Living Overseas on Social Security

Many elders would love to spend their retirement traveling, or even living overseas. But can you get your social security check sent to Timbuktu?

You’re retired, reasonably healthy, and love to travel. Can you still get your Social Security benefits in a place like Andorra? The short answer is yes. While you aren’t eligible to receive Medicare when you leave the country, Social Security benefits are available to retirees in other countries. If you leave the United States for another country, and have been outside U.S. borders for 30 days consecutively, a retiree is considered “outside the United States” and the rules for collecting benefits apply as if you were still in Bayonne, or even Akron.

There are some exceptions. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is not allowed to send checks to Cuba, or North Korea, for instance. Even in a forbidden place, however, you’re not entirely out of luck. If you’re living in Cuba, or North Korea, you can still receive any withheld checks if you go to a country where paychecks can be sent, to pick them up. Also, for your information, the SSA doesn’t typically send checks to Cambodia, Vietnam, or areas of the former Soviet Union (other than Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, or Russia), but eligible retirees may be able to apply for an exception – which are occasionally granted. In these instances, retirees may have to agree to certain conditions. Appearing in person at the U.S. Embassy each month to receive benefits may suddenly become very do-able if it’s the only way to receive your Social Security benefits.

If you are a retiree, and also a U.S. citizen, you are entitled to continue receiving benefits for as long as you’re living abroad. That said, citizens of other countries who receive Social Security may have restrictions placed upon their eligibility regarding the length of time they can continue to receive monthly benefits. In these cases, the rules can become quite complicated and a relevant Social Security publication Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States should be obtained. The SSA website also makes available to beneficiaries a payment screening tool that lets them know about their eligibility status if they remain outside the U.S. for longer than six months.

If there is any doubt, a more hassle-free option is for a retiree to use direct deposit into a U.S. bank account. Direct deposit is also available in certain countries and has the additional advantage of avoiding check-cashing and currency-conversion fees.

Gene Osofsky is an East Bay elder law attorney in California. Gene Osofsky specializes in Medi-Cal planning, wills, probate, trusts, nursing home issues, special needs planning, and disability planning. To learn more about elder law and The Law Offices of Osofsky & Osofsky, visit 

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