Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Collecting U.S. retirement benefits while abroad

dollars.jpgAmerican 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.

Contact the SSA in the United States or the Federal Benefits Unit of the U.S. embassy nearest your location. There is no international toll-free number.

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.

In the News

Collecting Social Security When Abroad” — WSJ

Related posts

Receiving Social Security Benefits While Living Overseas” — SSA
How to get a visa and residence permit for retirement in Greece based on independent means
EU citizenship via ancestry

103 Comments

  EllasDevil wrote @ May 1st, 2007 at 00:47

Mmmm.. is there any way we can get an application in for me.

True, I’m not American. I’ve not lived in America. I’m not of retirement age…

BUT

This sounds really cool so I want in on it. Surely someone’s got connections somewhere?

Kat Reply:

ED – Sure, you don’t qualify, but I’m sure your Greek pension will be more than sufficient. 😉

  Vasilios wrote @ June 1st, 2008 at 08:15

I recently called the SSA “800” number on my mother’s behalf (who is a permanent US resident with only Greek citizenship) and was pleased to find out that even by moving back to Greece (and therefore loosing her US residence) she can still receive her SSA income my merely making a change of address.

This in contrast to your article claiming a need to show a continual residence in the U.S.A and or with making appearance(s) to the US embassy.

Thoughts ?

Kat Reply:

V – My thoughts are that you’ve misread the article. Nowhere do I say you must show a continual residence in the USA or appear at the embassy on a regular basis. It says clearly that you can collect while living abroad with no problem at all, even have the payment direct deposited to a bank account, as long as you qualify. You only need to send in periodic questionnaires, which is the reason I also say a person’s address must be up to date.

As I state clearly, I do not represent the SSA, the information was taken directly from the SSA site, and people should consult directly with them to get pertinent information specific to their case.

  Walter wrote @ October 17th, 2008 at 22:55

A very good posting. My wife and I have thought about retiring to western Europe. Your’s is the first article I’ve found with any information for U.S. Social Security receipients other than about settling in mexico. Thanks.

Kat Reply:

W – Hi there! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. As long as you qualify for SS retirement benefits, you’ll have no problem receiving payments via bank transfer or by mail should you decide to retire somewhere in western Europe, since the majority (if not all) countries allow it. Visit the links I’ve provided for more complete information. My article was an informational summary provided for the convenience of my readers.

  M. Helena wrote @ January 3rd, 2009 at 03:45

I would like to know where to go for a previous authorization for montly payment while the applicant is living in South America.

I thought that after the individual has worked/completed the 45 or plus credits, has completed the application, and has been fully qualified that given person did not have to remain in US in order to continue receiving the monthly payment. Am I missing anything in here?

Kat Reply:

MH – That’s true. In the first section, I say that you can collect while abroad if you set it up with them, even have SS payments wired directly to your bank account as long as you’re in a country where that’s not forbidden. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact SSA directly about your case or an American consulate nearest you. There’s a link in the first section that helps you find one, should you not know where to go.

  Teddy wrote @ January 31st, 2009 at 11:57

Great site!

My mother is a dual Greek/American citizen also and is living in the States but want’s to move to Greece. She is getting SSI from the SSA and was told that she cannot receive benefits if moved to Greece. Is that true and if it is do you know of a way to bypass this?

I’m a Greek/American dual citizen and my situation is a bit complicated. I need lots of info and was wondering if you can recommend me to a lawyer who is familiar with expat concerning dual citizens for good solid advises.

Thank you

PS Also, do you know what our rights are as far as buying a used car with foreign EU plates from Greece or from another EU country? And if you know of any foreign plates used car lot in Athens? I used to know of one but closed down.

Kat Reply:

T – Your mother cannot continue receiving these benefits abroad because Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are funded by U.S. taxpayer money, not the Social Security Admin. These are supplemental payments to assist the blind, elderly, low income and disabled in paying basic needs. See “SSI benefits” if you have further questions. Once she voluntarily leaves the United States, the USA and its taxpayers are not obligated to keep supporting her. She would then be in the hands of the Greek state and should apply to Greek authorities for assistance.

SSA retirement benefits — which is the subject of this article — can be received abroad because the recipient or qualifying family member made nearly lifelong contributions to be eligible. Therefore, these are payments funded from their decades of work.

There is really no need for a lawyer with regards to handling bureaucracy, as many hyphenated Greeks do just fine; I’ve also managed fine as an expat for 11 years without one and don’t even have the benefit of being Greek. Many lawyers come to my website for advice and are really only needed when you go to court. I cannot recommend an attorney per my policy in “Comments, Questions and Contacting Me.”

I regret that I do not know of any foreign plates used car lots in Athens. However, if you open the Chrysi Efkairia (x-e.gr), you may find a lead.

  Lily wrote @ April 7th, 2009 at 06:21

My question is about the dual citizen and retirement.

1) Can I stay in the Philippines as long as I want? I have my Auntie and planning to retire and plan to stay in the Philippines. Can she stay in the Philippines as long as she want? Is there any limit years to stay in the Philippines.
2) What will happen to her US SS pension? She’s planning to have a direct deposit on her bank but the question is – is her pension will be continued as long as she want to stay in the Phil.?
3) Is there any taxes required if she will stay permanent in the Phil.?
4) What will happen if she stayed in the Phil. without returning to US and what will happen about her SS pension?

So, my questions are about dual citizen, if she can stay as long as she wants without limits, her SS pension will not stop. if she will permanently in the Phil.

Kat Reply:

Questions #2 and #4 are already answered in the article. The other questions cannot be answered because you didn’t provide enough information for me to help you, plus this website is about Greece not the Philippines. I recommend you contact the Philippine Consulate nearest you, which I believe is:

http://www.philippinessanfrancisco.org/

  lionel wrote @ October 4th, 2009 at 20:31

My wife and I are considering retiring in South Africa, either temporary or semi-permanent or even permanently. We are registered aliens and have resided in the USA since 1971 as a fully employed tax paying non-citizen. We have been receiving Social Security payments since approximately 1995.

We are both on Medicare and understand that once abroad, we will no longer receive any Medicare benefits. My question is, will we continue to receive our monthly Social Security checks no matter how long we are out of the States?

Kat Reply:

You did not provide enough information for me to help you. However, I encourage you to use the links ‘Payments Abroad Screening Tool” or “Your Payments While You are Outside the USAfrom the article,If I leave the U.S., can I continue to receive benefits?” for information specific to your situation.

  Elaine wrote @ February 13th, 2010 at 23:03

I have some one that is 80 years old. has lived in the US for 50 years but was born in Greece. owned a small mechanic shop for a few years. was in the Greek Navy before coming to the states. he wants to go back to Greece to retire and doesn’t know what he does to obtain health insurance. Any guidance would help
Thanks
Elaine

Note from Kat: Answered privately.

  Pam wrote @ April 8th, 2010 at 17:48

Would a US citizen and retiree, living in Greece and receiving Social Security Retirement Benefits have to pay taxes to the Greek government?

Pam

Kat Reply:

Unfortunately, you did not provide enough information for me to answer your question, as taxation and tax filing involves more than just income and origin. I recommend consulting the SSA website or calling their hotline, where staff can adequately answer your question about double taxation and social security agreements between Greece and the USA.

Also be aware that tax laws are changing, so what applies today may not apply if/when you arrive in Greece.

  Flora wrote @ June 18th, 2010 at 11:32

my husband who is american citizen can apply for an SSA benefits here in the Philippines , even though he marries someone in the United States, what about our children who had an SSN since they were young, are entitle too their fathers compensation.

Kat Reply:

Dependents or survivors of U.S. citizens must determine if they are eligible to receive benefits, since birth alone isn’t enough. Please contact SSA to receive answers specific to your situation.

  Henry wrote @ July 6th, 2010 at 23:08

would like to know about my wife’s benefits

Kat Reply:

Since you’re in Canada, you can find an answer online or contact SSA directly by mail or phone. See “Contact Us.”

  J.B. wrote @ March 25th, 2011 at 23:29

I spend 14 years working in USA (legal permanent resident) and paying all taxes. If I decide to live in the USA, can I get back my social security and medicare money. J.B. Thank you.

Kat Reply:

According to my report, you’re already in the USA. Therefore, I don’t know what you mean by “get back” and don’t understand the question.

Social security contributions go toward your pension/retirement and can be combined with years of contributions made in other countries with bilateral agreements, and payments can be paid out as long as you’re in an eligible country and are eligible for payments. You need to use the links I provide above and consult SS directly, then consult Medicare on your specific situation and desires. http://www.medicare.gov/

  ron wrote @ May 31st, 2011 at 13:20

Thanks very much for this article.
I’m a green card holder from England and am working in America now – but I want out. It’s good to know that I don’t have to become a US citizen to collect SS retirement money while living (permanently) abroad. So after leaving America, I will lose my permanent resident status and I won’t have to file US tax returns anymore. And if I understand correctly, when I reach retirement age I’ll be able to apply for Social Security payments and still won’t have to file US tax returns or have any other obligations to America. Sounds great! Please correct me if anything I wrote was wrong.
Thank you,
Ron

Kat Reply:

Hi Ron,

There was a delay in answering you because I needed to consult someone with several years expertise in handling cross-border cases involving taxes and SS retirement. He gave me permission to relay what he told me to help you.

It’s true that you will not need to file U.S. tax returns when you no longer have U.S. income related to business activities, earned income (as the IRS defines it) from the USA, and are no longer a permanent resident.

However, depending on what country you take up residence, whether it’s your native England or somewhere else, there is typically tax on U.S. social security or pension payments, even if you don’t file a U.S. tax return. In Greece, for example, a flat 30 percent tax is withheld from all U.S. payments, regardless of citizenship or tax filing status in the USA. In other countries, the percentage of withholding tax may be less or even nil, but U.S. social security payments are (under most conditions) still considered taxable income by laws in your country of residence and may be subject to taxation.

IRS publications 519 and 901 can explain most of what you need to know. Click and download at, “Publications and Notices.”

Thank you for your question.

Sorry, comments are closed at this time.