Vehicle Insurance in Canada and the USA
The information on this page relates primarily to European registered motorhomes temporarily imported into Canada and the USA.
Third party (liability) vehicle insurance is compulsory in Canada and effectively compulsory throughout the USA. If you have a valuable motorhome then comprehensive (full) insurance may be desirable. It is however surprisingly difficult (and expensive) to get any sort of insurance for a temporarily imported European vehicle in North America.
There are five potential sources of insurance for a European registered motorhome being driven in North America. These are:
- European insurance valid in Canada and/or the USA
- Canadian insurance intended for "foreign" vehicles
- Canadian insurance intended for Canadian vehicles
- USA insurance intended for "foreign" vehicles
- USA insurance intended for USA vehicles
European insurance valid in Canada and/or the USA
Early in 2012 I emailed the "usual suspects" (those companies whose names are suggested whenever anybody says they need "foreign" insurance) to ask if they could provide at least the legal minimum third party insurance for my motorhome in Canada and Alaska for six months. I provided each company with a detailed description of my motorhome.
"We must advise that unfortunately we are unable to offer a quotation to cover you as per your recent email, and suggest that you look on the internet to find a company who can offer you cover."
After asking me to complete a detailed questionnaire Campbell Irvine replied:
"Please note that the cover provided is purely for the vehicle on the basis of Accidental Damage,
Fire and Theft cover beyond Europe and does not include any Third Party cover in Europe or beyond Europe.
The cover provided is therefore not the same as Comprehensive cover under a UK policy.
You would need to arrange the Third Party locally as you travel. Alternatively, it may be possible to arrange the cover through a company who based in the Netherlands. With regards to the Marine Transit cover you would need to arrange this with the shipping company.
The Accidental Damage Fire and Theft premium based on a value of £65000 would be £7238.11 with an Excess of £500.00. We are able to offer a discount in premium should require a higher excess."
"The estimated premium for a period from 9-12 months Full coverage insurance for Canada and USA amounts to approx. USD 5000 based on a current value of the Motorhome of USD 100.000 and single drivers aged 40-65 years. For married drivers there is a small discount."
We received your email regarding insurance for a motorhome. Unfortunately we do not write insurance in Canada or for motorhomes."
SeaBridge are the most recommended shipping company for getting you motorhome from Europe to North America and they also offer insurance whilst your vehicle is in North America. SeaBridge do not require you to complete a questionnaire to get a quotation, they have a very simple price list based only on vehicle value, driver's age and marital status. The current price list (2012) is dated January 2007 but is apparently still valid.
The price given for a vehicle value of $100,000 for six months is $2074 USA. SeaBridge seem unwilling to offer any information about who is underwriting this insurance, but I believe that it is Thum in the USA (see below).
Canadian insurance intended for "foreign" vehicles
After much email correspondence with several Canadian insurance companies and many Canadian insurance brokers it seems that no Canadian company offers insurance for vehicles not registered in Canada. To confirm this I contacted the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) who informed me that:
"I can tell you that the rules set out by the provincial governments in our Canadian provinces and have very strict legislation we must adhere to. [sic] One being that in order to purchase insurance on your vehicle, it must be first registered in your name in that province. i.e. vehicle registered in Nova Scotia and the driver must hold a NS driver license to drive in Nova Scotia and must be living in the province and then he/she can insure the vehicle in Nova Scotia...The same holds true in every province in Canada."
Canadian insurance intended for Canadian vehicles
It has been reported that Canadian insurance companies can be "required" to provide insurance to an individual after a certain number of Canadian Insurers have declined to do so. After considerable research by the IBC (who initially denied any knowledge of such a rule) it seems that in Quebec (and only in Quebec):
"As soon as the vehicle is driven in the province of Quebec, we can oblige an insurer to provide third part liability ($50,000) even if it does not stay here but travels Canada and USA... When he gets here, he has to provide us with:
- The name of 5 Quebec insurers who had refuse [sic] to insure.
- The phone number and the representative’s name for each place.
We will then oblige an insurer to make a contract but we do not guaranty it will be affordable. This works only when the vehicle is driven in Quebec. We won’t oblige any insurer before his arrival."
USA insurance intended for "foreign" vehicles
Although their website suggests that they provide insurance for foreign visitors to the USA they were unable to help:
"Thank you for contacting our Agency for your insurance needs. Unfortunately we are unable to provide you with insurance needs. Your motor home must be imported in USA port [sic] and our Agency must be licensed in the state to conduct business.
Thum's response to my email was very quick and very comprehensive. After completing their application form Thum said:
"Thum Agency provides a comprehensive insurance package for international clients who will bring their foreign motor homes to the United States for travel. Thum Agency can provide insurance for you as long as you have an International Drivers License or a national license in good standing. Your motor home must have the following: cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities - self contained and you must maintain active, valid license plates in your country of vehicle registration.
Our insurance package includes the following coverage which will cover you for travel in the USA, Canada and limited coverage in Mexico. This is a Full Coverage insurance package that will cover you for Liability to others persons and their property, damage to your motor home and other specialized coverage for the recreational vehicle owner. This policy will also cover your motor home while it is in storage only if the vehicle is stored in the USA.
Insurance Cost for 6 Months: $2,362.00 (* Optional 1 Million Liability, add: $ 200.00)."
Note that in the case of Thum you can deal directly with the insurance company rather than via a broker and you do not need to have a local (USA) address. Thum do not seem to mind if you ship your vehicle into North America via Canada. I believe that the insurance offered by SeaBridge is provided by Thum.
USA insurance intended for USA vehicles
The two USA insurance companies most often quoted as offering foreign vehicles "normal" USA motorhome insurance are Farmers' and Progressive. To use either of these companies you will need a USA address for documents to be sent to and you will have to go through an insurance broker registered in the same state as your USA address.
Originally I intended to use the Californian Farmers' insurance broker recommend on the Silk Route forum, however in spite of valiant efforts on their part they were unable to provide insurance because of the size of my vehicle (7.2 metres length and 7490kg).
"I am very sorry I am batting zero on this; because of the size of your unit I have to issue this in another part of Farmers Insurance that does larger camper vans, which they would write it. [sic] However they require either a Canadian or US drivers license. I am so sorry.. ..It seems that [another UK motorhome owner] was a special case that his policy worked with my regular portion of the company."
In order to find a Progressive broker who would deal with a "foreign" vehicle I emailed twenty in California at random. Two of them responded positively. The resultant "Full Time" "Comprehensive" RV insurance, complete with the essential Canadian Insurance ID Card (see below) cost $1262.00 USA (including a $150 agency fee) for one year. This is about one quarter of the Thum and SeaBridge quotations.
If you choose "Full Time" "Third Party Only" RV insurance this can be had for around $400.00 USA through the same agency. Note that the minimum "Third Party" cover varies from state to state and is alarmingly small.
Canada Insurance ID Card
The Canada Non-Resident Inter-Province Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Card is issued, on request, by most USA insurance companies as proof that your insurance not only "covers" Canada but that it is up to the minimum Canadian standard for third party liability, which apparently some USA policies are not. The card is yellow and you are required to present the original (not a copy) on demand after an accident in Canada.
There is some confusion as to the validity of copies of the USA Insurance Identification Card. It seems that the temporary 30 day card can be emailed and printed, but the permanent card must be an original.
Following publication of the above I received an email from Ian:
"Just a quick comment in relation to Thum Insurance. We bought a US camper about 2 years ago and took on a round trip from the US to Panama and back up to Canada. Thum organised all the insurance (that could be organised). The policy for the US and Canada and Comp portion in Mexico I think) was actually issued by Progressive. This was done with an Irish license, no proper address - just a PO Box in Montana of the lawyer who helped with the vehicle registration. When I approach Progressive directly they wouldn't deal with me. I ended up "Testing" the insurance and it was far better than anything I experienced in Europe!
"The person we dealt with was - Andrea Nelson, Thum Insurance Agency, Phone: 1-800-968-8486, Fax: 1.763.413.4728."