Expert's View

If you are a federal retiree or survivor and live outside the United States or its territories and possessions, there are specific laws that govern whether you may receive a wide variety of benefits. These laws govern CSRS and FERS annuities, Social Security, and Medicare.

Annuities

ADVERTISEMENT


In general, if you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your CSRS or FERS benefits no matter where you live. On the other hand, no government payments of any kind may be paid if you reside in what the Treasury Department defines as “blocked” county, even if you set up an account outside the country. Currently, the blocked countries are Cuba and North Korea.

Social Security


When it comes to Social Security benefits, if you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your payments outside the U.S. On the other hand, regardless of your citizenship you may not receive payments in a blocked country (see above), in Cambodia, Vietnam, or in areas (other than Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Russia) that were once a part of the former Soviet Union. That’s true even if you ask to have your payments sent to someone else on your behalf.

Citizens of a few other countries who have accumulated the necessary credits to be eligible for Social Security benefits may receive them even if they never set foot in the U.S. Here’s the current list of such countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

That same flexibility applies to the citizens of certain other countries who have earned Social Security benefits on their own work histories; however, unlike the countries listed above, it does not apply to their survivors or dependents. Countries on this list are: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Federal States of Micronesia, Gabon, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Jordan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Samoa (formerly Western Samoa), San Marino, Serbia & Montenegro, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Trinidad-Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Survivors or dependents who are citizens of these countries must meet certain requirements in order to receive Social Security payments. For example, a spouse must have been married to the worker and lived in the U.S. for at least five years. Children who cannot meet the residency requirement on their own may be considered to meet it if their parents do. However, children adopted outside the U.S. will not be paid outside the U.S., even if the residency requirement is met.

If you are not a citizen of any of the approved countries mentioned above but you live in the U.S., you will receive your Social Security payments just like any U.S. citizen would. However, your Social Security payments will stop if you leave the United States and are out of the country for six full calendar months. The payments won’t resume until you have returned to the U.S. and stayed for at least one full month. Since there are some exceptions to this rule, you should check with the Social Security Administration to see if one of them applies to you.

ADVERTISEMENT

Medicare


Medicare rarely covers health services you receive outside of the United States. If you are covered by Part A and return to the U.S. for treatment, it will cover hospital costs. However, unless you expect to return to the U.S. on a regular basis for medical treatment, it may not be worth the expense to make the monthly payments required to obtain Part B insurance, which covers doctors and many other medical services.