Term Life vs. Whole Life Insurance in Japan: Making the Right Choice

how to choose the right life insurance in japan

Life insurance, a cornerstone of financial planning, plays a crucial role in safeguarding the well-being of loved ones in the face of unforeseen circumstances. In Japan, where the cost of living and family household expenses are relatively high, life insurance serves as an invaluable tool for foreign residents, providing financial security and peace of mind. However, choosing the wrong life insurance can lead to pitfalls. How do you know what kind of life insurance you need to protect yourself and your loved ones without breaking your bank?

Japan Life Insurance Basics

Life insurance operates under a well-defined framework, establishing a financial contract between the policyholder (the individual responsible for paying premiums) and the insurance provider. This contract outlines the rights and obligations of all parties involved in the contract, ensuring clarity and transparency, and typically includes the following key elements:

  1. 1. Policyholder: The policyholder, the individual who owns and manages the life insurance policy, bears the responsibility of paying premiums to maintain the policy’s active status. They have the authority to make crucial decisions regarding the policy, such as selecting the coverage amount, designating beneficiaries, and updating personal information.
  2. Term Life vs. Whole Life Insurance in Japan
  3. 2. Life Assured: The life assured is the individual whose life is covered by the insurance policy. Upon the life assured’s passing, the policy disburses a death benefit (money) to the designated beneficiaries. Typically, the life assured is also the policyholder. Factors such as age, health, lifestyle, and other considerations influence the premium and coverage amount.
  4. 3. Premiums: Premiums are the periodic payments made by the policyholder to the insurance company in exchange for coverage of the life assured. Premium amounts vary based on factors such as age, health, and type of policy, reflecting the likelihood of the insurance company having to pay out the policy’s benefits.
  5. 4. Death Benefit: The death benefit is a financial sum paid out to the beneficiaries upon the death of the life assured. This benefit serves as a financial lifeline for the insured’s loved ones, providing assistance with funeral costs, outstanding debts, mortgage payments, and everyday living expenses in the absence of the income produced by the recently departed breadwinner.
  6. 5. Beneficiary: The beneficiaries are the individuals or entities designated by the policyholder to receive the death benefit upon the life assured’s death. Beneficiaries can be individuals, such as family members, friends, business partners, or organizations like charities, trusts, or nonprofit entities. The policyholder has the flexibility to name multiple beneficiaries and specify the percentage of the death benefit each beneficiary should receive.

International residents such as those living in Japan often have greater expenses associated with their deaths, making life insurance an invaluable part of their financial plan. The right life insurance policy can help provide for relatives who live overseas or even help cover the costs of repatriating the remains of the life assured. However, choosing the right life insurance for your needs can be a challenge.

Term Vs. Whole-Of-Life Insurance In Japan: What’s The Difference?

 Life insurance generally falls into one of two categories: term life insurance and whole-of-life insurance. While both serve the overarching purpose of providing financial protection, they differ significantly in their structure, benefits, and costs. Term Vs. Whole-Of-Life Insurance In Japan

Term life insurance is designed to provide coverage for a specified period, typically 10, 20, or 30 years. As such, term life insurance offers financial protection during the policyholder’s most financially vulnerable years. If the policyholder passes away within the policy term, their designated beneficiaries receive a death benefit, providing financial assistance to cover expenses and maintain their standard of living. Key characteristics of term life insurance include:

  1. 1. Temporary Coverage: Term life insurance provides coverage for a predetermined period, with the policy terminating at the end of the term.
  2. 2. Affordable Premiums: Term life insurance premiums are typically significantly lower than whole-of-life insurance premiums, especially for younger individuals.
  3. 3. Pure Insurance: Term life insurance serves solely as a pure insurance product, providing financial protection without any investment element- hence the low cost.

international life insurance in english for japan residents

In contrast to term life insurance, whole-of-life insurance offers lifelong coverage, as long as the premiums are paid. whole-of-life insurance policies may also offer cash value accumulation. This cash value component grows over time, providing a source of funds for various purposes, such as education expenses, business ventures, or retirement income. The guaranteed payout and cash value component generally mean more expensive premiums. In addition, there are variations of whole-of-life insurance that offer different features. Types of whole-of-life insurance include:

  1. 1. Traditional Whole Life Insurance: The most common type of whole-of-life insurance, offering predictable premiums and guaranteed payout on death, without any investment component.
  2. 2. Variable Whole Life Insurance: Investing a portion of premiums in market-linked investments, offering the potential for higher cash value growth but also carrying investment risks.
  3. 3. Universal Life Insurance: Provides greater flexibility in premium payments and policy customizations, allowing for adjustments based on individual circumstances.

How To Choose Between Term And Whole-Of-Life Insurance 

How To Choose Between Term And Whole-Of-Life Insurance In Japan The choice between term and whole-of-life insurance in Japan should be a balance between your current financial situation, future goals, family dynamics, health, and investment strategies. Most people need only term life insurance primarily due to its simplicity, affordability, and focused coverage. These features align well with the typical insurance needs of a vast majority of families living and working in Japan.

However, there are specific situations where whole-of-life Insurance might be the better choice. Some people may desire whole-of-life insurance if they have significant estates and run the risk of dealing with high death taxes that could erode their accumulated wealth. 

Japan’s inheritance tax rates are among the highest globally, reaching up to 55% for large estates. Whole-of-life insurance can provide a significant death benefit that can directly offset and pay the estate taxes owed by the beneficiaries. This benefit can be used by heirs to pay off the inheritance tax without needing to liquidate other assets, which might be less advantageous or emotionally difficult (like selling a family home).

Most people’s life insurance needs, however, are primarily focused on providing financial security for their dependents in the event of their untimely death. This includes covering funeral expenses, the surviving family’s living expenses, paying off debts like mortgages, and ensuring future financial goals, such as children’s education and university expenses. Since many of these needs will diminish over time (such as after one’s children have graduated from school), term life insurance is typically sufficient.

Other Considerations: Domestic Life Insurance Vs. International Life Insurance In Japan

Beyond the question of term versus whole-of-life insurance, residents of Japan face additional considerations regarding the type of life insurance they wish to purchase. Many people opt for domestic life insurance policies, not realizing that international or global coverage life insurance may be necessary for their specific needs. Domestic life insurance policies are designed primarily for local residents and might be suitable for those living permanently within their borders, but they often fall short for foreign residents. This is due to factors such as:

  • Language Barriers: Domestic Japanese policies often come with support and documentation primarily in Japanese. For international residents not fluent in Japanese, this poses significant challenges in understanding and managing their policies. In contrast, international life insurance policies typically offer multilingual support, including English, making them more accessible and user-friendly for expatriates. 
  • Domestic Life Insurance Vs. International Life Insurance In Japan
  • Geographic Restrictions: Domestic insurance policies typically lose their validity outside of the country in which they are based. This limitation is a major drawback for those who travel frequently or live overseas in Japan, or any other “foreign” country. Global coverage life insurance, however, offers continuous protection regardless of the policyholder’s location, ensuring coverage whether they are residing in Japan, traveling, or relocating.
  • Complexities for International Beneficiaries: For international residents with beneficiaries outside Japan, domestic policies can present hurdles due to different legal requirements and language issues. International life insurance policies are designed with the needs of global families in mind, simplifying the process for beneficiaries who may reside in different countries.
  • Currency Limitations: Payouts from Japanese domestic policies are typically in yen, which may not be ideal for expatriates with financial obligations or beneficiaries in other countries. International life insurance policies offer the advantage of payouts in various major currencies, reducing the complications of currency conversion and exchange rate fluctuations.

International life insurance policies are crafted to address the unique challenges faced by expatriates and international residents. They fill the gaps of domestic life insurance policies, often offering coverage that aligns with the dynamic and diverse needs of international residents. These policies ensure that irrespective of where life takes you, your life insurance coverage remains consistent and reliable, providing peace of mind and security for you and your loved ones.

How An Expert Insurance Adviser Can Help You Navigate Your Options

Life insurance plays a crucial part in your overall financial plan. Not only does this mean choosing the right life insurance coverage, it also means navigating the tax implications of various life insurance options. Advisers can integrate life insurance into your broader financial plan, considering aspects like retirement planning, estate planning, tax planning, and investment strategies. 

A financial adviser will evaluate your specific situation, including your family structure, financial obligations, long-term goals, and international mobility. This personalized assessment ensures that the recommended life insurance plan aligns perfectly with your unique needs. They can even help you consider the complexities of having beneficiaries in different countries, and how different policies might affect them in terms of legal and tax implications. In short, talking to a professional financial planner today can mean greater peace of mind for you and your loved ones for years to come.

Learn More About Working Together

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sources and Further Reading

- Brown, Mark J and Kim, Kihong. “Am International Analysis of Life Insurance Demand.” The Journal of Risk and Insurance, Volume 60 No. 4

- Cox-Steib, Joshua. “Joint Life Insurance Policies” BankRate (2021)

- “Guide to Critical Illness Insurance Policies: Are They Right for You?” Healthcare Solutions Team®

- Lewis, Frank D. “Dependents and the Demand for Life Insurance.” The American Economic Review (1989)

- Nealon, Lizzie. “What Happens to Your Life Insurance When You Leave a Job?” BankRate (2021)