Social Security had no restrictions on payments to recipients living outside the United States until 1956 when amendments restricted Social Security payments to retired or disabled workers--but not their dependents--while outside the country. Amendments in 1983 restricted payments to nonresident alien recipients of Social Security dependents' benefits. Recipients living in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa or the Northern Mariana Islands are considered U.S. residents for benefit purposes.
Disabled Worker Leaves U.S.
U.S. citizens can receive their Social Security disability benefits while living in any other country except for two: North Korea and Cuba. Noncitizens can receive payment while outside the U.S. if they are citizens of 76 other countries including Canada and most of South America and Europe. Aliens who are not citizens of one of the 76 countries can still receive benefits outside the U.S. if their country of residence--not necessarily citizenship--is one of 24 countries with a mutual Social Security pension payment agreement with the U.S. These 24 countries include most of Europe but only Canada and Chile in the Western Hemisphere. A recipient is considered outside the United States after an absence of 30 consecutive days.
Disabled Worker's Dependents
Recipients of dependents' benefits on the record of Social Security disability beneficiaries continue to receive benefits while outside the U.S. if they are U.S. citizens. Noncitizen dependents continue receiving payments if they are residents of 23 specific countries including Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom but only Canada and Chile in the Western Hemisphere. If the alien dependents are residents--not necessarily citizens--of an additional 24 countries, they can also continue to receive benefits. If the dependent is not a citizen or resident of one of these countries, they might meet other exceptions that permit payment. Exceptions include a minimum of five years of U.S. residency under certain conditions, or being a member or dependent of a member of the U.S. armed forces. If no exception applies, dependents' benefits stop after absence from the U.S. for six months.
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Taxation of Benefits
Social Security withholds a nonresident alien tax of 30 percent of the Social Security benefit sent to an alien residing outside the U.S. The United States has tax treaties with 10 countries--including Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom--that prohibit withholding these taxes or require Social Security to withhold a lower tax rate. The Social Security benefit and taxes are in U.S. dollars.
Medicare Insurance Coverage
Medicare does not cover services received outside the United States except when U.S. residents are traveling through Canada to Alaska or require emergency care when the nearest emergency facility is across the border in Canada or Mexico. Disabled workers receiving Social Security disability benefits automatically qualify for Medicare after 24 months of eligibility. Hospital insurance coverage is premium-free and the worker can use it upon returning to the U.S. Medicare's medical insurance pays for doctor bills and outpatient services but requires a premium. Unless the recipient plans to regularly return to the U.S. to receive treatment, or wants to maintain coverage because he will return to the U.S. in the future, paying medical insurance premiums might not be warranted.