Will your current auto insurance cover you abroad?

Linda Childers
Whether you're heading to Berlin or Beijing, it’s important to ensure that you have proper auto insurance if you plan on driving during your getaway.
“It’s important to do a little homework about insurance requirements in the countries you intend to drive in,” says Tully Lehman, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Network of California. “Some travelers assume their U.S. auto insurance plan will cover them when they rent a car while traveling overseas, but this typically isn't the case.”
In addition, many countries don’t recognize a U.S. driver’s license and require drivers to obtain an international permit to be able to drive on their roads. Licensing laws vary from country to country.
“There’s nothing worse than being at a rental car counter in a foreign country and discovering you’re not covered by auto insurance and don’t have the international driving permit needed to drive in that country,” Lehman says.
Before you head out on vacation, plan to follow these five steps:
1. Check with your auto insurer to see whether your policy covers you in the countries you plan to visit. Your policy may apply to neighboring Canada and Mexico, but probably won't cover you overseas.
“In Mexico, your American liability insurance is not valid for bodily injury, though some American insurance policies will cover for physical damage,” Lehman says. “You can also buy Mexican car insurance in several American border towns.” These policies apply whether you're driving your own vehicle or a rental.
2. If you plan to rent a car in another country, call or go online to check with major car rental agencies about their insurance requirements. Generally, you should buy insurance outside the country that's similar to the coverage you have at home.
“Our website and customer service staff can help travelers obtain a temporary auto insurance policy to cover them while traveling,” says Rich Broome, a spokesman for rental car giant Hertz. “The cost of the policy will vary depending on the country and the length of time you will be renting the car.”
3. If you plan to rent a car abroad and charge it to your credit card, chances are your credit card company offers temporary auto insurance. For example, Visa offers coverage for damage stemming from collision or theft for cars rented in the United States and most other countries.
“There are certain terms and conditions that need to be met by consumers, such as declining the auto rental company’s collision damage waiver option,” says Kate Flannery, a spokeswoman for Visa. “To activate this insurance, cardholders need to complete the entire rental transaction with their Visa card.”
4. Obtain an international driving permit. Since many fake international driving permits are sold on the Internet, the U.S. State Department recommends buying a permit from AAA for $15. You don’t have to be a member of AAA to obtain a permit.
5. To ensure a safe trip, the State Department recommends that travelers obtain a copy of the driving laws of each country you plan to visit before you begin driving there. Information is available online or at that country's U.S. embassy.

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