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How to get car insurance as an undocumented citizen

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

    Article Highlights

    An estimated 11,300,000 undocumented immigrants live in the United States. As an undocumented citizen, it can be difficult to obtain a driver’s license and purchase a car. Most states do not offer driving privileges to non-U.S. citizens, but some states are making it easier.

    Even getting car insurance can be difficult for undocumented immigrants. Without insurance, driving is incredibly risky and leads to risk of serious consequences, including deportation of undocumented immigrants. Yet many people (immigrants and U.S. citizens alike) drive without any coverage.

    In this article, we’ll explain how non-U.S. citizens can get car insurance in certain states.

    Can you get car insurance as non-U.S. citizens?

    Yes, it’s possible for non-U.S. citizens to get car insurance. However, key steps need to be taken in order to obtain insurance.

    Assuming you don’t have a car already, that’s the first place to start. Unless you pay cash, your primary blocker here is obtaining an auto loan, because of a lack of credit. Most immigrants, documented or not, are considered “credit invisible” to financial institutions upon their arrival in the United States. This means that even if you had great credit in your home country, it probably won’t transfer over, so you’ll have to start from scratch.

    The good news is that you don’t need a Social Security number to establish credit. But you do need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS for federal tax-filing purposes. (The IRS does not share your information with ICE or Homeland Security, according to the American Immigration Council.)

    With an ITIN, you can apply for a secured credit card and begin to build a credit history. Though they can be hard to find, there are U.S. banks, credit unions and even car dealerships that offer ITIN auto loans to customers who do not have a Social Security number. You can call financial institutions directly or ask friends and family for a referral.

    Buying a used car and paying in full could be an easier option, particularly if you’re trying to avoid taking on debt. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even the average listing price for a used vehicle was more than $21,000 in July 2020, according to Edmunds. To avoid overspending, be sure to calculate the full cost of ownership before you decide on a vehicle to purchase.

    Get a driver’s license

    If you need car insurance, the first step is to get a driver’s license. Every driver who applies for insurance must have a valid license, regardless of their status. This applies to undocumented citizens as well, as indicated by financial advisor and consumer advocate Laura Adams:

    “If you’re an undocumented citizen, it’s possible to get car insurance, but the options depend on the state where you live. You typically need a driver’s license, so check with your state’s department of motor vehicles to find out what’s permitted.”

    Until you’re licensed and insured, it’s illegal to drive — and not worth the risk. Having coverage protects you from an accident that’s caused by you or another driver. New drivers pay relatively high car insurance premiums; as you get more time behind the wheel and maintain a clean driving history, however, your rates should come down.

    Currently, 15 states and Washington, D.C., allow undocumented citizens to get a driver’s license. Those states include:

    Californiahttps://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/driver-licenses-identification-cards/assembly-bill-ab-60-driver-licenses/
    Coloradohttps://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dmv/co-rcsa-sb251-driver-licenses-and-ids
    Connecticuthttps://portal.ct.gov/DMV/Licenses/Licenses/Drive-Only-License-Program
    Delawarehttps://www.dmv.de.gov/DriverServices/drivers_license/DPC/index.shtml
    Hawaiihttp://www.honolulu.gov/cms-csd-menu/site-csd-sitearticles/34652-limited-purpose-driver-license.html
    Illinoishttps://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/drivers/TVDL/tvdl.html
    Marylandhttps://mva.maryland.gov/Pages/driver-licensing-questions.aspx#1
    New Jerseyhttps://mva.maryland.gov/Pages/driver-licensing-questions.aspx
    New Mexicohttp://www.mvd.newmexico.gov/apply-for-new-driver-s-license.aspx
    New Yorkhttps://dmv.ny.gov/driver-license/driver-licenses-and-green-light-law
    Nevadahttps://dmvnv.com/dac.htm
    Oregonhttps://www.oregon.gov/odot/DMV/Pages/HB2015.aspx
    Utahhttps://dld.utah.gov/license-permit-idcard-cdl/driving-privilege-card-dpc/
    Vermonthttps://dmv.vermont.gov/licenses/types-of-licenses-ids/driver-privilege-card
    Washingtonhttps://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/idproof.html
    District of Columbiahttps://dmv.dc.gov/service/limited-purpose-driver-license

    (Virginia will begin issuing driver privilege cards to undocumented immigrants in January 2021.)

    If you live in one of these states, you can apply for a driver’s license through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Like any other driver, you’ll be required to take driver’s education courses and complete an on-road test. Depending on your age and the state, you may also be required to drive with a learner’s permit for a period of time.

    If you don’t live in one of the 15 states, you might be able to get a license through the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which is available nationwide. DACA allows non-U.S. citizens to get a valid driver’s license if they fit certain criteria, including:

    • Immigrated to the U.S. before age 16
    • Were younger than 31 on June 15th, 2012
    • Are living in the U.S. consistently
    • Have a GED degree
    • Have no criminal record

    If you don’t fit into these categories, you may be out of luck unless your status changes.

    Shop for car insurance

    Once you have a valid state driver’s license, you can shop for car insurance. Every state has a minimum amount of car insurance drivers are legally required to carry, which is usually the cheapest coverage you can get but also the least protection.

    Before you purchase insurance, your provider will let you know how much coverage you need.

    In most states, you must have a certain level of liability coverage to protect you from lawsuits. Additionally, your state might require drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP), uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) and medical payments coverage.

    Usually, collision and comprehensive insurance are optional coverages. However, these two coverages are what protect your vehicle. For instance, if you get into an accident and your car gets damaged, collision insurance will reimburse you for the cost of repairs. Because of that, collision and comprehensive insurance are beneficial.

    When you’re shopping for insurance, look for providers that offer coverage in your area. Check the coverage, discounts and endorsements they offer. You can also read reviews from research firms like J.D. Power, and check the company’s financial strength rating from AM Best.

    Find affordable options

    Get several quotes from different companies to verify which provider can give you the best deal for the amount of coverage you need. Most insurance companies have free online quote generators, which allow you to input your information and get an estimated rate.

    If you live in California and can’t afford traditional insurance, you can take advantage of the Low-Cost Auto Insurance Program. The program helps California residents get insurance if their income is less than $29,425 for one person or $60,625 for a family of four. Although the program only offers the minimum amount of protection, it is much more affordable than getting private insurance.

    To qualify for the Low-Cost Auto Insurance Program, drivers must have a valid California license, be at least 19 years old, own a car that is worth less than $25,000 and meet the program’s income requirements.

    Many insurance companies that offer coverage to undocumented immigrants specialize in what’s called non-standard auto insurance. This type of insurance is generally reserved for drivers with a history of accidents or traffic violations. However, drivers can be labeled high-risk for other reasons, such as their age or credit score (or, in this case, their immigration status). Non-standard policies offer the same coverage terms and limits as standard policies but have higher premiums.

    Some of the auto insurance companies that serve undocumented citizens include:

    The documentation requirements for getting a car insurance policy vary by insurer. For example, some companies may accept a foreign driver’s license or consular identification (CID) card in lieu of a U.S. driver’s license or non-driver’s ID. Others will accept an ITIN instead of asking for a Social Security number, and some insurers can determine your eligibility for a policy based on other identifying info. The easiest way to find out what a specific provider requires is to call and ask.

    Generally speaking, undocumented immigrants will almost certainly pay higher premiums for car insurance compared with U.S. citizens or immigrants with a visa or permanent resident card, even if they had a stellar driving record in their country of origin. On top of maintaining a safe driving record in the U.S., focus on building a positive credit history — most property insurers consider an applicant’s credit score when pricing a policy, meaning the higher your credit score, the lower your rate.

    Also, check with your state’s laws to find out whether you’ll need to show proof of registration in order to get car insurance from one of these companies. Rules vary by state, although in most cases, you’ll need to get insured first.

    Consequences of driving uninsured

    The inability to get a driver’s license in a majority of U.S. states — which in most cases is a prerequisite for obtaining car insurance — means that some undocumented immigrants may end up driving without car insurance. This problem is often made worse by unsafe or inadequate public transportation systems in many suburban areas, where immigrants are increasingly choosing to settle.

    That said, it’s important to do everything possible to avoid driving when you’re uninsured. You might consider asking a coworker who lives nearby for a ride to work, or even trying to find a job closer to home so that you can walk or ride a bike. 

    Although that’s not ideal, the consequences of driving without insurance are serious. If you get caught driving without it, you could face fines, car impoundment and even jail time if it’s not your first offense. Additionally, undocumented immigrants may face deportation.

    Laura emphasizes the importance of insured driving:

    “Until you’re licensed and insured, it’s illegal to drive, so don’t risk it. Having coverage protects you from an accident that’s caused by you or another driver. New drivers pay relatively high car insurance premiums; however, as you get more time behind the wheel and maintain a clean driving history, your rates should come down.”

    Driving without insurance also isn’t worth the financial risk. If you don’t have insurance, you are responsible for paying the cost of a claim entirely out-of-pocket. Accidents often cause thousands of dollars worth of damage, and if that money is coming out of your savings account, it could put you in debt.

    Resources

    Informed Immigrant, a digital hub and network for the undocumented immigrant community in the United States, has a state-by-state directory of resources for immigrants during the coronavirus crisis.

    The American Immigration Council offers a number of fact sheets and special reports on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs.

    The National Immigration Law Center provides community education materials on immigrant rights, eligibility for disaster assistance and more.

    The National Immigration Legal Services Directory from the Immigration Advocates Network lets you search for free or low-cost legal services by state, county or detention facility.

    The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC) provides health care services to medically underserved communities in the United States, including undocumented immigrants. Go here to find a clinic near you. (You can also search the Free Clinic Directory for more clinics and community health centers that serve people without health insurance.)

    The takeaway

    • Car insurance is sometimes available for non-U.S. citizens.
    • A driver’s license is required to get car insurance and allow you to drive.
    • States require a minimum amount of insurance coverage.
    • People face high consequences for driving without insurance.

    If you’re an undocumented citizen, there are ways to purchase car insurance. Currently, 15 states allow non-U.S. citizens to get a driver’s license. If you don’t live in one of those states, you may be eligible for a license through the federal DACA program.

    Once you have a license, you can start looking for insurance. Don’t forget to compare providers and quotes, to see which company can give you the best deal for the coverage you need. Remember that driving without insurance is illegal and comes with heavy consequences.

    Elizabeth Rivelli

    Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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