If you are planning to retire abroad, you may be concerned about whether you'll still be able to collect your Social Security retirement, disability, or survivors benefits. In most cases, the answer is yes. However, there are some exceptions.

Key Takeaways

  • If you are a U.S. citizen who qualifies for retirement, disability, or survivors benefits, you can generally collect them while living outside the U.S.
  • However, benefit payments cannot be made to recipients living in certain countries, such as Cuba and North Korea.
  • For non-U.S. citizens the rules depend on your home country and the type of benefit.

Who Is Eligible to Collect Social Security Benefits Outside the U.S.?

The eligibility rules for collecting Social Security benefits outside the United States can differ depending on whether you're a U.S. citizen or non-U.S. citizen. These are some of the basics:

If You're a U.S. Citizen

The Social Security Administration's Payments Abroad Screening Tool can help determine if you are eligible to collect benefits outside of the U.S.

Generally speaking, if you are a U.S. citizen, you can collect retirement, disability, or survivors benefits while overseas as long as you meet the usual criteria for eligibility.  However, Social Security won't make benefit payments to recipients in certain countries, such as Cuba, North Korea, and some former Soviet republics. In most cases, if you reside in one of those countries, all of your unpaid benefits will be paid to you once you enter a country where payments can be sent.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a different matter. You can collect SSI only if you live in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands.

If You're Not a U.S. Citizen

Non-U.S. citizens can be subject to another set of rules, depending on the country they are citizens of, where they are living, and what kind of Social Security benefits they are claiming. These rules are determined in many cases by so-called "totalization agreements" between the U.S. and more than 25 other nations. You can find a list of totalization agreements and links to them on the Social Security Administration website.

If you're receiving dependent or survivors benefits, you may need to meet additional residency requirements, as explained in the Social Security booklet "Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States."

In limited instances, Social Security will stop paying benefits to recipients who leave the United States for six months or more but will resume them if the person later returns for at least a full month. 

Non-U.S. citizens can also use the Social Security Administration's Payments Abroad Screening Tool to determine if they are eligible to collect benefits outside of the U.S.

American citizens can collect Social Security benefits—but not Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—in most, but not all, countries outside the U.S. 

Keeping Your Information Up-to-Date

The Social Security Administration periodically sends questionnaires to beneficiaries who reside outside the U.S. These are designed to help the agency determine whether they are still eligible. The questionnaires ask for updated information about any work you are engaged in abroad, marriage, death, divorce, change of address, change of circumstances, and eligibility for a pension not covered under the Social Security program.

Failure to return the requested information will result in a cessation of benefits. You're also required to report any of the listed events to Social Security when they occur, regardless of whether you have received a survey.