Reg Jones Expert's View

There are specific laws that govern whether a wide variety of benefits may be paid to federal retirees and their survivors who live outside the United States or its territories and possessions. These include CSRS and FERS annuities, Social Security and Medicare.


As a rule, 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 a “blocked” county, even if you set up an account outside the country. Currently, the blocked countries are Cuba, Kampuchea (formerly Cambodia) and North Korea.

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), in 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-Herzovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gabon, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Jordan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Federal States of Micronesia, Monaco, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, 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 in this column 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 here 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.

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 your Social Security tax deductions. 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.