Can My Foreign Spouse Collect Social Security Benefits?

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Understanding how your future retirement planning might affect your spouse is important. For Americans married to non-U.S. citizens or residents, there are many instances where a foreign spouse may not be able to claim Social Security benefits depending on varying qualification regulations from a U.S. standpoint and from a foreign country-specific point-of-view.  

In general, as a spouse, you can claim a Social Security benefit based on your own earnings record or collect a spousal benefit in the amount of up to 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit (but not both). The allowed Social Security retirement benefit for a spouse starts at 32.5% at age 62 and gradually increases to 50% of the amount that their spouse is eligible to receive at normal or full retirement age, which is 66 or 67 depending on their birth year.

However, if you are a U.S. citizen married to someone who is neither a citizen nor a resident of the United States, different rules apply depending on your age, the country of your residency and where you choose to live.

According to Greenback Tax Services, there are countries that the U.S. has Social Security agreements (or totalization agreements) with and other nations that have benefit payment restrictions placed upon them.

To be able to receive Social Security benefits as a foreign spouse:

  • You must have worked and contributed to Social Security for at least 10 years.
  • You must be at least 62 years old to receive benefits. Keep in mind that, as is the case with U.S. spousal benefits, if you wait and claim benefits at your full retirement age, your benefit payouts will be much higher.
  • You cannot be resident in Cuba or North Korea. If you happen to be a Cuban or North Korean resident, you can only get back Social Security payments you would have received in those countries once you have obtained residency in one of the agreement/approved countries.
  • Payments cannot be sent to some specific countries. Due to U.S. agreements and country-specific regulations, there is a list of nations where payments are restricted and cannot be sent. For this, it is best to check the Social Security Administration website to get the most up-to-date list, which can be found here.
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To avoid unexpected impacts on your future incomes, knowing your and your spouse’s Social Security benefit plans is common sense. When a spouse is a non-U.S. resident, it is even more crucial to do your research with a financial planning expert or directly with Social Security because U.S. agreements and foreign government regulations can affect your plans significantly.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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