Does Canadian car insurance cover me when driving in the United States?

REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton
REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

You’ve probably never done the math yourself but apparently some 90 percent of the population of Canada lives within 160 kilometers of the border of the United States. It’s no wonder, then, that so many people head south of the border on a regular basis.

Being so close means that thousands of Canadians drive across the border every day to shop or to stay, or to shop and stay. Even in the post-9/11 era, few Canadians think much about driving to the United States. Probably even fewer take time to think about whether or not their car insurance covers them on the other side of the border.

If you check with the website for the Government of Canada, they helpfully suggest contacting your insurance agent to find out if the coverage you have is satisfactory for a trip to the U.S. They go on to add that “many” states require drivers to carry proof of insurance.

As it turns out, insurance is required in 48 of 50 states. Only New Hampshire and Virginia do not require drivers to carry insurance. So, if for some reason you have no insurance and you drive across the one border crossing between Quebec and New Hampshire, you’ll be fine if you get pulled over. (Though you would be in trouble in Quebec, where insurance is mandatory.)

The good news for the overwhelming majority of Canadians, who carry car insurance, is that your insurance will most likely cover you for a typical road trip to the U.S. It is, however, actually a good idea to verify this with your insurer. If you’re planning on staying for an extended period, perhaps wintering in the south, you’ll want to check with local authorities to make sure your coverage is valid for the duration of your stay.

Top up before you head out

Some insurance advisors recommend upping your liability coverage for a trip over the border. The reason? If you cause an accident and your current coverage is not enough to pay for the damage, the other driver could sue you for the balance. If that happens, you will likely need to return to the U.S. to face legal proceedings. That’s an expensive trip you do not want to take.

Additionally, those who do not carry collision coverage might want to rethink that choice before heading south. If you cause an accident, you could be left without the means to pay for repairs to your vehicle. Getting stranded in a foreign country without a car is not what you want to happen on a vacation or outlet mall shopping run.

What about rental cars?

Sometimes it’s more convenient to rent a car in the United States than it is to bring your own. They always offer you extra insurance when you book your car online, and then it’s offered again at the counter. Do you need the extra coverage?

In most cases, the answer is no, you don’t. Your personal auto insurance probably extends to rental cars as well. Again, it’s worth the call to your agent to be sure. Many credit cards also provide additional coverage for rental cars.

Enjoy your summer (and winter) road trips, Canada!
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