area, so use the resources that the local Department of Motor Vehicles will provide. You should also be able to request that the test be given in your native language or administered through a translator.

Finally, the big test is the driving test. You will be required to demonstrate various driving skills and an understanding of how to navigate the roads safely and proficiently. Again, each state has its own requirements. You should be prepared to cover the basics and a few specialty situations like parallel parking.

Once you get your license, you can legally drive in the U.S. You will almost be ready to buy or rent a vehicle on your own. You will still need auto insurance to get on the road, and there are several methods for following this rule.

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How to Get Auto Insurance Coverage as an International Student

With a few very specific exceptions, before anyone can drive a car in America, that car must be covered by auto insurance. There are several ways to obtain coverage as an international student, so let’s have a look.

Non-owners Insurance is Good for Renters

International students often borrow cars from friends or host families. In those situations, the car is usually covered by the owner’s insurance policy, which allows for other drivers of the vehicle. It is legal for you to drive it as long as you have your Independent Driving Permit and any driver’s license.

In some cases, the owner of the car you are borrowing may not be carrying insurance that will cover you. In these situations, you can insure someone else’s vehicle through what is known as non-owners insurance. These policies are typically more affordable than traditional auto insurance coverage, as they are designed for drivers who don’t operate vehicles on a daily basis or are only using a car for a short period of time. This may apply to you as an international student.

Some international students rent cars frequently while in the U.S. You are not legally required to pay for the auto insurance the rental company offers, so legally speaking, you don’t need insurance to rent a car. However, if you decline the supplemental insurance, you put yourself at risk in the event of an accident. If you are at fault, you will be paying out of your own pocket.

Of course, the car insurance offered by the rental company is expensive. In this situation, carrying a non-owner policy may be the most affordable insurance solution for international students. Another option that fits students living seasonally in the U.S. is called short-term insurance.

Short-Term Insurance Works Well When You Borrow a Car

When attending school in the U.S. as an international student, you may find yourself traveling back and forth from your home country on a regular basis. If so, you will not want to be committed to an auto insurance policy over a long period of time. In this circumstance, a short-term policy can be the best car insurance for international students in the USA.

Rather than the standard six- to twelve-month terms usually offered by auto insurance providers, short-term car insurance policies cover much briefer periods. You can get short-term car insurance coverage for daily use, and up to six months at a time. If you plan to use the host family’s vehicle during your stay, they can purchase a short-term policy to keep you covered while you drive.

If You Want to Buy Your Own Vehicle, You Need a Traditional Policy

If you are committed to your international studies for the long haul and are planning to remain in America for a significant amount of time, you may be thinking of purchasing your own car. Once you have endured the procedure of obtaining your U.S. driver’s license, you will be eligible to buy a car. In order to do that, you will need to obtain a standard auto insurance policy.

The Best Car Insurance for International Students in the U.S.A.

Each auto insurance provider has its own specialties and reputation. For international students, affordable and quality car insurance is within reach if you know where to look. Fortunately, you have some resources in your search for the best insurance companies for international students.

Your school’s International Student Affairs office can assist you, as can your Designated School Official. If you are living with friends or a host family, reach out to them for their advice on the best insurance for international students. Shopping around and comparing rates will be useful, as will knowing the type and amount of coverage you need.

The Insurance Information Institute explains that you are usually required to carry liability coverage and can choose to upgrade to full coverage should you wish. Comprehensive insurance is the more expensive option, but it does provide you with greater coverage. As an international student, you will often be on a budget; therefore, finding affordable car insurance is beneficial. 

The Best Auto Insurance Companies for You

Determining the best insurance companies for international students depends on several factors. Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to find inexpensive or substandard insurance providers, but the coverage may not be what you need. Often, choosing a well-established car insurance company seems expensive, but it can save you money in the end.

Well-known providers like GEICO, State Farm, and AAA offer discounted rates to students who maintain a certain grade standard. Encouraging a focus on schoolwork and catering to student drivers sets these companies apart from the rest.

These companies offer low rates for non-owner insurance policies, which may be the best solution for you as a visiting student. They each have reputations for providing quality customer service which can be extremely valuable when purchasing your first auto insurance policy.

Pay attention to your local insurance options as well. There are several high-quality regional insurance providers that may suit you well as an international student. Erie Insurance, operating in parts of the Midwest and Northeast, offers safe driving discounts. They also provide lower rates to drivers with reduced usage. If you plan to return home for the summer and leave your car behind, Erie will factor that into your rates.

Because car insurance rates depend on numerous variables, it is difficult to know who will provide the cheapest insurance for international students. Your age, lack of driving record, and credit history all work against you in this regard. For these reasons, it may be wise to select a major brand as your first car insurance carrier. The student discounts and alternate policy offerings from GEICO, State Farm, and AAA make quality car insurance affordable.

Again, there is no one company that offers the cheapest student car insurance. Comparing rates for GEICO international student car insurance and State Farm international student car insurance will help you find the best deal.

The Bottom Line on Auto Insurance for International Students

When you are living in a new country, many things seem complicated and unfamiliar. Car insurance is no different, but you can navigate this world with a little patience and attention to detail. Whether you are borrowing, renting, or buying a car, once you have decided on the type of policy that best fits your situation you are well on your way. 

The best car insurance for international students offers student discounts and non-traditional policy types and terms. These companies can be found nationwide. To begin your search for the best insurance companies for international students, enter your ZIP code below.