Where you live after retiring can help you stretch your retirement savings. Social Security income continues when you choose another country as your new home, provided you meet Social Security Administration, or SSA, criteria. Before that criteria applies, you must spend 30 consecutive days abroad for the SSA to consider you living outside the U.S. American territories Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas Islands don't count as foreign residencies. However, you have no Medicaid coverage while in "outside the U.S." status; you have to return stateside to qualify.
Country of Residence Matters
If you're a U.S. citizen eligible for Social Security benefits, you can receive your monthly payment in any country, with a few exceptions. For example, the SSA considers Cambodia, Vietnam and all but five former Soviet Union nations -- Armenia, Estonia, Russia, Latvia and Lithuania -- restricted locations, while federal regulations at the time of publication prohibit money transfers to banks in Cuba and North Korea. U.S. citizens residing in a restricted country have three choices: collect their benefits when they return to the U.S., change residency to another country or obtain an exception from the SSA to pick up payments at a U.S. consulate or embassy.
Payments to Non-U.S. Citizens
Residency also affects foreign nationals who are eligible for Social Security. Citizens of countries on SSA Country List 1, SSA Country List 2 or one of 24 nations with an agreement with the U.S. on SSA Country List 3 have no residency requirement. However, as a non-U.S. citizen receiving dependent or surviving spouse benefits and residing in a Country List 2 nation, you may have to live stateside for set time to continue getting benefits. Non-citizen beneficiaries residing in Cuba or North Korea forfeit Social Security payments.
SSI and Disability Payments Abroad
Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, benefits end if you live outside the U.S. with the exception of children living with a military parent stationed abroad or on a study abroad program. Disability, or SSDI, benefits continue as long as you regularly submit questionnaires to keep SSA informed of your health and living situation. You may also have to return to the U.S. every five to seven years for an eligibility review, according to the Disability Benefits Center. However, if you live in a country where payments cannot be sent, you must go to a nonrestricted country or apply for an exception to collect a check and any withheld payments at a U.S. consulate or embassy. Dependents and eligible noncitizens may have U.S. residency requirements to continue getting their disability payments while abroad.
You have choices for how to receive your monthly benefits. The SSA sends payments electronically in U.S. dollars to a U.S. or foreign bank account or its Direct Express debit card. It does not make allowances for currency conversion. As of publication, 69 countries participated in the SSA International Program for direct deposit. You also have the option of having your payments wired to a U.S. bank account. If you live in a restricted country yet have an account in a country with a direct deposit agreement, SSA will send your money to that bank account.
You must report any life-changing events such as marriage, divorce or adoption; status changes such as employment, eligibility and guardianship; and new addresses to SSA or risk losing your benefits. In Canada, go to the nearest SSA field office; otherwise, visit the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The SSA also accepts notifications mailed to the address below.
- Social Security Administration: Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States
- Social Security Administration: SI 00501.411 SSI Eligibility for Students Temporarily Abroad -- Overview
- Social Security Administration: Understanding Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Overview (2014 Edition)
- Disability Benefits Center: Can I Receive Disability Benefits if I Am Living Overseas?
- Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability: Getting and Keeping Your Benefits; David A. Morton III
- Social Security Administration: Get Your Payments Electronically
- Social Security Administration: Payments Abroad Screening Tool
- ThinkAdvisor: The Expat Life -- Helping Clients Retire Overseas
- International Living: The World's Best Places to Retire in 2015