If you’ve already read our guide to buying a car, then you know that getting covered by car insurance is an important step in the car ownership process in the United States. Not only is insurance important to protect you in case of an accident, but it is also required by law.
A quick search of “car insurance” yields endless results; there are differences in what coverage is required even between states here, and the number of options are endless. We know that the process of getting insured from start to finish can seem overwhelming to anyone, especially foreign nationals just getting the hang of things the American way, so we put together the International Student Guide to Car Insurance. We will discuss:
- Deciding what coverage you need
- What paperwork you need to gather
- How the quoting process works
- How to get the best price
- Deciding which insurance company is right for you
- What to do once you are insured
1.What coverage do you need?
There are many types of insurance coverages you can purchase, and when speaking with a sales rep it’s easy to get caught up in all of the add-ons you think you need.
But before you make any decisions about the insurance plan you want to purchase, you need to understand what kind of insurance is required by law in your state. You should check with Motor Vehicle Services in your state to find out the minimum requirement. All states require some level of Liability Insurance, but other coverage may be required. If you fail to be covered by the state minimum, you can be fined if you are caught. You could also face serious trouble if you are involved in an accident, which can cost you a lot of money in the end without sufficient insurance coverage.
Check out the Insurance Information Institute to find out what coverage your state requires. A licensed insurance agent may also be able to advise you.
Beyond your state minimum, make sure you understand your driving habits and your personal finances in order to choose the best plan. Thinking about the risks you take as a driver, and how you would pay for large bills in case of an accident can help you make the best decision as to what coverage you really need.
2. What documentation should you bring from your home country?
You will need a valid driver’s license from your home country. It is not possible to renew your foreign driver’s license within the US, so be sure you are up to date before your arrival. Not everyone qualifies for a U.S. driver’s license, and some internationals need to undergo a long process to obtain a license from the states. The best way to avoid these setbacks is to have a driver’s license that will be valid for as long as possible while you are in the country.
You should also bring a certified copy of your driving record. This is an important document that helps insurance companies determine your rates. Contact your local motor vehicle authority to find out the easiest way to procure this document, and who can certify it. If you’re already in the US and don’t have a way to contact them, you should try reaching out to your nearest embassy or consulate for information. Your driving record may be required to get coverage, and can give you discounts if you have a safe driving history.
Finally, if you have an International Driver’s Permit, bring that with your valid license from your country of citizenship. However, beware of scams: there are many online companies that promise an easy IDP process, but produce nothing but a meaningless card. IDPs can only be issued in your country of citizenship, so check with the appropriate authority there.
Be prepared to provide certified English translations of any documentation from your home country if it is not issued in English, or in a bilingual format.
3. What is a quote, and how do you get one?
When we talk about auto insurance, a quote is an estimate of how much your insurance policy will cost. For large national companies, you can usually get a quote online from their website. You can also get a quote by calling an insurance company directly. Whichever way you choose to get a quote, be prepared to enter information about yourself, including where you live, and information about your finances and living situation. There are many factors that determine what your insurance premium will cost, so be as complete and accurate as possible when submitting information for your quote; this will ensure that you are quoted a price similar to the actual premium you would pay once you choose a company and your information is verified.
A quote is not a contract – you can get as many quotes as you want in order to find the best fit for you. A quote should never cost you money, and it is a service provided by all insurance companies.
4. How do you get the best price?
When choosing your policy, you should consider your premium, the price of your policy, and your deductible, how much you need to pay first before you can use your insurance. To get the best price, you need to get quotes from all of the insurance companies that you are interested in. Make sure you compare plans that are identical, or close to the same.
Many companies also offer incentives, or rewards, to drivers who are at a lower risk of getting into an accident. For example, students who make the dean’s list at their university might receive a percentage discount off of their premium. There are other companies that install a monitor in your car to track your driving habits; if you’re deemed a safe driver, you could end up paying less. Others will even reward you at set times throughout the year for staying accident free.
There are some factors that raise the price of insurance that you can’t avoid, like your gender, age, and residential address. Having good grades, being a safe driver with a safe driving history, and having a good credit score will all help you get the best deal on your insurance policy. And remember: If you’re not sure, or you don’t see it, ask questions!
Simply asking “Do I qualify for any additional discounts?” can pay off in the long run.
5. Which company is best?
There is no single company that is the best. The company you choose should be the best fit for your individual needs. You can start by asking friends, classmates, or colleagues what company they use, and their experiences. Word of mouth referrals are a valuable tool in the search for car insurance.
If you don’t know anyone who has car insurance, don’t worry! A few internet searches will get you the information you need. Consumer Reports is a trusted source for company reviews, and they have a checklist for choosing the best company. Doing an online search for a company’s reviews is another great way to get balanced information.
6. What happens after you are insured?
Make sure you always have proof of insurance in your car. Many companies will send you a card by mail, but if not then you should print out the proof of your plan. You should always keep this proof in your glove compartment in case of an accident or emergency.
Finally, be certain that you understand the extent of your coverage, and how to make claims when you need them before you start driving. We hope the international student guide to car insurance was helpful!
Got it? Congratulations! You are ready to hit the road.
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