Some of the most critical issues of the influence of the thermal expansion of composite materials on embedded polarimetric sensors for measurements of strain and temperature are studied in this paper. A composite material sample with polarimetric fiber sensors embedded in two distinct layers of a multi-layer composite structure is fabricated and characterized. The polarimetric fiber sensors used in this study are based on Panda type fiber and polarization maintaining photonic crystal fiber (PM-PCF). The temperature sensitivities of polarimetric fiber sensors with acrylate buffer coated and buffer stripped polarization maintaining optical fibers are measured in free space and compared with those for sensors embedded in the composite material. It is found that a polarimetric fiber sensor with an acrylate coating embedded in the composite material shows the same response as the one in free space while the coating stripped fiber polarimetric sensor shows significant temperature sensitivity when embedded in the composite material. This is due to the stress induced change in birefringence created by the thermal expansion of the composite material, while in the case of a buffer coated fiber, the effect is considerably reduced as the thermal stress is largely eliminated by the buffer coating. The results obtained in this study demonstrated that thermal expansion of the composite material is the main source of error in strain and temperature measurement using embedded polarimetric fiber sensors and that more accurate strain and temperature measurements can be obtained with buffer coated polarimetric fiber sensors. © 2011 IOP Publishing Ltd.