Why do life insurance companies need to know about your travel plans?

Everything you need to know about traveling abroad during the life insurance underwriting process.

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Andrew HurstSenior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance ExpertAndrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Edited by

Antonio Ruiz-CamachoAntonio Ruiz-CamachoAssociate Content DirectorAntonio helps lead our life insurance and disability insurance editorial team at Policygenius. Previously, he was a senior director of content at Bankrate and CreditCards.com, as well as a principal writer covering personal finance at CNET.

Updated|4 min read

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One unexpected factor that life insurance companies take into account when evaluating your life insurance application? Foreign travel. Where you’re traveling and for how long can impact the life insurance health classification you receive — or whether you’re eligible for a policy at all.

However, as long as you were honest during the application process about any known travel, your life insurance company cannot deny your beneficiaries the death benefit if you die while you’re traveling abroad.

Here’s everything you need to know about life insurance and travel.

Life insurance terms you should know
  • Beneficiaries: The people you name on your life insurance policy to receive the lump sum of money — also known as the death benefit — when you die.

  • Cash value: The portion of a permanent life insurance policy’s monetary value that grows tax-deferred over the life of the policy.

  • Death benefit: The amount of money the life insurance company will pay your beneficiaries when you die.

  • Face amount: The dollar amount, or death benefit, your beneficiaries receive if you die while your life insurance policy is active.

  • Insured: The person who is covered by the insurance policy.

  • Policy: The legal document that includes the terms and conditions of your life insurance contract.

  • Policyholder: The person who owns an insurance policy. Usually, this is the same person as the insured.

  • Permanent life insurance: A type of life insurance that lasts for the rest of your life and usually includes a cash value account.

  • Premium: The amount you pay your insurance company to keep your coverage active. Premiums are typically paid monthly or annually.

  • Riders: Add-ons to a life insurance policy that provide more robust coverage, sometimes for an extra cost.

  • Term life insurance: A life insurance policy that lasts for a set number of years before it expires. If you die before the term is up, your beneficiaries receive a death benefit.

  • Underwriting: The process where an insurance company evaluates the risk of insuring you and determines your final rate.

What to know about traveling during the underwriting process

During the life insurance application process you’ll be asked about any past and planned foreign travel out of the U.S. or Canada, usually within two years. For future travel plans, in addition to the destination, you’ll likely be asked about the purpose of the travel, the length of the trip, and, if it’s repeated travel, and how many times a year you go to said destination.

Underwriters take a holistic approach when evaluating travel on a life insurance application, so just because you’re traveling to a locale that might be deemed riskier than others doesn’t mean you’ll automatically receive a lower health classification on your application.

How length of travel affects your life insurance application

From the insurer’s standpoint, the longer you travel, the longer you’re exposing yourself to potential risks — and any increase in risk alters how insurance companies underwrite you.

You’ll likely face tighter restrictions on how long you can travel to a country that’s considered risky and still get life coverage than you would going to a country that’s deemed safe for travel.

Additionally, long-term travel outside of the country can indicate that your residency may actually lie outside of the U.S. and would be looked at by the underwriter with some skepticism. In this case, you’d likely be underwritten as a foreign national.

Many life insurance companies will underwrite applicants who are traveling for over three months as foreign nationals or non-U.S. residents, which means you’d then be subject to different underwriting rules. Similarly to everything else, this timeline varies for each life insurance company.

Learn more about how to buy life insurance abroad

How your destination affects your life insurance application

Dangerous travel is where you’ll see the most issues in purchasing a life insurance policy. If you intend to travel to a country that is classified as medium-to-high risk, this could limit how much coverage you can get. And if you’re purchasing a shorter term policy right before a trip — say five years — underwriters could view this negatively and as more of a precaution for your travels.

The more dangerous the life insurance company views your travel plans to be, the more restrictive your eventual policy will be.

Historically, life insurance companies have not underwritten based on domestic travel and you should not see any impact on your life insurance policy if you’re traveling within the United States or Canada.

Diplomats, embassy employees, and missionaries assigned to countries with a moderate to high level of risk will likely be denied life insurance coverage.

Other careers that don’t require long-term travel but involve some level of risky travel, like a pilot with overnight stays in Mexico where there’s a U.S. Department of State travel warning, would get coverage on a case-by-case basis that is up to the underwriter’s discretion.

Learn more about life insurance for high-risk applicants

Why is travel considered during underwriting?

When a life insurance underwriter evaluates your application, they’re looking for anything that might pose you as a risky candidate; this could be a family history of an illness, a medical condition, or a risky career choice, such as being a firefighter.

Safety and health concerns are the two main factors that are considered during the underwriting process.

  • A country at war, or that has political instability, endemic disease, or lacks easily accessible hospitals increases the probability of something happening if you were to travel there.

  • A country with a higher mortality rate is going to be viewed with more scrutiny during underwriting, just as any other factor that leads to high mortality rates would.

Ready to shop for life insurance?

For the most part, yes, though there are some states that have legislation that prohibits life insurance companies from underwriting based on travel.

The following states have legislation that doesn’t allow for life insurance companies to take any adverse action based on lawful foreign travel:

  • Florida

  • Georgia

The following states have legislation that doesn’t allow for life insurance companies to take adverse action based on previous lawful travel:

  • California

  • Connecticut

  • Colorado

  • Illinois

  • Maryland

  • Massachusetts

  • New York

  • Oklahoma

  • Washington

While travel does impact your life insurance application, each insurer treats travel differently. Depending on where you’re going, one insurer might offer you the best possible rates, while another may not offer you coverage at all. Work with a Policygenius agent to find an insurer that will work with your travel plans.

Author

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Editor

Antonio helps lead our life insurance and disability insurance editorial team at Policygenius. Previously, he was a senior director of content at Bankrate and CreditCards.com, as well as a principal writer covering personal finance at CNET.

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