Life insurance is a crucial financial protection for any person with financial dependents, and certain policies can also act as a wealth-building family asset. US citizens and permanent residents – i.e., green card holders – have an advantage when it comes to getting US life insurance because there are multiple providers competing for their business. But if you're a non-permanent resident in the US, the process of getting a life insurance policy can be somewhat more challenging, and your options are limited. This guide can help you better understand your options by telling you about:

  • Getting coverage as a non-permanent resident

  • Coverage options for non-residents with US ties

  • The main types of coverage offered in the US

  • The process of applying for a policy

Coverage for those with non-permanent resident visas

Your ability to get coverage will depend mainly on the type of visa you have. Few companies will issue coverage for student visa holders. Still, the following types of visa holders can often get coverage if they're willing to shop different companies and overcome some added hurdles:

  • E – employer-sponsored immigrant visa

  • H1B – temporary work visa for someone in a specialty occupation

  • K – nonimmigrant visa for a fiancé/e of a U.S. citizen

  • L – temporary work visa for an intracompany transferee

  • O – temporary work visa for someone with extraordinary ability or achievement

  • TN and TD – visas for Canadian and Mexican NAFTA workers

It’s essential to ensure that your visa is up to date and valid when purchasing life insurance, and you can expect carriers to require additional documentation and assessments to accurately analyze your risk profile. You’ll increase your chances of getting coverage if you can demonstrate all of the following:

  1. A US bank account This is often a prerequisite for getting a policy because it demonstrates that you can pay premiums without the need for complicated international transfers.

  2. Sufficient assets or income Life insurance carriers want to see that you can pay your policy premiums.

  3. A US address A residential address in the US is typically needed to obtain life insurance for both correspondence and legal requirements.

  4. Social Security/Tax ID Insurers (and other financial services companies) often require a Social Security number or a Tax Identification Number (TIN) for administrative and tax reasons.

Your coverage options will vary depending on your visa type, duration, and the guidelines of the company issuing the policy; however, you will likely find it easier to get temporary term life insurance than permanent whole or universal coverage that builds cash value (see below). In any case, before applying for coverage, it’s a good idea to look at a term life insurance calculator to get an idea of your needs and consider working with an insurance agent or broker who is familiar with the unique challenges faced by non-permanent residents.

Non-resident foreign nationals with US ties

High-net-worth foreign nationals who aren't US residents but have significant business, financial, and family ties in the US may also qualify for life insurance coverage. These policies are typically quite specialized, and designed to help internationals with personal and business interests in different countries manage their complex affairs. Availability may be limited by your country of residence, and if coverage is offered, the underwriting process can be somewhat involved.

Despite such limitations, these policies can be an invaluable tool for internationals looking to the US as protection for family capital and assets. In addition to diversifying their financial portfolio, such policies can help solve the problem of transferring wealth to the next generation: While US residents enjoy a federal estate tax exemption of $12,920,000, the exemption for non-residents is limited to just $60,000.1 Non-resident life insurance can help bridge this disparity because death benefit payments are exempt from federal estate taxes.

Guardian is one of a handful of providers that offers this kind of coverage through our Global Citizens program. Permanent, cash value policies up to a maximum of $30 million may be available to those who meet the following criteria:2

  • A significant connection to the US For example, real estate or business ownership, equities, or other tangible and non-tangible assets, or direct family members who are US citizens

  • Maximum coverage will be based on assets held in the US.

  • The application must be completed and signed in the US

  • Other terms and conditions apply. Additional items, documents, and records will be required during the application process.

The three main types of life insurance available in the US

Term life insurance

Some life insurance companies may only offer this type of coverage to non-permanent residents, which can provide significant life insurance protection at an affordable cost. A term life insurance policy covers you for a limited period, usually 10, 15, 20, or 30 years, but some policies may only be valid as long as you remain a US resident. If you pass away while the policy is in force, the death benefit is paid out income tax-free to your beneficiaries. Generally speaking, a beneficiary does not need to be a US citizen., but international beneficiaries may face tax implications.

After the term ends, coverage lapses, and you have to apply for a new policy. If you qualify, the insurance carrier will likely charge significantly higher premiums due to increased age and health risk. And, unlike permanent whole and universal life insurance (below), term policies don’t build cash value, so it isn’t suitable for building and transferring family wealth.

Whole life insurance

Whole life policies offer lifetime coverage with a guaranteed death benefit and fixed premiums. It also has a cash value component, which can help build and protect family assets and can be borrowed against or accessed in other ways while you are alive.3 Whole life policies from a mutual insurer (such as Guardian) may also qualify for dividends that can further build cash value, because these companies are actually owned by their whole life policyholders.4 The downside? While whole life policies provide lifelong coverage and asset-building benefits, the initial cost is significantly higher than term insurance.

Universal life insurance

Universal policies offer permanent coverage and build cash value with more flexibility (and fewer guarantees) than a whole life policy. You can adjust the premiums and death benefit level within a certain range, and these policies may give you a choice of ways to build cash value (for example, you may opt to earn a fixed interest rate or invest in the market). However, this flexibility also means that the policies have to be managed to a certain extent and care taken to ensure the policy account value doesn't dip below a certain level, which could cause coverage to lapse.5

Applying for US life insurance as a non-permanent resident

As with any important financial product, you should start by doing a little research to help decide how much life insurance you need and the best kind of policy for your situation. Consider focusing on providers or programs (such as Guardian’s Global Citizens program that specialize in providing policies to foreign nationals. Whatever kind of policy you end up getting, here are some things to keep in mind during the application process.

Gather relevant documents

As you start applying for coverage, it will help to have the following types of documents ready and available, depending on your specific situation:

  • Passport and visa documents

  • Proof of your residency or legal status in the US, such as a green card, valid visa, and if available, state-issued ID, such as a driver’s license

  • SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) (or W-8 form if you are not a US taxpayer)

  • Proof of US ties (e.g., property deed, employment contract)

  • Proof of income or assets

Expect a medical exam

Most life insurance policies require some kind of medical underwriting to evaluate your health and insurance risk. In many cases, you'll need an actual medical exam; in others, you may just need to answer some health-related questions. You may also be asked to provide medical records. If documents from your home country are acceptable, the insurance company will likely require a certified translation.

Allow time for the underwriting process after submitting your application

The insurance company may require you to sign the actual policy application form – and complete other requirements, such as a medical exam – in the United States. Once you submit your application, the underwriting process begins. This includes an assessment of your health, age, and other risk factors. The insurance company typically has to deal with more unknowns – compared to an application from a US citizen – so the process tends to be slower. Also, premiums for non-permanent residents are often higher due to perceived additional risks.

Paying premiums as coverage starts

Assuming the underwriting process is successful, your policy will be issued. Ensure you understand all the terms and conditions of your policy as it is issued, especially those related to paying premiums. Many insurers (including Guardian) require that premiums be paid in US dollars from a US bank account. If overseas payments are accepted, make sure to account for transfer time and currency conversion fees to ensure complete and timely payment of your premiums.

Get help finding the right life insurance solution for your situation

If you’re a foreign national with temporary US residency, a Guardian Financial Professional can help you explore the range of coverage options available to you. Or, if you’re a non-resident with ties to the US, ask about the Global Citizens Program.

Find a Guardian financial professional

Frequently asked questions about life insurance for non-citizens and non-permanent residents

Yes, foreign nationals can typically qualify for the same kinds of life insurance coverage as US citizens, as long as they have permanent legal resident status in the US, i.e., if they hold a green card. Non-permanent residents and temporary visa holders will generally find it more challenging to get coverage, but depending on how much life insurance you need, certain products may be available from some providers.

will likely be more complex or expensive depending on your residency or immigration status. Student visa holders will find it difficult to get a life insurance policy, but those with other types of temporary resident visas – such as an H1B, E, or L work visa – may find some options to fit their needs, depending on their specific visa status, length of stay, and the requirements of the life insurance company they are working with.

Certain high-net-worth, non-resident, non-US citizens may also qualify for life insurance from a US carrier if they have substantial US financial ties and/or family members. Specialized programs, such as Guardian Global Citizens, focus on addressing the unique needs of these international clients.

Life insurance options for these groups tend to be quite limited, but it still may be possible to get a small amount of protection. Some carriers may offer coverage with specific requirements, such as proof of residency in the US, evidence of income or employment, and a taxpayer identification number or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). If getting coverage is important to you, try asking friends or colleagues in your community if they know of an insurance agent or broker specializing in helping foreign nationals purchase insurance, and consider contacting them to explore your options and find the best solution.

Yes, foreign nationals can typically qualify for the same kinds of life insurance coverage as US citizens, as long as they have permanent legal resident status in the US, i.e., if they hold a green card. Non-permanent residents and temporary visa holders will generally find it more challenging to get coverage, but depending on how much life insurance you need, certain products may be available from some providers.

will likely be more complex or expensive depending on your residency or immigration status. Student visa holders will find it difficult to get a life insurance policy, but those with other types of temporary resident visas – such as an H1B, E, or L work visa – may find some options to fit their needs, depending on their specific visa status, length of stay, and the requirements of the life insurance company they are working with.

Certain high-net-worth, non-resident, non-US citizens may also qualify for life insurance from a US carrier if they have substantial US financial ties and/or family members. Specialized programs, such as Guardian Global Citizens, focus on addressing the unique needs of these international clients.

Life insurance options for these groups tend to be quite limited, but it still may be possible to get a small amount of protection. Some carriers may offer coverage with specific requirements, such as proof of residency in the US, evidence of income or employment, and a taxpayer identification number or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). If getting coverage is important to you, try asking friends or colleagues in your community if they know of an insurance agent or broker specializing in helping foreign nationals purchase insurance, and consider contacting them to explore your options and find the best solution.

1 Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation. The information provided is based on our general understanding of the subject matter discussed and is for informational purposes only.

2 Some whole life polices do not have cash values in the first two years of the policy and don’t pay a dividend until the policy’s third year. Talk to your financial representative and refer to your individual whole life policy illustration for more information.

3 Policy benefits are reduced by any outstanding loan or loan interest and/or withdrawals. Dividends, if any, are affected by policy loans and loan interest. Withdrawals above the cost basis may result in taxable ordinary income. If the policy lapses, or is surrendered, any outstanding loans considered gain in the policy may be subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy is a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC), loans are treated like withdrawals, but as gain first, subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy owner is under 59 ½, any taxable withdrawal may also be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.

4 Dividends are not guaranteed. They are declared annually by Guardian’s Board of Directors.

5 A Universal Life Insurance (UL) policy provides a flexible premium, choice of death benefit options, and a guaranteed crediting rate e.g. 2%). Policy growth is based on adequate funding, increasing crediting rates, and if costs of insurance is lower than expected. If any of the three factors just mentioned are lower than expected (policy funding and crediting rates), and/or higher than expected (cost of insurance), the policy may lapse.

1 Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation. The information provided is based on our general understanding of the subject matter discussed and is for informational purposes only.

2 Some whole life polices do not have cash values in the first two years of the policy and don’t pay a dividend until the policy’s third year. Talk to your financial representative and refer to your individual whole life policy illustration for more information.

3 Policy benefits are reduced by any outstanding loan or loan interest and/or withdrawals. Dividends, if any, are affected by policy loans and loan interest. Withdrawals above the cost basis may result in taxable ordinary income. If the policy lapses, or is surrendered, any outstanding loans considered gain in the policy may be subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy is a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC), loans are treated like withdrawals, but as gain first, subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy owner is under 59 ½, any taxable withdrawal may also be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.

4 Dividends are not guaranteed. They are declared annually by Guardian’s Board of Directors.

5 A Universal Life Insurance (UL) policy provides a flexible premium, choice of death benefit options, and a guaranteed crediting rate e.g. 2%). Policy growth is based on adequate funding, increasing crediting rates, and if costs of insurance is lower than expected. If any of the three factors just mentioned are lower than expected (policy funding and crediting rates), and/or higher than expected (cost of insurance), the policy may lapse.