How to buy life insurance abroad

Expats and U.S. citizens with split residency have limited options for buying life insurance with U.S. companies, but getting insured can be possible with the right company.

Rebecca Shoenthal author photo

By

Rebecca Shoenthal

Rebecca Shoenthal

Licensed Insurance Expert

Rebecca Shoenthal is an insurance editor and licensed Life, Health, and Disability agent at Policygenius in New York City. Previously, she worked as a nonfiction book editor. She has a B.A. in Media and Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Published March 3, 2021|5 min read

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Life insurance is an important tool to protect your loved ones if you die unexpectedly, regardless of where you live. But life insurance companies in the U.S. don’t insure everybody. In most cases, if you aren’t living in the states when you submit your application, it can be difficult or impossible to get insured by a U.S. life insurance company. 

Traveling and moving abroad can be exciting, but it shouldn’t be reckless. Even expats living abroad permanently need financial protection. Below we’ll explore different life insurance options for U.S. and non-U.S. residents who live or travel abroad, as well as what to do about beneficiaries who live outside the states. 

Key Takeaways

  • Most insurance companies require you to complete the application and medical exam, as well as sign your final policy, in the United States

  • Moving abroad is unlikely to affect any existing life insurance policies

  • If you die outside of the country, your beneficiaries may be required to provide additional documentation to claim the death benefit

What happens to your life insurance policy if you move abroad?

If you already have life insurance in the U.S.

Your existing life insurance policy won’t be affected by an international address change. If your policy doesn’t have any international travel exclusions (most term and whole life insurance policies don’t) then your beneficiaries will receive a death benefit no matter where you live.

If you want to buy life insurance in the U.S.

For expats who already moved away and don’t have an existing life insurance policy, buying a new policy once you’ve relocated is complicated and only a few U.S. insurers will cover you. 

Some companies are comfortable with clients who split their residency between the U.S. and abroad, but the application (insurers can track the IP address location where you apply) and paramedical exam both need to take place in the U.S. Additionally, the final policy would have to be physically signed in America. Even if you sign the policy electronically, the city and state can be automatically populated by the insurer. 

How expats can buy a new life insurance policy abroad

The steps to securing a life insurance policy abroad are similar to buying a policy in the U.S., but finding an insurance company that will work with you is the biggest roadblock. 

That’s because insurance companies are all about assessing risk, and they view living outside the country as riskier than staying local. Additionally, even if you can get a policy while living internationally, you’ll most likely need to come back to the States to complete your application, medical exam, and to sign your final policy.

1. Calculate how much life insurance you need

The amount of life insurance you need depends on a few factors: 

  1. How much you make (a coverage amount that’s 10-15x your income is a good place to start)

  2. Outstanding debts and financial obligations (such as a mortgage or student loans)

  3. How long you’ll have financial dependents 

→ Learn more about how to determine how much life insurance you need 

2. Decide what type of policy you need

Most people choose between a term or a permanent life insurance policy. Term life insurance is the right choice for most people because it’s cheaper and more affordable, but whole life insurance can be better for people with long-term dependents or high net worths

→ Learn more about the different types of life insurance

3. Collect the documents you need to get started

This is where things can get complicated for international residents.

Insurance companies typically require the following documents when you apply for a policy:

  1. Proof of identity, citizenship, and age

  2. Proof of income

  3. Proof of residency

  4. Social Security number or tax identification number

Expats won’t be able to provide proof of U.S. residency unless they have split residency. But citizens living permanently outside of the country can proceed with the application process by strategically working with insurance companies that offer international coverage.

We recommend involving a licensed independent agent or broker at this point to ensure you’re applying for the right types of policies with companies who are likely to offer you insurance.

4. Shop around for a life insurance policy

Your options are much more limited if you’re living abroad partially, temporarily, or permanently. But because every life insurance company evaluates each application on an individual basis, you’ll pay the most affordable premiums by shopping around with multiple insurers as opposed to working with just one. 

Some companies, such as Prudential, will extend coverage to individuals living elsewhere if they meet certain global net worth requirements (think: at least $2 million in global assets). 

→ Compare the best life insurance companies 

5. Complete the application and phone interview

If you’ve found a company that will work with your residency status, the next step is to actually apply and complete a phone interview. Even insurance companies that allow outside residency will require both of these steps to be completed in the U.S.

6. Get a medical examination

Similar to the application, insurance companies will typically require the paramedical exam to be completed on U.S. soil. 

There are no-medical exam life insurance policies available to applicants of certain ages and who meet specific health qualifications, but lack of U.S. residency can be an automatic “knock out” and will likely exclude you from getting these types of policies. 

7. Wait for the underwriting results

Underwriting is when the life insurance company evaluates the risk of insuring you and determines how much your premiums will be based on that risk. The underwriter will evaluate your application and interview answers, medical exam, medical history, and other records (such as a motor vehicle report). 

This process can take four to six weeks, but sometimes longer if they need to verify parts of your application or require any supplemental documentation.

The most common life insurance classifications, in order from the highest health rating to lowest, are:

  • Preferred Plus

  • Preferred

  • Standard Plus

  • Standard

People with complicated health histories or recent medical issues may be given a substandard rating, which is assessed via a table rating system.

→ Learn more about life insurance classifications

8. Sign the documents and pay for your policy

The last step, once you’ve been approved for a policy is to sign it in force. And – surprise! – this also needs to happen in the U.S. 

→ Learn more about how to buy life insurance

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Does life insurance pay if you die abroad?

If you die while you’re living abroad, your specific policy will dictate how your beneficiaries can claim the death benefit. Some policies have travel exclusions or certain country exclusions based on how risky they are in the eyes of the insurer.

Life insurance companies typically require three items to process an insurance claim: a death certificate, policy documentation, and a completed claim form. For international death benefit claims, the insurance company may require some extra documentation, including a W-8BEN.

It may be helpful to contact a U.S. Embassy in the country where the insured died or a lawyer who specializes in international insurance to assist you with a foreign death claim.

Life insurance and coronavirus (COVID-19)

Life insurance companies care a lot about your travel plans, especially international destinations. 

Your application for life insurance may be affected if you’re planning to travel (or live) internationally because of the current spread of COVID-19.

If you already have life insurance, your policy won’t be affected by a death caused by coronavirus. However, if you’re applying for a new life insurance policy, some companies will delay application approval if you have plans to travel internationally or if you recently returned from a country outside of the U.S. 

Keep in mind that each insurance company will have their own unique approach to evaluating your application based on CDC travel advisories. As always, it’s important to compare rates and shop around using an independent agent like Policygenius.

International life insurance FAQs

Can I get life insurance if I live abroad?

If your permanent residence is outside the U.S. it can be more difficult to secure coverage with an American company. But some insurers will cover you, especially if you split your time between the U.S. and another country, or if you have a high global net worth. 

What happens to your life insurance policy if you move abroad?

If you have an existing life insurance policy and you move abroad to a location that isn’t excluded from your policy, there won’t be any effect on your coverage. Some insurers set restrictions on international travel, so it’s important to double-check or ask your agent if you plan to move within the first few years of owning the policy (known as the contestability period). 

Can non-U.S. citizens get life insurance?

Green card holders and permanent residents have the same options for life insurance coverage as U.S. citizens. Visa holders have more limited options, but can likely still get insured, depending on the type of temporary visa held.