If you are planning on retiring abroad, you may be concerned about forfeiting your Social Security retirement, disability, or survivors’ benefits. However, because the United States has Social Security agreements with many nations throughout the world, this may not be the case.

Who Is Eligible?

The Social Security Administration has created the interactive Payments Abroad Screening Tool to help determine if you are eligible to continue collecting benefits outside of the U.S. However, those who currently collect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may not collect benefits while overseas, as this program requires that all beneficiaries reside within the U.S. or in one of its protectorates (Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa) to be eligible.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you are able to continue to collect retirement, disability, or survivors' benefits while overseas as long as you are eligible to receive them. However, benefit payments cannot be made to certain countries, such as Cuba, Ukraine, North Korea, and Vietnam. In most cases, if you reside in a country that restricts benefit payments, all withheld benefits are returned to you once you enter a country where payments can be sent.

Key Takeaways

  • If you are a U.S. citizen, you are able to continue to collect retirement, disability, or survivors' benefits while overseas.
  • However, benefit payments cannot be made to certain countries, such as Cuba, Ukraine, North Korea, and Vietnam.
  • For non-U.S. citizens or citizens of one of the countries listed by the Social Security Administration, benefits end once you've lived outside the U.S. for six consecutive months.

Citizenship Matters

Your citizenship may also be an issue. If you are a citizen of certain other countries, such as Switzerland or the United Kingdom, you will be able to continue to receive benefits regardless of how long you remain outside the U.S. Some other countries, including Lithuania and Monaco, have a slightly different Social Security agreement whereby you may, as a citizen of that country, continue to receive any benefits you are entitled to on your own account. However, if you're receiving dependent or survivors' benefits, you need to meet additional requirements to continue collecting. Use the Social Security Administration website to find links to detailed lists of which countries fall under the above provisions.

If you are not a U.S. citizen or a citizen of one of the listed countries, your benefits end once you have been outside the U.S. for six consecutive months. There a few exceptions to this rule, based primarily on certain types of work history, military history, or if you are a legal resident of a country with which the U.S. has a Social Security agreement.

However, if your payments end because you don't qualify for any of these exceptions, benefits cannot be reinstated until you return to the U.S. for at least one full calendar month. In all cases, those receiving dependent or survivors benefits' may need to meet additional qualifications to continue collecting.

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

Be Sure to Fill Out the Questionnaire

Also, the Social Security Administration periodically sends questionnaires to beneficiaries who reside outside the U.S. These are designed to help determine continued eligibility. Among the requested updates is 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 results in cessation of benefits. You're also required to report any of the listed events when they occur, regardless of whether you have received a survey.

The Social Security Administration outlines its payment policy for those residing outside the U.S. in its publication “Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States.”