Can a Former US Citizen Receive Social Security Retirement Benefits?

Just because you are no longer a U.S. citizen does not necessarily mean you can no longer receive Social Security retirement benefits. A change in citizenship status may or may not affect your benefits, depending on the country. Social Security and citizenship may not affect your benefits, but may affect the benefits of your dependents and survivors.

Benefits for Noncitizens

Noncitizens may qualify for Social Security benefits as long as they earn at least 40 work credits prior to collecting them. For 2018, each work credit equals $1,320, and an individual can only earn four such credits annually. That means 40 work credits equals at least a decade of working. Even if you didn’t earn 40 work credits, you may still qualify for Social Security retirement benefits if you reside in one of the 26 countries with which the United States has established totalization agreements. These agreements prevent double taxation of income regarding Social Security. As of 2018, this includes the following countries, as per the IRS:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovak Republic
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

These totalization agreements are not identical, so when you change citizenship status you should contact the Social Security Administration to obtain a copy of the agreement for the country in question.

Restricted Benefits

For some countries in which you are a citizen, you will receive Social Security benefits based on your earnings. However, if you are receiving benefits because you are a dependent or survivor, the situation is different.

Countries for which benefits are issued on this basis as of 2018 include Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas Islands, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gabon, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Iceland, Jamaica, Jordan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Samoa, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Trinidad-Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Citizens of countries for which the SSA requires additional residency requirements for dependents and survivors must show they lived in the U.S. for at least five years. Within those five years, they must have been in the family relationship which the benefits are based on. However, there are exceptions to the U.S. residency requirement, and they include anyone eligible for monthly benefits prior to Jan. 1, 1985, or whose entitlement is based on the record of someone who died either during U.S. military service or due to a service-related disease or injury.

Prohibited Countries

The United States will not send Social Security payments to individuals living in North Korea or Cuba. If you are not a U.S. citizen and lived in either of those countries, you cannot receive payments for the months you lived in Cuba or North Korea, even if you go to another country and satisfy all other requirements, according to the SSA. As a rule, the SSA will not send Social Security payments to persons in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The SSA can make exceptions for some eligible people residing in these countries. In order to qualify for an exception, the former U.S. citizen must agree to restricted payment conditions. Among these conditions is the requirement to personally appear at a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate every six months. The Treasury Department may sanction other countries, so it is always wise to make sure the country in which you live is not under some type of sanction that could prevent you from receiving Social Security benefits.

Not Meeting Conditions

Non-U.S. citizens who do not meet the conditions for continued payments can expect their payments to stop once they have left the U.S. for six full calendar months. The SSA will not resume payments until the person returns to the U.S. and stays for a full calendar month. The SSA means that quite literally, to qualify people must stay from, “the first minute of the first day of any month ... through the last minute of the last day of that month.” Such individuals may need to present proof that they were in the U.S. for that entire time period.

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About the Author

A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt's work has appeared in dozens of publications, including PocketSense, Financial Advisor, Sapling, nj.com and The Nest.


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