Expert's View

There are a wide variety of benefits that may be paid to federal retirees and their survivors. However, there are specific laws that govern whether you can receive those benefits if you live outside the United States or its territories and possessions. These laws control your entitlement to CSRS and FERS annuities, Social Security and Medicare.

If you are a U.S. citizen, with one exception you can receive your CSRS or FERS benefits no matter where you live. Here’s the exception. No government payments of any kind may be paid if you reside in a “blocked” county, even if you set up an account outside that country. Currently, the blocked countries are Cuba and North Korea. Considering recent efforts by the Obama administration to improve relations with Cuba, it remains to be seen if it will stay on the blocked list.


As for Medicare, it rarely covers health services you get outside of the United States. However, if you return to the U.S. for treatment, you will be covered for hospital costs. That’s because you paid for Part A insurance through Social Security deductions taken from your pay. Note: Unless you expect to return to the U.S. on a regular basis for medical treatment, it may not be worth the cost to enroll in Medicare Part B and make the monthly payments required to carry that coverage.

There are also laws governing the payment of Social Security benefits. As a rule, if you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your Social Security payments outside the U.S. On the other hand, regardless of your citizenship, you may not receive payments in a blocked country (see above) or in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. That’s true even if you ask to have your payments sent to someone else on your behalf.

If you are a citizen of a few other countries and have accumulated enough credits to be eligible for a Social Security benefit, you may receive it even if you never set foot in the U.S. Here’s the current list of such countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

That same flexibility applies if you are a citizen of certain other countries and have earned a Social Security benefit on your own work history; however, unlike the countries listed above, it doesn’t apply to your survivors or dependents. Countries on this list are: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire. Croatia, Cyprus, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gabon, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Jamaica, Jordan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Federal States of Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Romania, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Trinidad-Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Your survivors or dependents who are citizens of these countries must meet certain requirements in order to receive Social Security payments. For example, your spouse must have been married to you 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, if your child or children were adopted outside the U.S., they won’t be paid outside the U.S., even if the residency requirement is met.

If you aren’t a citizen of any of the approved countries mentioned in this article but you live in the U.S., you’ll receive your Social Security payments just like any U.S. citizen. 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 return to the U.S. and stay here for at least one full month. Because there are some exceptions to this rule, you should check with the Social Security Administration to see if one of them applies to you.