Traveling abroad for an extended period of time may affect how you receive and earn your Social Security benefits. The specifics depend on where you go, how long you’re there and how long you worked in the U.S. prior to travel. Luckily, the U.S. has Social Security agreements with a number of other countries, so your status may not be affected at all. But the guidelines are very complicated, so consult the SSA before leaving the United States.
The Definition of Abroad
You don’t have to worry about your Social Security benefits if you’re just going on a short trip. The Social Security Administration only considers you to be "outside the country" after you’ve been away from the U.S. for 30 days. Note that you’re not considered outside the country if you’re in any U.S. territory, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Receiving Benefits Abroad
If you’re currently eligible to receive Social Security benefits, the SSA will usually send them to you while you’re abroad. You may receive payments by mail or direct deposit. Amounts will be calculated in U.S. dollars.
In order to receive benefits, you must promptly report to the SSA any changes in address, marital status, work status or other circumstances. Additionally, the SSA will send you a questionnaire once a year or once every two years, which will be used to determine whether you’re still eligible for benefits.
The SSA has a long list of conditions and exceptions it uses when determining whether people living abroad are entitled to receive benefits.
- You may not receive Social Security Insurance (SSI) payments at all while abroad. These benefits, given to low-income seniors and disabled people, are different from benefits paid to retired or disabled workers and their dependents or survivors.
- You can’t receive payments while living in Cuba or North Korea.
- You can’t receive payments while living in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, unless you agree to certain conditions.
- For non U.S. citizens, Social Security payments may stop after you’ve been out of the country for six months, depending on your situation. For instance, payments will continue if they’re based off your own earnings, or if you’re a citizen of one of the countries on this list.
It’s a complicated system, so the best way to find out what will happen to your benefits is to contact the SSA at (800) 772-1213 or to visit your local Social Security office. You may also use the SSA’s Payments Abroad screening tool to help you determine your eligibility.
Earning Benefits Abroad
To determine how your benefits will be affected by going abroad, you should first determine whether you’re traveling to a country that has an International Social Security agreement with the U.S.. When you travel between the U.S. and an agreement country, you don’t have to pay Social Security taxes in both countries, and your work in the agreement country can be used to help you earn SSA benefits.
While working in an agreement country, you’ll continue earning credits based on your income, up to a maximum of four credits per year. This is the same system used in the U.S. The number of credits you’ve earned determines what benefits you’re eligible to earn. When you ready to apply for benefits, the SSA will count the credits earned abroad in the same way it counts credits earned in the U.S.
Note that your credits aren’t actually transferred from one country to another. Credits you earn in a foreign country will stay on your records in that country, so you may even be eligible for benefits in that country.
If you’re not working in a country with a Social Security agreement, talk to your employer and the SSA about the implications.
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