Living on Social Security Outside of the U.S.

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More retirees are living on Social Security benefits outside of the United States. Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that a high percentage of U.S. workers plan to live on Social Security alone. According to the Wall Street Journal, a growing percent of American retirees are leaving the United States to stretch the retirement benefits they receive from Social Security.

It’s important to note that Social Security beneficiaries give up access to Medicare health care and hospitalization benefits when they leave the United States. However, retirees have the option to leave the country and still collect Social Security retirement. When the Social Security beneficiary is outside of the country for at least 30 consecutive days, he or she must comply with the Social Security rules regarding this circumstance.

Advise Social Security about Travel and Relocation

According to SSA, more than 500,000 beneficiaries live outside of U.S. borders, including retired workers, spouses, widows/widowers, or primary beneficiaries’ survivors. SSA.gov says that eligible U.S. citizens can receive Social Security payments outside of the country. Social Security considers the beneficiary is outside of the country if he or she lives the 50 states, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, or the District of Columbia.

If the beneficiary plans to travel outside of the United States for an extended period, it’s essential to advise SSA about the dates of departure and return. Even if the beneficiary expects travel to last a very long time, it’s important to inform SSA about travel and/or relocation plans. Use the screening tool at SSA.gov to determine specific country restrictions and timelines for retirement, survivor’s benefits, or disability income recipients outside of the U.S.

Beneficiaries who live outside of the U.S. must return questionnaires to SSA on a periodic basis. SSA requires return of the questionnaires to determine benefits. If Social Security beneficiaries don’t return the required questionnaires, SSA ceases benefits payments.

Receiving Social Security Retirement Benefits Outside of the Country

SSA disburses retirement benefits to eligible retirees living abroad. There are several countries where Social Security retirement beneficiaries can’t receive benefits as of this date, such as North Korea and Cuba. However, when beneficiaries leave these countries, they may collect withheld retirement benefits from Social Security. Read Social Security’s “Your Payments While You are Outside the United States” to learn more.

Although SSA doesn’t typically send Social Security retirement benefits to individuals living in the former USSR (such as Russia, Armenia, Lithuania, Estonia, or Latvia) or certain Asian countries (such as Viet Nam or Cambodia), it’s possible to apply for a Social Security exception. In some instances, Social Security retirees who receive an exception must agree in writing to terms and conditions, such as collecting retirement benefits at that country’s U.S. embassy every month.

Social Security Retirement Benefits for Life

SSA pays beneficiaries retirement income based on earnings credits and payments they made into Social Security over a life time. In many cases, citizens of the United States are allowed to continue to receive Social Security benefits when they live in another country other than the United States. Direct deposit is usually preferred by most beneficiaries because it avoids currency conversion concerns or check-cashing fees:

  • It’s possible to ask SSA to directly deposit retirement benefits in a U.S. bank account.
  • Direct deposit options may also be available in certain non-U.S. bank accounts.
  • My Social Security Account might not be accessible in certain countries outside of the U.S.

SSA.gov says that living in a country where a larger number of U.S. Social Security retirees live can simplify the process. American consulates and embassies in: the United Kingdom, Argentina, Yemen, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Chile, Slovenia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Philippines, Finland, Norway, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Japan, Greece, Korea, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Ireland, Italy, and Israel are staffed to offer SSA services. These countries have larger representative Social Security beneficiary populations. To learn more about the Social Security Office of International Operations, visit SSA.gov.

Non-U.S. citizens can also receive Social Security benefits, with some restrictions, when they reside outside of the U.S. The rules for non-U.S. citizens are complex and a range of restrictions may apply.

Taxes on Social Security Benefits for Overseas Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries who live outside of the United States must pay the same taxes on their benefits as U.S. beneficiaries:

  • Individual filers’ earnings between USD 25,000 – 34,000 pay up to 50 percent in taxes.
  • Individual filers’ earning more than USD 34,000 pay up to 85 percent in taxes.
  • Joint filers’ earnings between USD 32,000 – 44,000 pay up to 50 percent in taxes.
  • Joint filers’ earnings above USD 44,000 pay up to 85 percent in taxes.

Some foreign countries may tax Social Security retirement benefits, too. It’s important to contact the country’s embassy in the United States to learn whether the foreign government imposes tax on retirees’ Social Security benefits. Read more about Social Security Resources for beneficiaries residing outside of the United States.