Receiving Social Security benefits abroad

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If you are planning on retiring abroad, you may be concerned about forfeiting your Social Security retirement, disability or survivors' benefits. However, because the United States has Social Security agreements with many nations throughout the world, this may not be the case.

The Social Security Administration has created the interactive Payments Abroad Screening Tool to help determine if you are eligible to continue collecting benefits outside of the U.S. However, those who currently collect Supplemental Security Income may not collect benefits while overseas, as this program requires that all beneficiaries reside within the U.S. – or in one of its protectorates (Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands or American Samoa) – to be eligible.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you are able to continue to collect retirement, disability or survivors benefits while overseas as long as you are eligible to receive them. However, benefit payments cannot be made to certain countries, such as Cuba, Ukraine, North Korea and Vietnam. In most cases, if you reside in a country that restricts benefit payments, all withheld benefits are returned to you once you enter a country where payments can be sent.

Your citizenship may also be an issue. If you are a citizen of certain other countries, such as Switzerland or the United Kingdom, you will be able to continue to receive benefits regardless of how long you remain outside the U.S. Some other countries, including Lithuania and Monaco, have a slightly different Social Security agreement whereby you may, as a citizen of that country, continue to receive any benefits you are entitled to on your own account; but if you are receiving dependent or survivors benefits, you need to meet additional requirements to continue collecting. The Social Security Administration website includes links to detailed lists of which countries fall under the above provisions.

If you are not a U.S. citizen or a citizen of one of the listed countries, your benefits end once you have been outside the U.S. for six consecutive months. There a few exceptions to this rule, based primarily on certain types of work history, military history or if you are a legal resident of a country with which the U.S. has a Social Security agreement.

However, if your payments end because you do not qualify for any of these exceptions, benefits cannot be reinstated until you return to the U.S. for at least one full calendar month. In all cases, those receiving dependent or survivors benefits may need to meet additional qualifications to continue collecting.

In addition, the Social Security Administration periodically sends questionnaires to beneficiaries who reside outside the U.S. These are designed to help determine continued eligibility. Among the requested updates are information about any work you are engaged in abroad, marriage, death, divorce, change of address, change of circumstances or eligibility for a pension not covered under the Social Security program. Failure to return the requested information results in cessation of benefits. You are also required to report any of the listed events when they occur, regardless of whether you have received a survey.

Click here to read "Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States," published by the Social Security Administration.

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