If you travel to Europe for a month, is it legal to drive? If you’re relocating to a new country for work, how long do you have to navigate tricky public transportation schedules before you can drive your own vehicle? If you cross the border to Canada or Mexico, will you still be covered if you get into an accident?

These are important questions to ask your car insurance provider before you travel. It would be a nightmare to have an accident in a foreign country – for one, you may have to face overwhelming property damage and medical costs on your own. Second, you may face legal charges for driving without coverage. The answers to the questions are tricky. While every provider and policy is different, here are a few basic answers for drivers in foreign countries:

Driving overseas

Your existing U.S. auto insurance policy probably wouldn’t offer coverage if you caused an accident overseas. Check with your provider, and find out how you can add coverage to your policy so you’ll be protected or purchase a separate international auto insurance policy through a third-party vendor. You’ll also need to make sure the coverage you purchase meets the minimum auto insurance requirements in any countries you plan to drive in.

If you’re visiting the country and driving a rental car, you also could need to add rental coverage. While your auto insurance provider might not offer this type of protection, some rental agencies include it in their fees, and many credit card companies include rental car coverage with your credit plan if you use their card to book the vehicle.

Driving in Canada

Typically, most American car insurance carriers would offer coverage if you were to drive across the border into Canada. However, it’s still a good idea to contact your agent and go over your policy to find out exactly what kind of protection you can count on if you were to get into an accident. You should also double check that your existing policy meets Canada’s legal minimum insurance requirements. If you need additional coverage, find out whether you can purchase what you lack through your existing provider or whether you should use a Canadian insurer that can provide relatively inexpensive coverage for your trip.

If you’re driving a rental car, again check to determine whether your auto insurance provider still covers you. If not, check with your credit card company and then the rental car agency. In most cases, it is not difficult for an American to legally drive in Canada.

Driving in Mexico

Your existing U.S. car insurance policy could continue coverage should you cross the border into Mexico. However, this coverage may not be considered valid by local authorities. In fact, if you cause an accident and are caught without a valid Mexican auto insurance policy, both you and your vehicle could be taken into custody.

Contact a third-party insurer in Mexico, and find out what exactly what you’ll need to drive legally in the country. A minimum amount of liability insurance will be required, and you should also purchase some kind of collision and comprehensive coverage since your existing U.S. policy will most likely not be considered valid.

The important thing is not to guess about coverage. The smartest solution in all these scenarios is to find out from your provider whether you’ll be covered before you get behind the wheel. If you’re not properly insured and get into an accident away from U.S. soil, you could face huge expenses and, in a worst-case scenario, some time behind bars.

[box type=”info”]This article was contributed by Carrie Van Brunt-Wiley, Editor of the HomeInsurance.com blog. Carrie has been writing insurance news and consumer information for HomeInsurance.com since 2008. [/box]

Written by Einat Mazafi
Einat Mazafi is the owner of NY International Shipping, an International Shipping and moving company based in New York. She is also a specialist in providing the best relocation solutions to clients worldwide.