Renting a car abroad & the basics of international car insurance
Last updated: May 2023
Renting a car has become a straightforward, streamlined process throughout the United States. But the process may not be quite so easy when you need to rent a car in another country. U.S. citizens can typically rent a car while abroad if they follow the driver licensing laws and meet insurance requirements specific to the country.
Is your U.S. Driver's license valid?
To rent a car, you must prove that you are legally allowed to drive before you will be given the keys to your rental car. According to the U.S. State Department, a majority of countries outside of North America accept an International Driving Permit (IDP). The IDP is not a driver's license, but an official translation of your current, valid U.S. license into 10 different languages. You must be at least 18, have a valid driver's license and bring two passport-sized photos to get an IDP.
What coverage do you need?
Typically, your personal car insurance policy will not cover you abroad. But your insurer will likely protect you when you drive into Canada. Your insurance provider can explain if your car insurance policy provides protection in Mexico and tell you about alternative coverage you can purchase to help protect your car while it's over the southern border.
In addition to a personal auto policy, if you have a personal umbrella policy, you may have coverage. An umbrella policy typically applies anywhere in the world, but only above the required underlying insurance, so a driver with umbrella insurance will still need to buy personal liability insurance from the rental company in another country or some other source.
Other countries will have their own specific sets of rental insurance requirements. You can contact the U.S. embassy in the country you are visiting to determine the rental car insurance requirements. Some countries may require specific additional coverage that is only available in that country.
Purchasing additional insurance
Once you determine the extent of your existing coverage, consider any additional coverage you may want to help protect you in the case of an accident, theft or injury in that country, and where you can secure it.
You can usually purchase auto insurance from an overseas car rental company, but in some countries the required coverage is minimal. In that case, you may want to consider buying insurance coverage equal to what you carry at home.
The price for insurance can vary dramatically, so consider reviewing the costs of buying insurance at your destination versus securing coverage through other channels. Once you identify any gaps in your coverage, consider comparing prices from your U.S. insurance provider, your credit card company and the rental car agency. However you decide to protect yourself while traveling outside of the U.S., it is essential to take the time to research your insurance needs and find the best coverage for your situation.