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How to Get U.S. Life Insurance as a Foreign National

Find out how you can get a life insurance policy in the U.S. if you're a foreign national, including how to prepare for special requirements that must be met.

A foreign national is a person who is a U.S. citizen who lives outside the U.S. full time or a citizen of another country residing in or traveling to the U.S.

As a foreign national, you can still get U.S.-based life insurance if you meet certain criteria.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about buying a policy.

U.S. And Global Financial Interests

Because of various restrictions, both legal and within the context of company policy, there are limits on who can apply for life insurance from U.S. companies.

For the most part, you’ll need to have some connection to the U.S other than just having the desire to get a life insurance policy.

Insurance companies will be looking primarily for a financial connection with the U.S.

The reality is:

The greater that connection – the ownership of real estate, business interests, or financial assets held in the U.S. – the more likely your application is to be approved.

Proof and documentation required

In making an application, you should expect to provide bank statements, investment brokerage statements, and evidence of ownership of real estate or business interests.

For example, any of the following may qualify you for coverage:

  • Being married to a U.S. citizen.
  • Being employed in the U.S.
  • Attending school at a U.S. college or university as an international student.
  • Having a business in the U.S. requiring frequent visits.
  • Owning real estate in the U.S.
  • Owning a business in the U.S.
  • Having substantial U.S.-based financial assets.

It’s important to understand that not all life insurance companies will accept each of these reasons. One company may accept four of them, while another may accept only three.

That means:

If you are a foreign national and looking to purchase a life insurance policy in the U.S., you may need to shop with several companies to find one that will provide a policy based on your personal connection to the U.S.

Residency Requirements

Many insurance companies will be specifically interested in your U.S. residency status.

If you’re a permanent resident living in the U.S., or a U.S. citizen living and working outside the U.S., your application is likely to get favorable consideration with any insurance company.

But, a potential obstacle is that some companies may have a minimum residency requirement, such as two or three years living in the U.S. if you were born in a foreign country.

Non-permanent residents

However, the situation is not so certain with non-permanent residents.

These are people who live in the U.S. on a visa, which is typically for a certain limited amount of time.

For example, a common visa is the H1B visa. This visa enables you to work in specialty occupations, typically requiring a higher education or equivalent training. These fields typically include engineering, IT, science and medicine, among others. It can also include fashion models “of distinguished merit and ability”, and government-to-government research and development, or co-production projects administered by the US Department of Defense.

The visa is generally granted for an initial time frame of six years. It can also be used while you are applying for US citizenship, holding the potential for it to become permanent.

An insurance company may look closely at the remaining time on your visa or the likelihood of an extension in determining whether or not to approve your life insurance application.

Extensive foreign travel

As a foreign national you need to be aware that life insurance companies typically have certain restrictions on foreign travel.

This is particularly true if you travel frequently to one or more countries that are considered to be high-risk countries as defined by the U.S. State Department.

The department warns against travel to countries such as Namibia, Kazakhstan, Belize, Brazil and India, as a handful of examples.

This may be due to either high levels of disease and infection, or classification of a country as a terrorist nation or one that supports terrorist organizations.

When you complete the insurance application, you’ll need to disclose expected travel plans.

Those could include any you have in the immediate future, or plan on a regular basis.

If the insurance company determines your travel is so extensive that you’re likely to die in another country, or you frequently travel to countries on the U.S. State Department’s advisory list, there’s a chance your application will be declined.

Travel to certain foreign destinations is considered a high-risk activity and can be a reason to reject an applicant.

Country of Origin

Your application for life insurance may depend on your country of origin.

If you come from a country that’s subject to U.S. legal restrictions, your application may be denied.

This usually includes countries that either have a hostile relationship with the U.S. or provide either domicile or support for known terrorist organizations.

Examples include Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba, among others.

Restrictions imposed by home country

Another consideration is that some countries don’t permit their residents to buy life insurance in a foreign country, including the U.S.

Examples include Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and many other countries.

The list changes based on laws in your home country, so you’ll need to regularly check with any changes that may have taken place.

The Life Insurance Application Process for Foreign Nationals

One of the main requirements to get U.S. life insurance as a foreign national is that you need to be present in the US during the application process.

Why?

The company will need to verify your identity as well as – in many cases – to perform an in-person medical exam.

Typically, you’ll also need to be in the U.S. during the underwriting process, which can take several weeks.

That makes sense since the company may need to get additional information or clarification during the underwriting process. That may not be possible if you are in a foreign country that either has limited communication capabilities or is in an inconvenient time zone for communication purposes.

Just as is the case with U.S. citizens and permanent residents, you will need to be approved for life insurance coverage.

The insurance company will be primarily looking at your medical information – see below – but will also consider other factors typical to the life insurance underwriting process.

Your occupation

Among the criteria is your occupation.

Certain occupations are considered to be high risk, such as lumberjacks, steel workers, and fishers.

If you work in these occupations, it’s likely your application will be approved, but you’ll be charged a higher premium.

In some cases, your application may be denied.

Your hobbies

High-risk hobbies are another consideration.

For example, if you engage in skydiving, deep-sea diving, or high mountain climbing, the situation will be similar to a high-risk occupation. You’ll be charged a higher premium, and under certain circumstances your application may be declined.

Most life insurance companies will also have minimum and maximum policy amounts, and these can vary from one company to another.

For example, a company may set a minimum death benefit of $100,000, and a maximum of $3 million.

Another may set a minimum of $500,000, and maximum of $10 million.

Depending on how much life insurance you need, you’ll need to carefully select the company you apply with.

Once your policy is approved, the insurance company will expect you to set up payment through a US-based bank.

Medical Information

One of the reasons why country of origin matters so much during the life insurance application is the availability of medical information from that country.

Medical databases

In the U.S., medical information on applicants is readily available from health database sources, like MIB.

It’s something like a credit repository, except it contains only health-related information, like hospital stays, a history of medications, health conditions, and other information.

Insurance companies are often able to obtain sufficient medical history from third-party sources that a medical exam is not required.

So:

If you come from a country that has similar medical databases that can be accessed by the insurance company, you’ll have a better chance of your application being approved.

However, if you come from a country where such information is not readily available, and where healthcare is considered substandard, that may be another reason for a declination.

Medical exams

Just as is the case for U.S. citizens and residents, a medical exam may or may not be required of foreign nationals.

Once again, it will depend largely on the information contained in any medical databases.

If those databases indicate significant health conditions, or if the information is incomplete, you should fully expect a medical exam will be required.

Even if you are generally in good health, the insurance company may charge you a higher premium – and in certain cases, decline your application – for certain health-related factors like smoking, repeated episodes of driving under the influence (DUI), a poor driving record, obesity, or a criminal history involving incarceration.

None of these factors are unique to foreign nationals, as they also apply to U.S. citizens.

Bottom Line

Getting life insurance as a foreign national is similar to that of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Just be prepared for specific requirements you’ll need to meet.

You should expect that there will be fewer potential insurance companies willing to write a policy for you than if you are a citizen.

Remember:

Not all insurance companies offer coverage for foreign nationals.

The best recommendation is to work with a licensed insurance broker.

Brokers work with many different insurance companies, often dozens, and can place your application with the company or companies known to provide life insurance for foreign nationals.

That will not only reduce the amount of time it will take you to get a policy, but it could result in a less expensive premium.

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