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How to Arrange Your US Social Security Retirement Benefit

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Over half a million people receive some kind of Social Security benefit abroad, including retired and disabled workers, as well as spouses, widows, widowers, and children.

If you retire abroad you can receive your Social Security payments outside the United States as long as you are eligible and live in a country where payment is permitted. Payments are prohibited to anyone residing in Cuba or North Korea.  Payment can only be made in exceptional circumstances to people in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.  To arrange this you will need to contact the Social Security Administration or your Federal Benefits Unit.

To receive your Social Security retirement benefits you must have contributed to the Social Security system for a minimum of 10 years.

If you plan to spend an extended period outside the US you should tell Social Security the date you plan to leave and if you plan to return the planned date of your return.  Social Security have a Payments Abroad Screening Tool that will allow you to find out if you can continue to receive your Social Security payments if you are outside the United States or are planning to go outside the United States. This tool will help you find out if your retirement or other payments will continue indefinitely, stop after six consecutive calendar months, or if certain country specific restrictions apply.

If you are not a US citizen with certain exceptions your benefits end once you have been outside the US for six months consecutively. There a few exceptions to this rule, based mainly on certain types of work history, military history or if you are a legal resident of a country with which the US 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 US for at least a full calendar month. Those receiving dependent or survivors benefits may need to meet additional qualifications to continue collecting.

If you are a citizen of certain other countries, such as Switzerland or the United Kingdom, you will can continue to receive benefits regardless of how long you remain outside the US Some other countries 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.

You can contact Social Security in person, by mail or by telephone in order to get information or to report events which may affect payments.

Social Security business can be transacted in many foreign countries. If you are outside the United States, you can contact offices locally (see the list of Contacts for Services outside the United States). If you are in the United States, you should contact your local Social Security office.

When you live outside the US Social Security will periodically send you a questionnaire to establish your continuing entitlement to receive benefits.   This will include 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 respond can result in payments stopping.  You are also required to report any of the listed events when they occur whether or not you have received a survey.

Social Security have produced a detailed publication Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States.


Impact of Working Overseas on your Retirement Benefits

If you have spent a number of years living and working outside the US and worked less than 10 years under Social Security in the US, but also contributed to an equivalent social program in another country, you may still qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

The US has entered bilateral agreements known as Totalization Agreements with 26 countries.  These agreements eliminate dual Social Security taxation and fill gaps in benefit protection for workers who have spent part of their careers outside the US.  If you are working in a country that does not have a Totalization Agreement with the US, time spent in that country will not count towards the requirement to pay for 40 quarters even though you may be paying in to that country’s Social Security system.   If you are working in a country with a Totalization Agreement, however, the total quarters worked in both countries will be tracked:

If insufficient time is spent paying in to either system to qualify exclusively for its social insurance program, but enough combined time would qualify for one of the country’s social security programs, then each country will pay its proportionate share in retirement of the benefits that the worker earned.

If you qualify for payments from two countries the Windfall Elimination Provision may apply to reduce the benefits payable to you.