Social Security Benefits for Citizens Living Abroad

Many retirees dream about a move abroad and the enjoyment of a foreign country, a new culture and a reasonable cost of living. Although their Social Security retirement reflects payroll taxes paid while they were living and working in the United States, the agency allows retirees -- and those drawing Social Security disability -- to continue receiving benefits at a foreign address. There are a few important rules for foreign-living beneficiaries to keep in mind.

The Six-Month Rule

Social Security considers beneficiaries to be living abroad when they spend more than 30 consecutive days outside the United States or its territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The agency will send your benefits to a foreign address, but if you live abroad for more than six months, you will not be eligible for benefits in certain countries unless you fall into one of several restricted categories. If you return to the United States and stay for at least 30 days, then Social Security considers you to be living in the United States once again.

Prohibited Countries

Federal law, and restrictions placed on U.S. Treasury payments, mean you cannot be paid Social Security benefits in Cuba or North Korea. If you live in either country, you must have your benefits sent to a U.S. address, or to a foreign country where Treasury is permitted to send payments. You may appoint a representative payee to handle the payments on your behalf. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may not receive Social Security benefits for any month in which you reside in Cuba or North Korea.

Receiving Benefits

You can have Social Security mail your benefits to your foreign address, but the agency strongly urges beneficiaries to receive money via direct deposit or DirectExpress, a debit card charged remotely with the benefit amount each month. Since May 1, 2011, Social Security requires anyone applying for benefits within the United States to use direct deposit or Direct Express; the agency regularly updates its list of countries where electronic transfers are possible.

Restricted Countries

Social Security places restrictions on beneficiaries living in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cambodia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. To receive benefits in these countries, you must collect the payments at a U.S. consulate or embassy. Alternatively, Social Security will send payments to an address you designate outside of this group of countries, and you may collect your accumulated benefits in a non-restricted country.

Reporting

You must notify Social Security of any move or any change in your eligibility status while living outside the United States. You must also report a change in your marital status, working abroad, any foreign or U.S. deportation action or a change in your ability to manage your benefits. With a few exceptions, you make these reports by contacting the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. You report to the nearest Social Security office in Mexico, Samoa, the British Virgin Islands or Canada; there is also a Social Security office handling agency business in the Philippines. Alternatively, mail reports directly to Social Security's headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

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About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

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