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Social Security Mailbox

What Happens to My Social Security Benefits If I Work Abroad?

Depending on the country, you may be able to combine U.S. and foreign retirement credits

Q: How many people are receiving totalized benefits?

A: As of June 2014, according to Social Security, more than 200,000 people received a U.S. Social Security benefit of, on average, about $200 a month under the program. That dollar amount might sound low, but all these people generally only worked a small number of years in the U.S. and are also getting foreign benefits.

Q: How can I get more information about totalization agreements?

A: You can begin with an overview of the U.S. totalization program. Then, check out Social Security's publication for basic information on the social security systems of foreign countries. You can also find detailed reports on individual countries there.

To get basic printed material in the mail, write to: Social Security Administration, Office of International Programs, P.O. Box 17741, Baltimore, MD 21235-7741. Ask for SSA Publication No. 05-10180 ICN 480195.

Q: I'm entitled to a monthly check from U.S. Social Security and am thinking of moving abroad. Will the agency send me my payment?

A: Probably. If you're an American citizen or a citizen of one of 23 qualifying foreign countries, you can get your check by mail from Social Security for as long as you're eligible. However, there are exceptions. Social Security payments can't be sent to Cuba or North Korea. However, U. S. citizens there can get their payments if they go to a country where such restrictions do not apply.

Meanwhile, there are 11 other countries where Social Security generally will not send payments. They are Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Cambodia and Vietnam. However, Social Security says it makes exceptions for some beneficiaries if they check in with the U.S. Embassy in those countries.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question? Check out the Social Security Mailbox archive. If you don't find your answer there, send an email to the Social Security Mailbox.

Databank USA infographic on percentage of people 65+ who rely on SS for 9-0% of their income.

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