Social Security Benefits for Americans Living Abroad - Guide (2023)

For United States citizens, Social Security benefits play a large role in planning for retirement. This is a system that workers have been paying into since first entering the workforce. For Americans who choose to retire to another country rises the question of what will happen to their earned benefits. Currently approximately 350,000 American retirees receive Social Security benefits in foreign countries. Moreover, according to Travel Market Report, as many as 3.3 million American baby boomers are planning to retire abroad.

Many current and future American expatriates are puzzled by the same questions. We wrote earlier an article about social security taxes. Americans living abroad want to know the amount of social security benefits they are eligible for if they receive a foreign pension. Also, American expats would like to learn the options to receive social security payments while residing overseas. We get more questions from US citizens who plan to renounce US citizenship. Renouncing citizenship might affect social security benefits as well.

The following article will examine how an American living abroad will qualify for the benefits, the impact the benefits will have on US expatriate taxes and whether Social Security benefits can even be received while living overseas.

Social Security Benefits for American Expats Living Abroad

What are Social Security Eligibility Requirements in order to qualify for Social Security Benefits?

Throughout years in the workforce, US citizens earn credits towards Social Security benefits. The amount of credits needed to qualify for these benefits is dependent on the year that the person was born in. Workers born after 1929 will need at least 40 credits to qualify – the equivalent of 10 years of work.

  • The social security record is permanent so even if an individual ceases to work for a period of time, moves abroad or s/he was not required to pay Social Security taxes, the credits earned previously will still be intact.
  • Individuals who have divided their career between working in the United States and overseas may not be able to qualify to receive benefits if they did not work in the United States for the required amount of time or recently enough. However, there are international Social Security agreements in place that help assure continuity of benefit protection for persons who have acquired Social Security credits under the system of the United States and the system of another country.

Social Security Administration has Social Security Calculator to determine the amount of social security benefits.

How are Social Security Benefits Taxed?

For both US citizens and residents, up to 85% of Social Security benefits are considered taxable income. The exact amount is dependent on the total plus any other income received. The higher the total earned income is, the higher the percentage paid as US expat taxes.

(Video) How Social Security Works for US Expats

An individual earning more than $25,000 will be taxed on up to 50% of their benefits. Up to 85% of the benefit could be taxed under the following conditions:

  • One half of the benefits plus the total of all other income is in excess of $34,000. If married filing jointly that amount is increased to $44,000.
  • The individual is married, yet filing separately and has lived with their spouse at any point during the year.

There are some nations where the US Social Security benefit may be taxed as income. An expat is advised to consult with an expat tax specialist to determine if this applies to them. We wrote an article about social security taxes.

What is the Purpose of the Social Security Agreements between the United States and Other Countries?

Other countries have similar systems in place for their workers. Without these agreements, a US citizen working abroad in one of theses countries would face dual Social Security taxation. It would be possible for a worker employed overseas to pay social security taxes to two different countries on the same earnings. The agreement between nations eliminates this situation.

Self-employed American workers are also required to pay into the Social Security system. The self-employment tax rate is 15.3% of the net income from the business.

Individuals who are self-employed and living abroad are usually required to pay into the social security system of their host country. American expats might be required to pay to the USA and host country social security systems if there is no social security agreement in place between two countries. However, in this case foreign social security taxes paid by a US citizen in a foreign country (for example, New Zealand) may be creditable as an income tax.

Self-employed American expats residing in countries that do share a social security agreement with the United States will be exempt from US self-employment tax. However, only if they are required to pay self-employment tax in their country of residence. The American expat’s country of residence should be able to provide a certificate of coverage. This certificate will serve as a proof that the expat has contributed to another Social Security plan. The Certificate of Coverage is included in the expatriate tax return will be a Schedule SE and it indicates that the American expat is exempt from US expat taxes in accordance with the totalization agreement.

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Social Security agreements are also beneficial to those US citizens who have worked both in the United States and abroad. These agreements help fill the gaps in benefit protection by allowing for partial benefits from the US or the foreign nation. This will be based on a combined or “totalized” credit system and is available for both employed and self-employed expats. In addition, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will count social security benefits earned in a foreign country for US expats with a small amount of US coverage that does not qualify them for benefits. This is only if those benefits were earned in the country with a totalization agreement. This country will also verify the expat credits earned in the US if they are necessary to qualify for benefits in that country.

If combining the credits from both nations allows the expat to meet the requirements for social security benefits, a partial benefit will be issued. This will be based on the proportion of work that was completed in the country that is paying the social security benefits. Under the agreement, the SSA is able to totalize their credits with those of a foreign nation only if the worker has at minimum six quarters of US coverage. The foreign nation may also impose a minimum amount of coverage it will allow in order for US coverage to be counted towards its eligibility requirements.

Which Foreign Nations Have Entered into a Social Security Agreement with the United States?

A total of 24 countries around the world have enacted a Social Security agreement with the United States. This countries will work with the US and its expats to prevent dual taxation of Social Security benefits. This article covers the list of social security agreements between the USA and other countries.

Can American expatriate receive Social Security Payments while residing abroad?

In most cases, a qualifying US citizen may receive social security benefits when residing in a foreign country with a few exceptions.

There is legislation in place that prohibits the SSA from sending Social Security payments to Cuba and North Korea. Once the US citizen leaves these countries, the SSA will remit all withheld payments. Non-US citizens who qualify for social security benefits will not be able to receive the benefits accrued while inside of the restricted country.

Other countries in which the SSA may not send payments include:
• Azerbaijan
• Belarus
• Georgia
• Kazakhstan
• Kyrgyzstan
• Moldova
• Tajikistan
• Turkmenistan
• Ukraine
• Uzbekistan
• Vietnam

(Video) May I live overseas and still receive Social Security benefits?

The SSA is also prohibited from sending payments to a third party except under certain conditions. To qualify for an exception the expat would have to agree to the conditions of payment. This would include presentation at a US Embassy each month to pick up those Social Security payments.

Who Qualifies to be an American Citizen Outside of the United States?

An individual is considered to be outside of the United States if they are not residing in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands or American Samoa. They could also qualify if they have not been in any of the above mentioned places for at least 30 continual days.

What Do Expats Have to Do to Protect Their Right to Social Security Benefits?

Expats residing abroad will periodically receive notifications from the SSA requesting updated information. That information is used to determine if the individual is still eligible to receive benefits. It is imperative that this form be returned as quickly as possible to avoid an interruption in payments.

Any changes should be reported immediately to the SSA if they could potentially affect payments. Failure to do so or making a false statement could result in a financial penalty or imprisonment. Payments could also be lost for a failure to report any changes in status.

What are the payment options to receive social security payments?

Payment options. There are several options to receive social security benefits while living abroad. One option is a debit card account under the DirectExpress card program. The second option (and the most popular) is electronic payment. Electronic payments can be made to a U.S. or foreign bank account in multiple countries. The list of these countries is extensive:

1. Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Austria
2. Bahama Islands, Barbados, Belgium, British Virgin Islands
3. Canada, Cayman Islands, Cyprus
4. Denmark, Dominican Republic
5. Estonia
6. Finland, France
7. Germany, Greece, Grenada
8. Haiti, Hong Kong, Hungary
9. India, Ireland, Israel, Italy
10. Jamaica, Japan
11. Malta, Mexico
12. Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Norway
13. Panama, Poland, Portugal
14. St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
15. Trinidad-Tobago
16. United Kingdom

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Are Non-US Citizens Eligible for Social Security Benefits? How can Renunciation affect Social Security?

Individuals who are citizens of one of the 24 nations in which the United States has secured a Social Security agreement with can receive their social security benefits as long as they are eligible for them. The amount of time spent outside of the United States will have no bearing.

Citizens of the following countries may also qualify for their payments from the SSA as long as they are outside of the United States. The only exception would be if they were receiving dependent or survivor benefits.

Individuals who are not US citizens or a citizen of any of the nations mentioned in the above link will have their social security benefits stopped by the SSA if they are found to have been outside of the United States for six calendar months. Exceptions to this may be made in the following circumstances:

  • The individual qualified for Social Security benefits before December of 1956.
  • The individual is an active member of the United States Military or Navy.
  • Railroad work is a part of the registered Social Security record of the individual for whom the benefit was originally assigned to.
  • The original beneficiary died while serving in the US Military or as a result of a disability that was connected with their service. In this case, the individual was not dishonorably discharged.
  • The individual is a resident of one of the countries in which the United States has a Social Security agreement.

In the event that an individual’s payments are stopped, the Social Security Administration will not be able to commence them again until that person returns to the United States and stays for a period of no less than one full calendar month. That individual must be in the United States on the first minute of the first day of the month and remain in the United States until the last minute of the last day of that same month (for example, if the person arrives on June 15, 2014, then s/he must be present in the USA until August 1 to qualify). This is the only way to qualify as being present for an entire month. The SSA reserves the right to ask for proof that the person was inside of the US for that entire period.

What are Social Security Benefits for Children and Social Security Survivor Benefits?

For dependents or survivors of persons who were eligible for Social Security benefits the qualifications are slightly different. They are subject to the residency requirement which for non-US citizens means they must have resided inside of the United States for at least five years in order to get benefits abroad. In that time period the family relationship on which those benefits are based must have been in existence. Dependent children can meet that requirement on their own or the SSA can consider it met if the original beneficiary or other parent has met it.

The SSA is not obligated to pay dependent children who were adopted in a foreign country while they are residents of another nation, even if that child can meet the residency requirements. The residency requirement can be waived however in the following circumstances:

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  • The beneficiary was eligible initially before the 1st of January, 1985.
  • The benefit is coming from an individual who died while serving in the US Military or from an injury or disease that was a direct result of that service.
  • The beneficiary is a citizen of a country where the amount of time spent outside of the US is of no consequence.
  • The beneficiary is a resident of a one of the nations in which the US has a Social Security agreement.

What are Social Security Spousal Benefits if an American expat is married to a foreign spouse?

We wrote an article about social security spousal benefits in case of the foreign spouse.

American retirees must review all expat tax issues before they move abroad. American expatriates who need help with US expat tax preparation, overseas taxes, foreign tax credit, social security issues affecting U.S. citizens living abroad, FBAR, FATCA must consult an expat tax CPA that provides international tax services. Expat tax experts at Artio Partners are here to help you.

Related posts:

  1. Social Security Taxes and Americans Living Overseas
  2. Guide to Bilateral Social Security Agreements for American Expats
  3. Social Security Spousal Benefits for American Expats with a Foreign Spouse


Social Security Benefits for Americans Living Abroad - Guide? ›

If you earned Social Security benefits, you can visit or live in most foreign countries and still receive payments. Look up the country on the SSA Payments Abroad Screening Tool to be sure you can receive your payments.

Can a U.S. citizen live abroad and still collect Social Security? ›

If you earned Social Security benefits, you can visit or live in most foreign countries and still receive payments. Look up the country on the SSA Payments Abroad Screening Tool to be sure you can receive your payments.

How long can you live outside the U.S. and still collect Social Security? ›

If you leave the U.S., we will stop your benefits the month after the sixth calendar month in a row that you are outside the country. You can make visits to the United States for specific periods of time, depending on how long you've been outside, to continue receiving your benefits.

Do I have to pay Social Security if I live abroad? ›

If you are among the growing number of Americans who spend part of their career working outside the United States, both the United States and a foreign social security system cover your work. You would normally have to pay social security taxes to both countries for the same work.

How do expats receive Social Security? ›

For expats to start receiving US Social Security benefits, they need to meet the following criteria: Ten years of work and paying into the system, or. 40 credits of work. To receive one credit of work, an individual needs to make at least $1,640 in income in 2022, earning a maximum of four credits per year.

What is the 5 year rule for Social Security? ›

You must have worked and paid Social Security taxes in five of the last 10 years. If you also get a pension from a job where you didn't pay Social Security taxes (e.g., a civil service or teacher's pension), your Social Security benefit might be reduced.

Can a US citizen stay out of the country for more than 6 months? ›

Absences of more than 365 consecutive days

You must apply for a re-entry permit (Form I-131) before you leave the United States, or your permanent residence status will be considered abandoned. A re-entry permit enables you to be abroad for up to two years.

How do I get the $16728 Social Security bonus? ›

To acquire the full amount, you need to maximize your working life and begin collecting your check until age 70. Another way to maximize your check is by asking for a raise every two or three years. Moving companies throughout your career is another way to prove your worth, and generate more money.

Which countries have Social Security agreements with US? ›

Agreements to coordinate Social Security protection across national boundaries have been common in Western Europe for decades.
U.S. International Social Security Agreements.
Countries with Social Security Agreements
NorwayJuly 1, 1984
CanadaAugust 1, 1984
United KingdomJanuary 1, 1985
SwedenJanuary 1, 1987
27 more rows

What countries do not tax US Social Security? ›

Top 9 Tax-Free Retirement Countries for Americans Abroad
  • Panama. Panama tops most lists of the best countries to retire in, and there are good reasons for that. ...
  • Costa Rica. ...
  • Portugal. ...
  • Ecuador. ...
  • Greece. ...
  • Belize. ...
  • Nicaragua. ...
  • The Philippines.

What happens to my Social Security number if I leave the US? ›

What happens to a Social Security account if an individual leaves the United States? The SSN number remains valid. However, generally, if an individual leaves the United States for more than six (6) months, he or she is no longer eligible for Social Security benefits.

How is my US pension taxed if I live abroad? ›

How retiring abroad affects your 401(k) or IRA taxes. Distributions from your 401(k) and pensions are still taxed as income, albeit they're treated as unearned income—meaning you won't be able to claim them under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

Do I need to notify Social Security if I move to another state? ›

The good news is that your move will not affect your eligibility for SSDI, and you will not have to reapply for benefits in the new state you live in. However, you do need to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of your planned move.

Can I access my Social Security account from overseas? ›

How will I access my personal my Social Security account if I am overseas? You can access your account by registering your email address or your cell phone number if it has a standard 10-digit format. We will send you a security code to sign in to your my Social Security account.

Can I receive Social Security benefits from two countries? ›

When a person qualifies for a U.S. Social Security benefit based on combined U.S. and foreign coverage under a totalization agreement, the amount of the U.S. benefit payable is proportional only to those periods of coverage earned in the United States.

What changes are coming to Social Security in 2023? ›

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 8.7 percent in 2023. Read more about the Social Security Cost-of-Living adjustment for 2023. The maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $160,200.

What years count the most for Social Security? ›

Although you need at least 10 years of work (40 credits) to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, we base the amount of your benefit on your highest 35 years of earnings.

Why retiring at 62 is a good idea? ›

One of the most significant benefits of retiring at 62 is early access to Social Security benefits. Although you will receive a reduced monthly benefit, you can start receiving benefits earlier than if you wait until your full retirement age.

How long can a U.S. citizen live abroad without losing citizenship? ›

A naturalized citizen can live for as long as they wish in another country, with almost no risk to their U.S. citizenship status.

How do I maintain US residency while living abroad? ›

8 Steps to Maintaining Permanent U.S. Residence While Residing...
  1. Maintain and use U.S. savings and checking bank accounts. ...
  2. Maintain a U.S. address. ...
  3. Obtain a U.S. driver's license. ...
  4. Obtain a credit card from a U.S. institution. ...
  5. File U.S. income tax returns.

What is the 4 year 1 day rule for U.S. citizenship? ›

An applicant applying for naturalization under INA 316, which requires 5 years of continuous residence, must then wait at least 4 years and 1 day after returning to the United States (whenever 364 days or less of the absence remains within the statutory period), to have the requisite continuous residence to apply for ...

Who gets the $1657 from Social Security? ›

The checks worth $1,657 are only for Social Security recipients, not the general public. The Sun newspaper mentions that later in its story but not in the misleading headline.

What is the Social Security loophole? ›

The Restricted Application Loophole

Every year you delay, your monthly retirement benefit increases (until age 70). One Social Security loophole allowed married individuals to begin receiving a spousal benefit at full retirement age, while letting their own retirement benefit grow.

Can you get Social Security if you never worked? ›

The only people who can legally collect benefits without paying into Social Security are family members of workers who have done so. Nonworking spouses, ex-spouses, offspring or parents may be eligible for spousal, survivor or children's benefits based on the qualifying worker's earnings record.

Which country is best for Social Security? ›

  • Panama. Panama, which is located in Central America, borders Colombia to the southeast and Costa Rica to the northwest. ...
  • Costa Rica. Costa Rica is also located in Central America. ...
  • Mexico. ...
  • Portugal. ...
  • Colombia. ...
  • Ecuador. ...
  • Malta. ...
  • France.
Mar 16, 2023

Why is Social Security taxed twice? ›

It's not double taxation because the funds you collect don't come directly from your taxes. Your taxes are paying for today's beneficiaries, so the benefits you receive will be from someone else's payroll taxes. You have to think about your payroll taxes as a premium into a retirement account.

Is the United States the only country that has a Social Security program? ›

Tens of millions of Americans rely on Social Security, but the U.S. is by no means the only country that guarantees some level of income to its retired, disabled and survivor populations.

What is the #1 retirement country? ›

These include health, quality of life, material well-being and finances during retirement. With an overall score of 81%, Norway is the most retirement-friendly country on the list.

Where can I retire on $800 a month? ›

Ecuador. If you're looking for a country where you can retire outside the US comfortably with $800 per month and experience one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world, then Ecuador might be for you. The go-to city for US retirees in Ecuador is Cuenca, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Why do Americans retire abroad? ›

Advantages of Retiring Abroad

You can fulfill your dreams to travel, pick up a new sport, or enjoy a hobby. Access to affordable healthcare. You can find public healthcare systems that provide good healthcare at a reasonable cost.

What will replace Social Security? ›

In the proposals presented to the Commission, the use of retirement bonds--and annuities based on bond accumulations- would also replace the entire benefit structure of Social Security for the future.

Can you have a U.S. Social Security number and not be a U.S. citizen? ›

Generally, only noncitizens authorized to work in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can get an SSN. SSNs are used to report a person's wages to the government and to determine that person's eligibility for Social Security benefits.

Do green card holders over 65 get Social Security? ›

Do Green Card Holders Get Social Security? Yes, but they must pay social security taxes to earn social security credits, just like U.S. citizens are required to do.

Do American retirees living abroad pay taxes? ›

The United States is one of the few countries that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income. This means that Americans who retire overseas still have tax obligations.

Does a US citizen living abroad have to file a state tax return? ›

The answer is yes— If you're living abroad, you might not realize that you're still considered a resident of your home state and are subject to paying state taxes. This includes income tax, property tax, and sales tax.

Do dual citizens pay taxes in both countries? ›

Yes, if you are a citizen or resident alien of the United States, you have a U.S. tax obligation, even if you're a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. is one of two countries in the world that taxes based on citizenship, not place of residency.

How much will my Social Security be reduced if I have a pension? ›

How much will my Social Security benefits be reduced? We'll reduce your Social Security benefits by two-thirds of your government pension. In other words, if you get a monthly civil service pension of $600, two-thirds of that, or $400, must be deducted from your Social Security benefits.

How do I notify Social Security of moving? ›

If you get SSI, do not have a U.S. mailing address, or are unable to change your address online, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. local time or contact your local Social Security office.

Is Social Security based on where you live? ›

The benefit amount is based on Federal and State laws which take into account where you live, who lives with you and what income you receive. Look at the chart below to help you understand the difference between the two programs. Some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits.

Should I carry my Social Security card abroad? ›

Remove any cards or other documents you don't need to take with you. You'll be very glad you did this, if your wallet gets lost during the trip. Some examples of wallet items best left at home: Social security card.

Can a US citizen live abroad and still collect Social Security? ›

If you earned Social Security benefits, you can visit or live in most foreign countries and still receive payments. Look up the country on the SSA Payments Abroad Screening Tool to be sure you can receive your payments.

Is Social Security taxable if you live abroad? ›

Social Security retirement benefits received will be considered taxable income on your US expat taxes regardless of location, residency, or citizenship status.

What happens to my Social Security if I work abroad? ›

They remain on your record in the country where they were earned. Therefore, it is possible for a person to qualify for a separate benefit payment from each country. You may also contact us by email at

Can you have a Social Security and not be a US citizen? ›

Generally, only noncitizens authorized to work in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can get an SSN. SSNs are used to report a person's wages to the government and to determine that person's eligibility for Social Security benefits.

Are green card holders living abroad eligible for Social Security benefits? ›

Unless you live in Cuba or North Korea which are prohibited by the U.S. Treasury Department or another nine countries due to some payment restrictions, you should be able to receive your Social Security benefits while living outside the U.S.

Can a U.S. citizen get Social Security if they never worked? ›

The only people who can legally collect benefits without paying into Social Security are family members of workers who have done so. Nonworking spouses, ex-spouses, offspring or parents may be eligible for spousal, survivor or children's benefits based on the qualifying worker's earnings record.

Do you have to report to Social Security if you become a citizen? ›

You will need to visit Social Security so they can update your Social Security record. Wait at least 10 days after your ceremony before doing so and be prepared to show them your Certificate of Naturalization or your U.S. passport.

What happens to my Social Security if I leave the US? ›

If you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your Social Security payments outside the U.S. as long as you are eligible for them. However, there are certain countries to which we are not allowed to send payments.

What happens if you don't tell Social Security you moved? ›

We may overpay you and you may have to pay us back. We may apply a penalty that will reduce your SSI payment by $25 to $100 for each time you fail to report a change to us, or you report the change later than 10 days after the end of the month in which the change occurred.

What state pays the most in Social Security benefits? ›

1. California
  • Total Social Security Received: $8.66 billion.
  • Total Number of Recipients: 6,150,009.
Nov 16, 2022


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