Last week I received a letter from the California Earthquake Authority, informing me that I don’t have earthquake coverage.
While reading the letter I remembered this article on “10 Crazy Insurance Policies You Didn’t Know Existed” because coming from Europe, to get coverage for the peril of an earthquake is simply crazy… Well, probably it’s not as crazy as some of the insurances mentioned in the article (e.g. alien abduction; zombipocalypse; bed bugs invasion or cold feet) but it’s crazy enough to make me laugh a little and then to go online to find out if the letter was a scam, and finally to wonder if I need to extend my homeowners policy to be protected against earthquakes.
After having this conversation with myself, I remembered how painful was the process of shopping for the auto and homeowners coverage when I first arrived in the US, so I then decided to summarize my experience and write about the things I wish I had known before shopping for insurance in California.
THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY IN THE US
So let’s start with the surprising fact that the US is (and has been for the past 10 years) the largest insurance market worldwide. The US is a larger marker than the UK, France and even Germany. This is surprising because Western Europe is home of the majority of the world insurance leaders (e.g. Allianz, Axa, Zurich Insurance Group, Mapfre, ING).
And what does this mean for you and me? Firstly, it means that even if you are very happy with your European insurance company (as I was), in the US you’re better to go with a local one. Check the list of the California Department of Insurance, they are almost all American groups, for some reason the European insurers are not so popular/successful in the US.
Secondly, it means that in the US you can get insured for almost everything you can think of (your husband’s mustache, your voice or your taste buds).
And finally, it means that in the world largest insurance market, the competition is fierce amongst agents and brokers, and so their marketing/commercial communications are so aggressive that you will get bombarded with calls and emails from the moment they suspect you are shopping for an insurance.
INSURANCE COMPANIES IN THE US
For a full and comprehensive list go check the California Department of Insurance but for the purpose of this blog post, I’m listing the most popular ones in California (by alphabetical order):
- AAA (American Automobile Association);
- Berkshire Hathaway (Geico): yes, this is the one with the talking pig and the talking lizard that appears in almost every tv/radio commercial break;
- Mid-century (Farmers Insurance)
- Nationwide Insurance
- Progressive, the one with the funny lady in white
- State Farm, the one with the Scooby Doo commercial
SHOPPING FOR INSURANCE IN THE US
Nobody purchases an insurance policy without comparing prices. Now you can take the above list, go online and start asking for quotes… this seems easy and it is, the problem is that all the above companies will require you to enter your personal details before giving you a quote.
They all will require your full name, email address, phone and some of them even your SSN. I didn’t feel safe giving so much data online but hey, welcome to the US, this is how most companies operate and in the end, you’ll give them your details because otherwise you won’t get a quote and if you don’t get a quote, you won’t get the auto/home insurance that you need.
The problem is that from the moment you enter your details in their systems, they owe you. You will start getting emails and phone calls every day from the agent/broker following up on your quote request. This is really tiring but if you want to compare prices and find the right insurance, you need to go through it.
I contacted 6 companies for quotes, so I was getting 6 calls and 6 emails every day… EVERY DAY… until the moment I chose one and purchased my insurance policy with them. Then over the next two days, I had to deliver the “bad news” to every call of the other 5 insurance brokers. I had to do this so they will stop calling. Moreover I also had to go one by one to unsubscribe from their email marketing communication lists!
After a month and half in the Bay Area and having spent a small fortune in rental cars, we finally managed to buy a car and get insured. We could do this while we were in the process of obtaining our CA driving license, because we had an international driving permit.
Insurers didn’t like my EU driver license nor my international permit, and that is why they wanted to charge me $900 -$1200 for a year. This fee went down significantly when I got my CA permit, but still it was far more expensive than what I was paying in Europe. They claim that in 6 months time, I will get a big discount but today I had to pay big because I didn’t have a driving history in the US.
Home insurance in California is called: Homeowners insurance . This is a coverage that you should consider even if you are only leasing because it will insure your personal properties in case of theft, loss of use and it will also cover your liability in case of someone having an accident in your home.
People usually purchase the auto and home insurance together with the same company, because they get discounts and a lower fee.
The standard homeowners insurance policy won’t protect you from the peril of an earthquake. I learnt that from the letter that triggered this post. I have asked around and nobody that we know have upgraded their home insurance to include the earthquake peril… have you? Should I get covered agains earthquakes in California?
And this is all from me today. Let me know what is your experience when shopping for auto/home insurance in the California.