Receiving Social Security outside the United States

Q:  Can you receive Social Security payments outside of the United States?   

A: Yes. Assuming they are otherwise eligible, United States citizens can receive Social Security payments without restriction in most, but not all, foreign countries.  

For SSA purposes, you are outside the United States if not in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands or American Samoa. Once outside of the United States for at least 30 days in a row, you are considered to be outside the country until you return and stay in the U.S. for at least 30 days in a row.  

Benefits cannot be sent to Cuba or North Korea due to U.S. Treasury Department restrictions. Benefits can be directed to some other countries only with certain restrictions, including several that were part of the former Soviet Union. 

Rules vary if you are not a United States citizen, again assuming you remain otherwise eligible.  If not a U.S. citizen, the law requires the Social Security Administration to stop your payments after you have been outside the United States for six consecutive calendar months unless you meet one of several exceptions in the law allowing your benefits to continue. 

Most of these exceptions are based on the country of residence. Citizens of some countries can continue receiving Social Security payments no matter how long they stay outside the United States without any restrictions. Citizens of other countries have restrictions based on whether they are eligible for Social Security on their own work record or on the record of someone else. 

Medicare generally does not cover health services outside the United States. In rare cases, usually involving medical emergencies, some inpatient services in Canada or Mexico might be covered. See www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for more information. TTY users can call Medicare at 1-877-486-2048. 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not paid if you leave the United States. 

Read Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States (SSA publication 05-10137) if you receive Social Security and plan to be outside of the United States for an extended period. Contact Social Security in advance to continue benefits. 

Social Security eligibility is based on work, not citizenship, but usually only noncitizens who have permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can apply for a Social Security number.  

U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens living outside of the United States can file for SSA benefits by contacting the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Canadian residents can contact Social Security offices based on their Canadian Province of residence. For example, residents of Manitoba contact the SSA office in Grand Forks ND, residents of Saskatchewan contact the SSA office in Minot ND, and residents of the county of Thunder Bay, Ontario, contact the SSA office in Duluth MN.

More information is at the Social Security Office of International Operations webpage: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/foreign/

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