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Can someone who's not a U.S. citizen receive ex-spousal benefits?

Yes, noncitizens may be able to collect benefits on the earnings record of a divorced spouse. The eligibility rules can differ depending on whether the person claiming benefits lives in the United States.

If you are lawfully present in the United States

Broadly speaking, “lawfully present” means someone who has a green card, legal temporary residency or permission to be in the country under some form of protected status — for example, asylum seekers and refugees. In these cases, the basic criteria to get divorced-spouse benefits are the same as for a U.S. citizen:

  • You are at least 62 years old.
  • You have not remarried.
  • The marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • Your former spouse qualifies for Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

If your ex is eligible for Social Security but has not yet claimed his or her benefits, you must meet an additional standard: You have to have been divorced for at least two years.

If you are a foreign national living abroad

You may face additional requirements, depending on where you live.

If you are a citizen or, in most cases, a legal resident of a country with which the United States has an international Social Security agreement, you have no extra hurdles. You need meet only the standard requirements listed above to draw ex-spousal benefits.

As of February 2020, the United States had such agreements with 30 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. The roster is subject to change; you'll find an up-to-date list at the Social Security website.

Citizens of most other countries must meet a U.S. residency test to collect divorced-spouse benefits. Along with meeting the standard criteria, you must have:

  • lived in the United States for at least five years, and
  • been in the marriage in question during that period.

This residency requirement has two exceptions. It does not apply — and you may still qualify for ex-spouse benefits — if:

  • You became eligible for benefits before Jan. 1, 1985, or
  • Your claim is based on marriage to someone who died during active U.S. military service or from a service-related injury or illness.

If you don't meet any of those conditions, in most cases Social Security will stop ex-spouse payments once you've been outside of the United States for six months. Payments may resume if you return and when you've been back in the country for a full calendar month.

For additional information, consult the Social Security publication Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States , or contact the Social Security Administration. You also can use Social Security's online screening tool for international payments to determine if you qualify.

Keep in mind

Wherever you live, ex-spousal benefits range from 32.9 percent to 50 percent of your former mate's primary insurance amount, meaning the monthly benefit he or she is entitled to at full retirement age (currently 66 and 2 months and gradually rising to 67). The percentage depends on your age when you claim them.

Updated June 14, 2021

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