It is no secret that thousands of foreign nationals arrive in the United States each day. Many of these visitors are Canadian and Mexican nationals who regularly cross the border to work or shop in the U.S. There are also those who arrive on tourist or student visas, who will either rent a car from a car rental agency, or perhaps purchase a car to use while in the country.
No matter the reason, business or pleasure, all vehicles operated on public highways in the United States are required to be insured to at least the minimum amount of coverage required by law in the state that the vehicle is registered.

Foreign Nationals and Rented Vehicles

Responsibility for insurance rests with the registered owner of a vehicle. At border control checkpoints, the border control officers will request that the driver of a vehicle produce a driver’s license of a type recognized as valid in the United States, a valid vehicle registration, and proof of insurance that provides international coverage. If any of these items cannot be produced, then the vehicle will be denied entry. In the case of a car rental agency it is required to assure itself that a person renting a vehicle has:
● a driver’s license that is valid to operate a motor vehicle in the United States
● a valid entry document such as a passport, visa, or other identification issued by a government agency
● vehicle insurance that has a provision for international coverage

If the vehicle renter cannot provide evidence of insurance, then the renter is required to purchase temporary coverage that is valid for the rental period from the rental agency. Failure to assure itself that a driver has proper insurance could expose the rental agency to full liability for damages in the event of an accident.

Foreign Nationals and Borrowed Vehicles

Many foreign nationals enter the country to visit friends or relatives, and it is not uncommon for a relative to loan a car to a visitor. In these cases, it is the responsibility of the vehicle owner to have valid insurance that will also cover the driver of the vehicle who is not the owner or is not specifically named in the policy.

Accidents Where a Foreign National Is at Fault

In the case of a foreign national who is determined to be at fault in an auto accident, and is appropriately insured, any insurance claims will be the responsibility of the company that issued the policy, and should be handled as if the foreign national were a US citizen. If, however, the operator of a vehicle is a foreign national and is not insured, the issue becomes more complicated.
The car rental agency that rented the car, and failed to assure itself of valid insurance coverage, becomes liable for any damages that occurred while the vehicle was beyond its immediate control where “immediate control” means the vehicle is physically present on the rental lot and the agency has the vehicle’s keys. If a rented vehicle is not returned on time, the agency is still liable.
If a vehicle was personally loaned to the foreign national, and the vehicle’s insurance was not in effect for that driver, the person loaning the vehicle becomes liable. If the loaner of the vehicle is a US citizen or legal resident, the loaner can be sued in a “court of competent jurisdiction,” be it a state or (rarely) federal court.

If you have been involved in an auto accident with a foreign national, contact a DC personal injury lawyer to help you with these complex issues. Thanks to our friends and contributors from Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their added insight into this issue.