When most Americans retire, they remain in the United States. A small group of adventurous older adults, however, heads overseas during their retirement years in search of new cultural adventures, a better climate or a lower cost of living. Or sometimes, it's to try life in a place where they have family roots – their parents’ home country, or the place of their birth. Let's look at the particulars of relocating, if that land happens to be the Dominican Republic.
Social Security Benefits
You can continue receiving Social Security benefits no matter how long you live in the Dominican Republic – whether you are a citizen of the U.S. or the Dominican Republic – as long as you are eligible for the payments (special rules may apply if you are not a U.S. citizen and you receive benefits as a dependent or survivor of a worker). The Social Security Administration’s Payments Abroad Screening Tool offers details pertaining to specific situations.
Your benefits can be mailed to your residence in the Dominican Republic, or deposited directly into your bank or other financial institution account in the U.S. or in the Dominican Republic (it participates in the Social Security Administration’s International Direct Deposit program). Most retirees use direct deposit so they don’t have to worry about delayed, lost or stolen checks; the payments arrive faster, too. If your benefits are deposited in the U.S., you can access the money using an ATM card, or have the funds transferred to a local bank, if you have one.
Note that Medicare does not cover health services you receive outside the U.S. Medicare benefits are available if you ever return to the U.S., but you will end up paying a 10% higher premium for each 12-month period you could have been enrolled but were not.
The Federal Benefits Unit (FBU) of the American Embassy in Santo Domingo provides assistance to both U.S. and Dominican citizens who receive benefits from the Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The FBU office operates on an appointment-only system. To schedule an appointment or get information, use the online form on the Embassy’s website.
Foreigners can legally own property in the Dominican Republic with the same rights and obligations as citizens. The only requirement for foreign property ownership is that the Title Registry Offices keep a record of all purchases made (for statistical purposes). To protect your rights and ensure a smooth transaction, work with an experienced local real estate agent, as well as a real estate attorney.
Until recently, the Dominican Republic considered anyone born in the country to be a citizen. In 2013, however, the Dominican Constitutional Court, in a controversial decision, retroactively revoked the citizenship of children born to foreign parents as far back as 1929, creating the world’s fifth-largest group of stateless people. The next year, a “regularization plan” was introduced that permitted anyone who had previously been considered a natural-born citizen to apply for naturalized citizenship – as long as they had documentation proving they were born in the Dominican Republic. If you were born in the country to foreign parents and then moved away – and you missed the Feb. 2015 deadline to submit the documentation – you no longer have Dominican citizenship status.
If you are not a Dominican citizen and you wish to stay in the country long-term, you will need to apply for a Residence Visa (Visa de Residencia) through a Consulate of the Dominican Republic. Among other things, you will be required to submit a medical certificate, certified criminal record statement and documents showing your financial solvency.
Those who have been residents of the Dominican Republic for at least three years are taxed on their global income; non-residents are taxed only on Dominican-sourced income. You are considered a resident if you spend more than 182 days in the country during any given fiscal year (the days do not have to be consecutive).
Currently, there is no tax treaty in place between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, so you may owe income tax in both countries, depending on your situation. Tax laws are complicated and change frequently, so it is recommended that you consult a qualified tax accountant to take advantage of available tax credits – there are some special ones for retirees – and ensure you receive the most favorable treatment possible. See 4 Reasons Why Americans Retire in the Dominican Republic.
In addition to income taxes, the Dominican Republic taxes non-cash compensation, capital gains (taxed at 25%), real estate (1% of the total value of property worth over 5 million Dominican pesos, about $110,000), and estate and gifts (3% of the total value of the estate/gift). It also has a 16% value-added tax.
The Bottom Line
Any move abroad can be challenging and moving to the Dominican Republic is no exception. You’ll have to make plans for collecting your Social Security benefits while overseas, buying property and making sure you have the correct visa to remain in the country (especially given the fairly recent change in designation of citizenship).
For related reading, see This Is How You Could Live in the Dominican Republic on $1,000 a Month.
Note: U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you and/or your family in case of an emergency.