Reg Jones Expert's View

Who could be more out of sight and out of mind than U.S. citizens who are working in foreign countries, especially those that have married non-citizens? Not surprisingly, there are specific laws that govern whether benefits may be paid to federal retirees and their survivors who live outside the United States or its territories and possessions.

Retirement Benefits

If you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your CSRS or FERS retirement in every country except those that are blocked by the United States Treasury. No government payments of any kind may be paid to someone who resides in Cambodia, North Korea and Cuba, even if that resident sets up an electronic fund transfer (EFT) account outside the country. For Cuba there is one small exception: Cuban commuters who were CSRS employees working in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base as of August 31, 1979 (or retired or separated on or after that date, and their survivors) may receive the benefits they earned.

Social Security

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, in Vietnam or in areas (other than Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Russia) which 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.

Survivors or dependents 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 but you live in the U.S. and are eligible for Social Security benefits, you will receive those payments just like any U.S. citizen would. However, your payments will stop if you leave the United States and are out of the country for six full calendar months. The payments will not resume until you have returned to the U.S. and stayed here for at least one full month. There are some exceptions to this rule and you should check with the Social Security Administration to see if one of them applies to you.


Finally, a word about Medicare. Medicare 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.