Overview – Preparations for Driving Abroad

February 23, 2017

According to statistics compiled by the world Health Organization, more than 300 U.S. citizens die in auto accidents abroad each year and thousands are injured. The majority of the victims are actually not drivers or passengers in cars, but are cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, or other non-motor vehicle occupants. If, however, you are planning on driving abroad, there are precautions you should take in preparation for your adventure, including considering how much, if any, additional insurance you will require.

The U.S. Department of State maintains road safety information by country that details road conditions and other dangers to travelers. Before driving abroad, tourists should learn about the requirements for permits, driver’s
licenses, and insurance as well as to have a passing familiarity with the traffic rules and signs of the country in question. Special care should be taken for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol as some countries
have zero tolerance policies with severe restrictions.

Generally car rental companies in the destination country will provide auto insurance as part of the rental package. In general, however, this coverage meets only minimal requirements. The basic rule of thumb is to evaluate the level of protection offered with the rental and then to augment that policy with additional coverage that reaches a level equal to that carried by the driver in their home country. A policy held in the United States will not cover the driver when operating a motor vehicle abroad, but it may apply in neighboring nations like Canada and Mexico. It’s important to verify this fact with the insurer prior to the trip, not to simply assume that coverage is extended across the border. There is also the possibility that the U.S. policy will not meet the minimum requirements of the country to be visited.

Many countries will not consider a U.S. driver’s license sufficient, so it’s a good idea to obtain an International Driving Permit from an automobile association authorized to issue the credentials by the Department of State. Drivers operating vehicles in foreign countries should carry both the IDP and their regular driver’s license as well as all relevant insurance information. If you are involved in an accident or if you are stopped for a driving infraction, you will be required to present all these materials. Pleading ignorance of local law generally carries little weight with the authorities. Take the time to learn the local laws and courtesies. For instance in some nations, drivers are required to honk before taking a sharp corner or to flash their lights before passing another vehicle.