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Social Security Benefits for Non-U.S. Citizens Living Abroad

LAST UPDATED
May 8, 2023
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Can My Foreign Spouse Receive Social Security Benefits?

If you’re a U.S. citizen and qualify to receive Social Security benefits, you can still receive payments while living outside of the U.S. — with some exceptions (see below). And like many American expats who marry a non-U.S. citizen, depending on the situation and meeting additional requirements, your foreign spouse may be eligible for spousal and survivor Social Security benefits. Considering the 2023 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), eligibility to claim Social Security benefits as a non-U.S. spouse can be significant.

In this article, we outline a brief overview of general rules regarding the treatment of foreign spouses and ways to determine Social Security benefits. For more detailed information concerning a specific situation, please visit the U.S. Social Security Administration website to check for regularly updated policy and tax treaty changes.

Can Non-U.S. Spouses Claim Social Security?

In most cases, non-U.S. spouses can claim Social Security benefits by qualifying for survivor or spousal benefits. The general rule for any spouse who is not a U.S. citizen or green card holder is that Social Security payments to them are suspended if the spouse has lived outside the U.S. for six consecutive calendar months. However, there are three major exceptions that could easily qualify a non-U.S. spouse living outside the U.S. to receive benefits based on their spouse’s Social Security record.

Requirements for Foreign Spouses to Receive Benefits

    1. First, non-U.S. citizens may receive Social Security benefits abroad if they lived in the United States for at least five (non-consecutive) years as a married couple. In the case of divorce, the foreign divorced spouse can still qualify for spousal benefits if the five-year rule has been fulfilled and this spouse has not remarried before age 60.
    2. Second, if the spouse is a resident of a country that has a Social Security Agreement with the U.S., they’ll be entitled to benefits. Also known as Totalization Agreements, these agreements help avoid double taxation of Social Security payments and provide clarity as to how foreign spouses can qualify for benefits. If your foreign spouse is a tax resident of one of the following countries, the SSA will continue their benefits.
Countries That Qualify Foreign Spousal Benefits Based on Residency
AustraliaFinlandJapanSlovenia
Austria*FranceKorea (South)Spain
Belgium*Germany*LuxembourgSweden*
BrazilGreeceNetherlandsSwitzerland*
CanadaHungaryNorwayUnited Kingdom
ChileIcelandPolandUruguay
Czech RepublicIrelandPortugal
Denmark*ItalySlovak Republic

*If you are a resident (but not citizen) of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Sweden or Switzerland, these agreements allow you to continue to receive your benefits only if you meet certain additional requirements. Speak with an experienced international wealth manager to help determine your eligibility.

    1. If you are a citizen of one of the countries listed below, the Social Security Administration will continue a foreign spouse’s benefits. Unlike the previous requirement, you don’t need to live in one of the below countries to receive benefits — you simply need to have citizenship from that country and live in a location the SSA can send payments to.
Countries That Qualify Foreign Spousal Benefits Based on Citizenship
AustriaGermanySouth KoreaSpain
BelgiumGreeceLuxembourgSweden
CanadaHungaryThe NetherlandsSwitzerland
ChileIrelandNorwayUnited Kingdom
Czech RepublicIsraelPoland
FinlandItalyPortugal
FranceJapanSlovakia

This list of countries is subject to change. For the latest information, visit www.ssa.gov/international/countrylist1.htm. Additionally, a foreign spouse is generally able to receive Social Security survivor benefits as long as they meet one of the above requirements. If the non-U.S. spouse does not meet the five-year test, they can return to the U.S. as a widower and complete the five-year requirement.

Residency Requirements and Country Exceptions

U.S. expats and their non-U.S. spouses can generally claim Social Security benefits while living at a foreign residence, with some exceptions. Due to sanctions, Social Security payments can’t be sent to North Korea or Cuba, although these payments can be recouped once you move to a country where the Social Security Administration can send payments.

For more information, including a full list of countries exempt from the residency requirement, you can contact the U.S. Social Security office nearest to you or your closest U.S. Embassy Federal Benefits Unit. In addition, you can use the U.S. Social Security Administration’s online Payments Abroad Screening Tool, which can help you determine whether you meet the conditions for payments while you’re outside the U.S.

At Creative Planning International, we understand the unique challenges faced by U.S. expats and their families. We work with expats and cross-border families to help maximize their wealth and avoid costly mistakes. We understand the complex interaction of multi-jurisdiction tax and regulatory regimes and take into account currency, diversification and other portfolio considerations as we help implement custom estate and tax planning strategies to meet your specific needs.

To learn more, request a meeting with a member of our team.

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only, should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.

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