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The US isn’t as walkable as other countries, so you might need a car to get around during your studies here. And if you need a car, you’ll need car insurance. Your car insurance options depend largely on how long you need insurance and what kind of car you’ll be driving while you’re here.
What you need to know about car insurance in the US
To drive in the US, you need three things: a car, a driver’s license and car insurance.
Car insurance requirements are slightly different in each state. When you buy car insurance, you’ll need to first find the minimum coverage requirements for the state where you’re living or studying.
If you buy a new or used car, you’ll need to register it. You’ll receive the title and registration when you purchase it, and you usually have 10 to 30 days to register it in your name. You can renew it every one or two years. If you’re driving a rental car, the car will be registered to your rental car company.
What kind of license do I need to drive in the US?
As an overseas student, you’re recognized as a temporary resident. This means you’re able to use your overseas driver’s license as long as it’s current and valid.
You must carry your driver’s license with you at all times while driving. If your license is not in English, you’ll need to carry an international driving permit or a certified translation of your license. Alternatively, you can get a license in the US by passing the required tests.
International driving permit
If you are driving in the US with an international driving permit, you have two options for getting car insurance: through an insurance provider or through a car rental company.
The length of your stay will help you determine which route to take. If you’re here for a short trip, getting insurance through the car rental company might be the easiest. But if you’re in the US for an extended stay and intend to purchase a car, an insurance company is the way to go.
What kind of car insurance do I need?
Your personal situation will influence what type of insurance you’ll need.
- Temporary or short-term coverage. Unlike your typical car insurance policy that covers you from 6 to 12 months at a time, short-term or temporary car insurance is usually for a period of up to 30 days. You specify the exact coverage you’d like and the specific days you’ll need it. This is ideal for students who will lease or buy a used car for a semester or any period less than six months.
- Rental car insurance. An option a car rental agency might offer you is rental car insurance. Some credit cards and personal car insurance policies already cover your rental, allowing you to avoid this additional expense. This option is best for students who will rent a car, either for short trips or during your whole stay.
- Nonowners car insurance. By getting nonowners car insurance, you’ll be able to drive someone else’s car and be protected. Typically this type of policy only provides liability coverage. This option is ideal for students who will borrow a family member’s car or a host family’s car.
How much does car insurance cost?
How likely you are to make a claim and what risk group an insurer places you in determines the cost of your car insurance. In order to pull exact numbers, you’ll have to get quotes from multiple insurers to find the cheapest car insurance with the coverage you need.
Some factors that auto insurance companies consider when setting your rates include:
- Your gender. Young men are statistically at higher risk of accidents, which is why young women often pay less for car insurance.
- Your age. If you’re under 25 years old, you’ll pay significantly more for car insurance than your older peers. Once you turn 26, you can start getting cheaper insurance with lower premiums.
- Where you park the car. If your accommodation comes with covered car parking, you can often pay less for car insurance than someone who has to park on the street.
- The car you drive. Luxury and sports cars cost more to insure than your standard sedan. You’ll also get lower premiums for safer cars or cars with certain safety devices.
- How much you drive. If you drive long distances every day, you’ll usually have to pay more for car insurance than someone who only drives short distances or not very often.
- Your driving record. Safe drivers who don’t have a history of car accidents are often able to pay less for car insurance.
- Where you’re staying. If you live in a safe neighborhood, you can often get lower prices than someone who lives in an area with a higher claims rate.
- Your deductible. The deductible is a fee you have to pay when making a claim. A higher deductible will have lower premiums, while a lower deductible will have higher premiums. The choice is up to you, and how you want to balance the costs.
How to pay less for car insurance
Choose from several different ways to reduce the cost of car insurance and make sure you have enough protection. The best way to find the right coverage at the right price is to get quotes from a range of different insurers.
- Get discounts on your car insurance for buying online, being a safe driver, having good grades and more.
- If you won’t be driving much, consider pay-as-you-drive car insurance.
- Don’t make claims if you can avoid it in order to grow a no-claims discount and prevent unnecessary rate hikes.
- Consider the limits and know how to compare policies.
- Know your policy exclusions and what your car insurance doesn’t cover.
Working with a local agent
You may also find it helpful to work with a local independent car insurance agent. Independent agents work with several car insurance providers. By being familiar with both the area and several insurers, they can help you choose the right coverage limits and potentially score a great rate.
Getting around the US in a car can free up your stay by giving you the power to go where you want, when you want. Just make sure you compare your car insurance options and find a policy that fits your budget and coverage needs.
Learn more about car insurance for international students
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