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Collecting Social Security Overseas

Basic Facts About Social Security




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Many U.S. retirees these days are choosing to live overseas, whether in Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, or some other destination. However, these same retirees remain U.S. citizens and are wholly eligible to receive Social Security benefits when they reach retirement age, if they otherwise qualify. Can you still receive Social Security if you live abroad? What Social Security overseas benefits are available to retirees?

Provided you are eligible for Social Security benefits, you can receive these benefits no matter where in the world you live (with a few exceptions), whether you choose to begin receiving benefits when you reach full retirement age (age 65 to 67, depending on your year of birth), opt for early benefits (as early as age 62), or defer to a later time (as late as age 70).

Some Exceptions to Receiving Social Security Benefits Overseas

Note that, if you reside in Cuba or North Korea, you cannot receive Social Security benefits. And if you live in Cambodia, Vietnam, or certain countries of the former Soviet Union (excluding the Baltics, Armenia, and Russia itself), your options for receiving benefits may be limited. Check with the Social Security Administration (SSA) for details if you intend to retire to any of these countries. And if you are not a U.S. citizen, the SSA will stop your payments if you live outside the United States for longer than six months, barring certain exceptions. Again, check with the SSA for details.

Social Security

Social Security

Options For Benefit Payment

The mechanics of getting your payments while you’re overseas are relatively simple. If you are abroad for six months or less, you’ll continue to get your payments as you ordinarily would as if you were still living in the United States, whether by direct deposit or by having checks mailed to you. If the latter, you may wish to arrange for a close friend or relative to collect your mail and deposit your checks for you. If you’re overseas for longer than six months, having your benefits direct deposited into a U.S. account is the easiest option; you can then arrange to transfer the funds to a local bank in your country of residence as you need them.

You can also opt to have your checks mailed to you overseas. Generally, Social Security and other U.S. benefits checks are mailed to the U.S. embassy or consulate in your area, and the staff there then mails the check to you via the local postal service. Be sure to report your overseas mailing address to the SSA, and to register with the embassy or consulate nearest your overseas residence. However, the checks will be in U.S. dollars, and depositing or cashing these checks with local financial institutions may be cumbersome, time consuming, or may entail prohibitive fees. Direct deposit into a U.S. account is usually the best option; depending on your country of residence, there may be various options for international transfers that are cheaper than a $40 wire fee.

Working After You Opt for Benefits Living Overseas

Can you continue to receive Social Security benefits overseas if you decide to work in your country of residence? If you are a resident of the United States, the general rule is, yes, you can receive full benefits if you are over your full retirement age (65 to 67, depending on your year of birth), regardless of whether you continue to work or not; if you opt to receive early benefits, however (from age 62 to full retirement age), then your benefits checks are reduced, during those preretirement years, while you’re still working. (This reduction is in addition to the reduction you take for opting to get early benefits.)

However, different rules apply if you are working overseas and receiving Social Security benefits at the same time, depending on your country of residence and other circumstances. If you’re already overseas, you should contact the SSA and provide them with your specific details. Or, the SSA has offices in certain overseas embassies, primarily in Europe but also in other parts of the world. The SSA’s website lists these countries; if convenient, you can pay a personal visit.

Social Security overseas benefits can be cumbersome to arrange, and various rules may apply, but it should be straightforward getting the information you need directly from the agency itself.

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