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American expats and Social Security

The eligibility of American expatriates and their families to receive US Social Security benefits depends on understanding the qualifications. Citizens of most European countries may receive benefits but not US citizens residing in Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea or certain areas of the former Soviet Union. Survivors or dependents who are citizens of Central and South American countries as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Iceland, Jordan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Monaco, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovakia and Turkey must meet certain additional requirements. Anyone who is not a US citizen or a citizen of these countries will not receive Social Security benefits after being outside the United States for six calendar months unless he or she is a resident of a treaty country. Treaty countries – countries with which the US has a Social Security Totalization agreement – include most European countries.
The right of non-US citizen dependents and survivors to receive benefits depends on US residency. They must have lived in the United States for at least five years, during which the family relationship on which benefits are based must have existed. This residency requirement is not required of citizens of most European countries or countries with which the United States has a Social Security agreement.
Non-US citizens, as opposed to dependents and survivors, can qualify to receive Social Security benefits as long as they were assigned a Social Security number based on authorization to work in the United States at any time on or after 1 January 2004 or were admitted to the United States as a nonimmigrant visitor for business.
When a Social Security recipient dies, the Social Security Administration should be notified as soon as possible. A one-time payment of $255 will be paid to the surviving spouse. In addition, the following surviving members may be eligible for monthly benefits:

  • The widow or widower aged 60 or older (50 if disabled)
  • Surviving spouse at any age who is caring for the deceased’s child age 16 or under (or disabled)
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18
  • Age 18 or older with a disability that began before 22 years of age
  • Parents aged 62 or older who were dependents of the deceased for at least half their support
  • Surviving divorced spouse under certain circumstances

Social Security can be contacted via their website: www.ssa.gov

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