Why 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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Nupur Gambhir

Nupur Gambhir

Senior Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is a licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service Cake.

Updated  | 4 min read

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One unexpected factor that underwriters 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 if you are 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 is everything you need to know about life insurance and travel.

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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 will 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 are 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 is considered risky and still get life coverage than you would to a country that is 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 and time abroad could be as high as six months for some life insurance companies.

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 pose limitations on 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.

However, because of COVID-19, travel is considered on a case-by-case basis. While most international travel is discouraged by the State Department due to COVID-19, many insurers will still offer coverage to people traveling to a country with a Level 3 or Level 4 advisory if the advisory is pandemic-related. An agent can help you find an insurer that will work with your travel plans.

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 are 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 is a US Department of State travel warning, would get coverage on a case-by-case basis that is up to the underwriter’s discretion.

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 pilot.

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.

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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 does not allow for life insurance companies to take any adverse action based on lawful foreign travel:

  • Florida

  • Georgia

The following states have legislation that does not 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.

Frequently asked questions

How does travel affect my life insurance application?

If you are traveling abroad, a life insurance company may look at your application with more scrutiny. If the location is dangerous enough or you are traveling for a long time, they may even deny you coverage.

How does travel affect my life insurance application?

Some professionals may be unable to get coverage based on their profession,m such as diplomats, embassy employees, and missionaries that work in countries with a moderate to high level of risk. Other professionals that travel can get coverage on a case-by-case basis.

What type of travel doesn't affect your life insurance application?

Traveling within the U.S. or Canada has no impact on your life insurance application, and will not get you higher rates. Insurers only look at if you have traveled abroad.