Receiving Social Security Benefits While Living Outside the USA

Published on: October 25, 2016

Is it possible to live abroad and still receive Social Security benefits? This is a question that we get a lot here at the Disability Experts of Florida office.

To answer the above question, YES, you CAN receive Social Security benefits while living outside of the United States. However, there are some things you need to know about first:

When living in countries other than the USA, the process for collecting Social Security benefits might get a little complicated.

Restrictions on Where the SSA Can Send Money

There are some restrictions on which countries the Social Security Administration (SSA) can send payments to. Some of these countries are currently restricted because of U.S. Department of the Treasury regulations, and others are restricted because of other SSA policies.

While you live in a restricted country, the SSA will withhold your Social Security benefit payments until you move to a country not on the restricted list.

Currently, the two countries that are restricted under Treasury regulations are:

  • Cuba
  • North Korea

If you’re a current U.S. citizen living in these countries, your payments under Social Security that were withheld can be collected once you go to a country not on the restricted list. However, if you aren’t a current U.S. citizen, all payments for months where you lived in these countries are lost--even if you go to a different country and satisfy all other Social Security requirements.

Other countries that the SSA generally cannot send U.S. Social Security payments include:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Georgia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan

The major difference between the countries on this list and the ones restricted by Treasury regulations is that it’s possible to qualify for an exception and receive payments—so long as you meet certain conditions.

Qualifying for an Exception in SSA-Restricted Countries

As noted in the SSA’s publication titled Your Payments While You are Outside the United States, to qualify for an exception, “you must meet and agree to restricted payment conditions. One of the conditions is to appear personally at the U.S. Embassy or consulate every three months.”

There are other conditions that may be required, so it is recommended that you contact the nearest U.S. Social Security office, Embassy, or consulate to get more information on the conditions you will have to meet in your current country of residence.

Receiving Payments as a U.S. Citizen While Outside the USA

Living in the USA can make collecting benefits a lot less complicated than living abroad.As long as you maintain your U.S. citizen status while outside the USA, are eligible for Social Security, and are in a country where you can receive your payments, you will remain entitled to receive your Social Security benefit payments.

However, if you aren’t a current U.S. citizen or lose your citizen status, then you will have to meet additional conditions to receive your Social Security payments.

Receiving Payments as a Non-Citizen While Outside the USA

If you're a non-citizen outside of the U.S. and don’t meet at least one eligibility requirement, your Social Security benefit payments will cease once you have been outside of the United States for six full calendar months. These payments cannot be reinstated until you have returned to the U.S. and stayed for a full calendar month. Note that this isn’t based on a 30-day period, but an actual calendar month.

As noted by the SSA: “you must be in the United States on the first minute of the first day of any month and stay through the last minute of the last day of that month. In addition, we [the SSA] may ask you to prove you have been lawfully present in the United States for the full calendar month.”

To qualify for receiving payments outside of the USA as a non-U.S. citizen, you have to meet one or more specific conditions, including:

  • Being personally eligible for monthly Social Security benefits for December 1956
  • Being a dependent and the worker on whose record your benefits are based having died while in U.S. military service or as a result of a service-connected disability and was not dishonorably discharged.
  • If you are receiving benefits based on your own earnings and meet one of the following conditions, your payments will continue:
    • The worker on whose record your benefits are based had railroad work that was covered employment under Social Security.
    • You are in the active military or naval service of the USA.
  • If you are a citizen of one of the following countries, your payments will continue (list is subject to change):
    • Austria
    • Belgium
    • Canada
    • Chile
    • Czech Republic
    • Finland
    • France
    • Germany
    • Greece
    • Ireland
    • Israel
    • Italy
    • Japan
    • South Korea
    • Luxembourg
    • Netherlands
    • Poland
    • Portugal
    • Slovak Republic
    • Spain
    • Sweden
    • Switzerland
    • United Kingdom
  • Additional countries are included on the list if your payments are based on your earnings, check the site for the full list.
  • If you are a resident of a country that has a U.S. Social Security agreement other than Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, or Sweden, your payments under Social Security may continue. To receive payments in the exempted countries as a resident, you must be:
    • A citizen of the country where you reside;
    • A refugee/stateless person; or
    • Receiving dependent/survivors benefits on the record of a worker who is (or was at time of death) a U.S. citizen, a citizen of the country where you reside, or a refugee/stateless person.

There may be additional residency requirements if you are a dependent or survivor. This includes needing to have lived in the U.S. at least five years while maintaining a family relationship on which the benefits are based (marital, adoptive, etc.).

Exceptions to the residency requirement include:

  • Being eligible for monthly benefits before January 1, 1985.
  • Having eligibility based on a worker who died in service to the military or as a result of service-related injury/disease.
  • Being a citizen of a country from the list above (Belgium – United Kingdom).
  • Residents of countries with a U.S. Social Security agreement.

When checking your eligibility as a non-U.S. citizen, it’s very important to periodically check the SSA’s website for information, as the countries where you can qualify for payments as a citizen are subject to change.

In addition to meeting all of the above requirements, to continue receiving payments, you may need to periodically report to Social Security, and fill out a questionnaire either yearly or every two years. Failure to do so may result in withholding of benefits.

If you’re thinking about living abroad for your retirement, be sure to consult a Social Security expert before you go. Being prepared for the often-confusing maze of exceptions and requirements imposed by the SSA can mean the difference between being able to relax and enjoy your time abroad, and having to scramble to cover your costs because of frozen or missing payments.

Also note that SSI benefits are not payable for any full month in which a receipient resides outside of the 50 states. For instance, if you were out of the U.S. from January 28 to March 3, benefits would not be payable for February. Note that for SSI purposes, Puerto Rico is not considered to be part of the United States. 

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