Expert's View

Reg Jones

In a previous article we looked at rules governing the payment of CSRS and FERS retirement benefits to U.S. citizens who live outside the U.S. or its territories and possessions. While I pointed out that as general rule you can receive them, you can’t if you live in a “blocked” country. Currently, the only two countries that meet that definition are Cuba and North Korea. However, any U.S. citizen who is living in a blocked country and entitled to Social Security benefits can receive those benefits, including retroactive payments, if they move to a country where payment is not restricted.

On the other hand, non-citizens entitled to Social Security benefits who leave a blocked country may only receive payments for the months following their move to a country where payments can be made.

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The limitation on receiving a Social Security benefits are even stricter for citizens of foreign countries who are entitled to Social Security benefits. At present those countries include Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Even if they aren’t a citizens of an approved country but they live in the U.S., they will receive Social Security payments just like any U.S. citizen would. However, their Social Security payments will stop if they leave the United States and are out of the country for six full calendar months.

Those payments will not resume until they have returned to the U.S. and stayed here for at least one full month. Note: There are some exceptions to this rule; check with the Social Security Administration or see SSA publication: Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States.

Now, an important word about Medicare for retirees living overseas: It generally doesn’t cover health services you get outside of the United States.

However, if you return to the U.S., you will be covered for hospital costs. That’s because you paid for Part A insurance through your Social Security tax deductions. Unless you anticipate returning to the U.S. on a regular basis for medical treatment, it may not be worth your while to make the monthly payments required to obtain Part B insurance, which covers doctors and many other medical services.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare may pay for inpatient hospital, doctor, ambulance services, or dialysis you get in a foreign country in some cases:
– You are experiencing a medical emergency and a foreign hospital is closer than the nearest US hospital (including traveling through Canada without “unreasonable delay”);
– You live in the US and a foreign hospital is the closest appropriate facility, including for non-emergency treatment;
– Certain medically necessary care on board a ship within territorial waters adjoining the land areas of the US (Medicare won’t pay for care if you are over 6 hours away from a US port)For additional information on FEHB plan coverage while overseas, see: Federal Benefits if You Live Outside the US

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