Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager Chris Harrigan

UPDATED: Aug 11, 2021

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Key takeaways...

  • If you’re taking your personal car on a road trip, make sure your insurance will extend before you cross the border
  • Policies purchased from companies in the U.S. generally have coverage restrictions when you’re in other countries
  • If you’re driving across the US-Mexico border, you can secure Mexican insurance for coverage without exclusions
  • Your insurer may provide liability coverage 10 miles into Mexico but it won’t pay if you have a physical damage loss
  • If you’re going to rent a car, ask the rental car company what type of protection you should buy

If you’re planning an international trip, don’t cross the border in your vehicle until after you’ve purchased all of the necessary auto insurance. This could mean buying a temporary add-on to cover you while you’re traveling. If you travel between countries on a regular basis, you might want a more permanent policy.

In the United States, having the mandatory minimum auto insurance in place on the vehicle you’re driving is a requirement. It doesn’t matter if you’re a resident or a citizen. You can’t drive an uninsured vehicle on public roads. Insurance is also mandatory when crossing the border.

If you’re driving your own vehicle into Mexico or Canada, you need to familiarize yourself with the law. The last thing you want is to get turned away right before you set off on your trip because you failed to secure the right insurance. While the exact requirements vary between provinces, Canadian insurance is similar to many US states.

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Here’s a guide to help you build the right insurance portfolio while you’re planning ahead:

Why doesn’t your personal insurance fully protect you?


When you buy auto insurance, you’re buying insurance a specific car. Since coverage follows both the car and the drivers on the policy, it’s fair to assume that you’ll have protection as long as you’re in your car.

While you do have coverage anywhere in the United States, your personal auto policy isn’t designed to provide international protection. Drivers generally have to ask an insurance agent about add-ons for their auto insurance policies.

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What are the specific location restrictions under your insurance?

You must buy auto insurance from a provider that’s licensed to sell insurance in a specific state. The coverage that you buy will always satisfy at least the minimum statewide requirements.

Not only will you have protection while you’re driving anywhere in your state, you’ll also have coverage that complies with all minimum insurance laws anywhere in the country.

When you’re driving in Mexico, your U.S. insurer will not cover you. Some of your coverage will extend, but there are mileage restrictions and coverage restrictions that leave you at risk. There’s a better chance your U.S. insurance will still provide coverage in Canada.

What are the mileage restrictions when you cross the border?


Mileage restrictions when driving into a bordering country vary from carrier to carrier and state to state. Generally speaking, you’re only allowed to drive between 25 and 100 miles past the Mexican border if you want the limited coverage to apply.

If you’re driving into Canada, your insurer is more likely to extend coverage in the entire country without restrictions. Driving in Canada has proven to be much less risky than driving in Mexico.

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What type of coverage remains in effect when in Mexico?

If you’re driving south of the U.S. border with protection provided solely from your auto insurance carrier, not all of the coverage that you have on the policy is going to be valid. Most companies offer you coverage in the Border Zone, also known as the Free Trade Zone.

You’ll only have protection for your car and not liability risks even if there’s a coverage extension in the Border Zone. Your U.S. insurance won’t pay for any third-party liability claims presented against the policy if you’re in Mexico. Unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss. Even if your trip is short, your insurance coverage won’t kick in if you don’t know you need a qualified Mexican insurance company.

It also won’t pay for physical damage claims if you don’t carry the coverage or if you pass the Border Zone. This rule applies as soon as you cross the border.

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What Does Physical Damage Coverage for Cars in Mexico or Canada Pay for?


Physical damage coverage is a first-party coverage that you can add to your policy for an extra charge. You can add only comprehensive or both comprehensive and collision.

Your car will be repaired or replaced up to its estimated fair market value if you have coverage. You’ll only be responsible for paying your deductible.

If you buy comprehensive, you’ll have coverage to protect you in the following situations:

  • your vehicle is stolen
  • your car is vandalized
  • your car has flood damage
  • your vehicle is damaged by a fire
  • you collide with an animal

Collision pays for damages when you collide with an object or when your vehicle overturns while it’s being driven.

How can you purchase liability protection in Mexico?

If you’re driving into Mexico, you have to carry the mandatory liability limits that are required under Mexican law. You also have to apply for a driving permit if you’re going further than 30 kilometers into the country. Especially if you’re financing a car or doing this on a regular basis, your bank may request proof of this coverage.

It’s best that you purchase Mexican auto insurance before you cross the border so that you have much-needed liability protection. Bodily injury and auto damage are serious risks just as they would be in the United States.

If you buy your coverage before you leave for your trip, you can buy it from a travel agency or also online direct from a provider. Basic coverage is very inexpensive.

Drivers who wait to buy their coverage can purchase Mexican insurance from an agency located right at the border as well.

Why Is Liability Coverage So Important when Traveling?


Mexican law says that all drivers must carry liability insurance to legally drive anywhere in the country. Unlike the United States, where drivers must comply with different state laws, the law for insurance is the same throughout the country.

Failure to comply could leave you without a car and in serious legal trouble.

Liability insurance is very important. It is the only type of coverage on your personal auto policy that protects you if someone else is claiming you’re liable for their damages. It’s also what protects you in court if someone is suing you for those damages.

Without third-party liability coverage, you would pay a significant amount of money after an at-fault accident.

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What type of coverage extends when entering Canada?

If you’re driving into Canada, you don’t have to do quite as much planning. Your U.S. car insurance provider might not protect you very much into Mexico, but your coverage limits will remain in effect when you’re going north rather than south.

Canadian requirements and insurance policies are very similar to American policies and requirements. This, coupled with the fact that Canada isn’t as risky to drive into, is why you’ll have coverage in Canada when you don’t have coverage in Mexico.

Before driving over the border, make sure you have a certificate from your insurer.

What happens if you’re renting a car?


If you’re going to rent a car instead of taking your personal vehicle, make sure that you don’t violate the terms of the rental agreement. Most companies don’t allow you to drive rental over the border.

If you do, you could be accused of theft. It’s better to rent when you’re already in Mexico.

As you can see, planning a road trip out of the country can be more complicated than you would think. You’ll have to learn about the driving laws and purchase the appropriate insurance.

If you need to get quotes for coverage today, use our online rate quote tool and see how much your policy will cost you.