Are Green Card Holders Living Abroad Eligible for Social Security Benefits?

by Trudy Brunot

    Green cards give citizens of other countries the right to work and live in the U.S. These permanent residents like U.S. citizens, have FICA -- Federal Insurance Contributions Act -- payments for Social Security withheld from their paychecks. FICA taxes and wages build eligibility for Social Security benefits through the accumulation of 40 credits at the rate of four credits per year, or one credit per $1,160 in earnings as of 2013. Eligible green card holders can get their Social Security benefits when they live abroad; however, where they reside and how long they remain outside of the U.S. can have consequences.

    Defining "Outside"

    The Social Security Administration defines "outside of the U.S." in terms of place and time. First, it regards the District of Columbia, all U.S. states and any U.S. territory -- American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands -- as U.S. locations. Secondly, it views "outside of the U.S." as a 60-day time frame: at least 30-days living or being in a non-U.S. location plus the 30-day period after your return. For example, if you went to France on March 1 and returned to Ohio a month later on April 1, the SSA considers you to be "outside of the U.S." until June 1. Green card holders living abroad for at least one month may have to prove that they meet the 30-day return period as evidence of their U.S. residency.

    Restricted Countries

    Both the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of the Treasury forbid sending benefit payments to U.S. citizens and green card holders living in certain countries. The SSA bans payments to Vietnam, Cambodia and former Soviet Union nations except Armenia, Russia, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, while the Treasury bans payments to North Korea and Cuba. The SSA holds payments for U.S. citizens until they return home or go to an unrestricted country. Green card holders do not have this option; they lose their benefits for the months they reside in a banned country.

    Resident Status

    Although a green card holder may collect his Social Security benefits while living abroad, he needs to be cognizant of the amount of time he spends there. Green card holders who plan to live outside of the U.S. for more than one year must obtain a returning resident visa or reentry permit prior to leaving or they risk losing their permanent residency status, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Those who get a reentry permit, but stay abroad more than two years after it was issued, also may have their green card revoked, as may resident aliens who relocate to another country. When a green card holder elects to live in a country which has no tax treaty with the U.S, he should be prepared for his benefit payments to cease after six months.

    Payment Considerations

    Those living outside of the U.S. must keep the SSA informed of address and marital status changes and complete any questionnaires it sends them to avoid payment stops. The SSA offers three payment methods for green card holders and non-U.S. citizens: check, Direct Express debit card and direct deposit. Cashing a benefit check incurs a currency exchange fee that can be avoided through direct deposit in an account with a bank located in any of nearly 50 countries that have agreed to accept SSA electronic transfers. The Direct Express debit card acts as a normal bank debit card for purchases, ATM withdrawals and payments. U.S. consulates and embassies can assist with undelivered checks and direct deposit bank information. The SSA has an international number for debit card questions and enrollment: 1-765-778-6290.

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    About the Author

    Trudy Brunot began writing in 1992. Her work has appeared in "Quarterly," "Pennsylvania Health & You," "Constructor" and the "Tribune-Review" newspaper. Her domestic and international experience includes human resources, advertising, marketing, product and retail management positions. She holds a master's degree in international business administration from the University of South Carolina.

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