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Border Crossing

Foreign drivers enter the U.S. every day, usually by driving across the borders with Mexico and Canada. If you are one of them, you might wonder if your foreign car will need American car insurance? Will the U.S. recognize your license? What do you have to do to cross the border?

Depending on the country you visit from, your license and insurance may or may not be valid in the United States. In this article, we will focus on the needs of Mexican and Canadian drivers. Requirements may vary, but once you enter the U.S., you do have resources available to help you get insurance and licensing.

The Risks Of Driving Across International Borders

The U.S., Canada and Mexico each have different traffic laws, vehicle regulations, licensing rules and insurance rules. Therefore, driving in one country can be different from driving in the others.

On the surface, there are not a lot of differences in driving customs. In all three countries, drivers travel on the right side of the road. Traffic signs and regulations generally look very similar, despite differences in language. The primary difference here is that Mexico and Canada measure speed limits and distances in kilometers per hour. The U.S. measures speed limits in miles per hour. All international drivers must use the appropriate measurements to avoid speeding.

Other differences might exist in the driving customs of each country. Drivers in different places tend to consider certain particular practices acceptable or unacceptable. Therefore, all drivers will face a bit of adjustment in places they don’t visit regularly. Your best bet is to slow down, take your time and leave ample space between your car and others.

Will The U.S. Recognize My Foreign License?

Canadian and Mexican driver's licenses are different from those found in the United States. Authorities in all U.S. states will recognize your license as proof that you can drive. Still, keep in mind that various restrictions on your license use might exist, as well.

  • Some states require foreign drivers to obtain International Driving Permits (IDPs) in addition to a license. This is an internationally-recognized driving permit issued by your home country. It provides more information on your qualifications.
  • Even if you get an IDP, it is not a replacement for your driver's license. You must keep the license with you as well.
  • Furthermore, your driver's license is not a replacement for a passport, visa or other customs and immigration forms.

If you plan to stay in the U.S. for more than a temporary residency, you will eventually need to obtain a driver's license in your state of residence. Each state will institute different requirements on when and how you must do so.

Do I Have To Declare My Car?

When you come to the U.S. border, you will likely face a few questions about your vehicle. You will likely have to prove that you have valid registration and plates on the vehicle. In some cases, you might have to fill out a customs declaration form, or you might face a vehicle search. To make the process seamless, keep all your required vehicle paperwork up to date and have it ready to present at the border.

If you plan to stay in the U.S. for an extended time, or if you plan to sell the vehicle, you will likely face additional customs requirements. For example, if you plan to establish residency, you will eventually have to register, tag and title the vehicle in your state of residence.

What About Insurance?

If you plan to drive a car in the U.S., then the vehicle must have insurance.

Laws differ, but a broad interpretation is that you can ask your insurer back home to extend your coverage to insure you on American roads also. In most cases, U.S. border agents will check to see if you have a policy before you cross the border. Keep in mind, some policies will need extensions or special additions to continue to insure you in the States. In other cases, certain U.S. insurance companies will help you to obtain temporary coverage for your stay.

However, if you plan to reside in the U.S. for an extended time, you will eventually have to obtain an American car insurance policy. Nearly all of the 50 states set requirements on what coverage drivers must carry. Both Kansas and Missouri have these requirements.

  • Most states require drivers to have liability insurance. This is coverage that will pay for the injuries or property damage you cause others if you are found at-fault for a wreck.
  • Some states require medical coverage, such as Personal Injury Protection (PIP). Coverage can help you cover your own medical costs should you be involved in an accident.
  • Drivers can usually add ample coverage for the value of their vehicles, such as collision and comprehensive (fire, hail, theft) coverage.

The most-important thing is that you obtain at least as much insurance as required by your state. You can then work with your Auto Insurance Discounters agent to determine any additional coverage.

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