A century ago, “expat” writers and artists flocked to Paris in what writer Gertrude Stein famously dubbed “the Lost Generation.” Today’s expatriates aren’t lost at all, but many retire abroad for lower living costs or decide to return to a country they emigrated from.

About 1 in 6 Americans living abroad are U.S. seniors, by several estimates. Another factor in foreign retirements is the number of individuals who made the United States their home to work in technology or other jobs where their skills were in high demand. 

My interest in this topic was prompted by a co-worker and new U.S. citizen who read my last article about Social Security benefits for naturalized citizens and permanent residents. He asked if retiring to his native India would affect his Social Security benefits.

My answer was the same as most of my answers to benefit eligibility questions: It depends.

The Short Answer For U.S. Citizens
A U.S. citizen eligible for benefits may continue receiving payments outside the country if they are in a country where the Social Security Administration (SSA) can send payments. The SSA offers a Payments Abroad Screening Tool with questions on benefit status and country of residency.

The SSA has also published a list of countries where beneficiaries can receive direct deposit payments. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Treasury Department will not pay benefits to anyone living in Cuba or North Korea as those countries are under sanctions. 

The Longer Answer For Non-U.S. Citizens
For those who aren’t U.S. citizens, their ability to receive benefits outside the United States hinges on several conditions, such as:

• When they became eligible

• If their benefits are based on the record of a member of the military or a veteran

• Country of citizenship

A Social Security publication, “Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States,” has more details—and could leave your head spinning. Again, the Payments Abroad Screening Tool may help you get most clients an answer quickly. 

Non-citizens who do not meet the SSA’s conditions for payments outside the United States may have their payments halted after six months and be required to return to the country and remain here for one month to resume benefits. They may also be required to prove they were “lawfully present” for one calendar month.

As always, I recommend confirming eligibility and any limitations by contacting the SSA directly and speaking with a representative.

If you have clients considering foreign retirement locations, the State Department has a list of tips and extensive advice about managing visas, voting, residency and other details. It includes a warning that expat retirees should notice: Medicare doesn’t cover most healthcare services or supplies outside the United States.

Alyson Dorosky, CSSCS, is a Social Security support expert at LifeYield. She works with advisors and their clients to address their thorniest Social Security issues.