American citizens and other beneficiaries who are eligible to collect social security benefits and planning to live abroad in Greece or another country as temporary or permanent expats can receive payments in accordance with Social Security Administration (SSA) laws.
*Article last updated August 31, 2014. However, answers in ‘Comments’ reflect whatever laws were in effect at the time and/or a specific case.
Do You Qualify?
American citizens and eligible persons of other nations can collect U.S. social security benefits while overseas as long as they qualify and move to a country without restrictions.
1. Go to the SSA website and select Retirement, Disability or SSI from the top or side menus, or contact SSA by phone, to determine if you are eligible. If you are not eligible, stop now.
2. If you are eligible or already receiving payments, read about “Receiving benefits outside the United States” and use the SSA Eligibility Tool, “Payments outside the United States,” to ensure there are no restrictions on the country of interest before moving outside U.S. territory.
3. Whether you are permanently or temporarily abroad, it is recommended that you arrange direct deposit of benefits to a reliable overseas or U.S. financial institution and utilize any services offered online (change of address, forms, etc.). See, “Direct deposit for foreign beneficiaries” or the PDF file called “Your Payments While Outside the United States.”
4. Questionnaires sent every year to determine continued eligibility must be answered truthfully and returned within 45 days, or payments will stop. Giving false information or failure to report any changes in your status will incur penalties and/or result in imprisonment under U.S. law.
5. If payments stop, sending the form late will restart them and pay everything owed in a lump-sum payment, then resume monthly.
6. Have a question or concern? Persons outside the United States can:
a) visit the ‘Foreign’ FAQ to see if your question is answered online;
b) contact the SSA directly, which provides foreign-language interpreters; or
c) contact one of many Federal Benefits Units located at U.S. embassies around the world. If you are in Greece, see the next section.
If arriving at this post as an American or U.S. citizen looking to retire in Greece, the first step is to determine whether you can get a permit to reside legally in the country, as explained in “How non-EU citizens can get a visa and permit to live in Greece supported by independent means.” The only way around this is to have dual citizenship with the EU; see “EU citizenship via ancestry or naturalization.”
Should a country other than Greece be of interest, it is essential to investigate residency and/or permit options with the closest embassy or consulate serving that country. Getting advice from a forum or strangers is not recommended.
Social Security Assistance in Greece
If you are in Greece and need help with anything pertaining to social security benefits, the U.S. Embassy in Athens has a Federal Benefits Unit.
Most business can be conducted by phone. Call (210) 720-2426 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and embassy staff speaking Greek and English will be happy to assist you.
There is no Federal Benefits unit at the American Consulate in Thessaloniki.
If you are a U.S. citizen abroad in another country, social security claims, questions and other inquiries can be directed at American Consulates and Embassies. Click “American Embassies & Consulates Worldwide” to find one.
SSI and Medicare
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are supplemental payments that assist the blind, elderly, low income and disabled in paying basic needs. Because they are funded by U.S. taxpayer money and not the Social Security Administration (SSA), these payments stop once the beneficiary leaves America. Please visit “SSI benefits,” if you have further questions.
Likewise, Medicare health insurance terminates once a resident leaves the United States. However, if a U.S. resident will be abroad for an undetermined period and there is a possibility of returning, certain types of coverage can remain in force by not disenrolling immediately. Medicare provides no coverage overseas, but he/she would at least have the option of returning to the United States for treatment and be insured upon his/her move back to America.
Once someone voluntarily leaves the United States, the USA and its taxpayers are not obligated to keep supporting them. They would then be the responsibility of the new country of residence, if laws apply and eligibility is met. Otherwise, you’re on your own, either paying out of pocket or purchasing a private insurance policy.
Non-citizens who worked in the USA
If you are a non-citizen who worked in the United States, you may also qualify to collect benefits if you meet the same eligibility requirements for U.S. citizens. However, there may be additional requirements as determined on a case-by-case basis.
Dependent or survivors of workers collecting benefits
In order to receive the retirement benefits of a worker as a dependent or survivor, you must be a U.S. citizen OR if you are not a U.S. citizen, you must have lived in the United States for 5 years, during which benefits were being paid.
The residency requirement will not apply to you if you meet any of the following conditions:
- You were initially eligible for monthly benefits before January 1, 1985; or
- You are entitled on the record of a worker who died while in the U.S. military service or as a result of a service-connected disease or injury; or
- You are a citizen of: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea (South), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom; or
- You are a resident of the countries with which the U.S. has a Social Security agreement: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea (South), Luxembourg
Have a question?
Check the Foreign FAQ for persons outside the U.S. or thinking of going abroad.
If your question pertains to SSA and pensions paid in other countries, contact them all.
Taxation questions should be directed to the tax authority in your country, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the United States, and/or a competent accountant familiar with laws in all relevant countries and cross-country treaties.
Insurance, Medicare and disability questions should be directed to someone at the fund.
There’s no way for me (or any generalist) to access your confidential records, learn thousands of ever-changing tax, insurance and social security laws of every country in the world and how they relate to each other, then apply them to your unique situation based on age, citizenship(s), filing status, coverage and place of residency.