Q. I worked in France for 16 years and saved all of my French pay slips. I've been told it's possible to get my payments to the French Social Security agency credited to my work record in the U.S. system. Is this true? If so, how do I apply?
A. Yes, it's true. The United States has agreements with more than 20 countries (France is one of them) to address the special requirements of people like you, whose work lives are spread over multiple countries.
See also: Myths and truths about Social Security.
For instance, a person might have some Social Security credits in the United States and some in another country but not enough credits to be eligible for benefits in either one.
The agreement helps you qualify by letting you pool your credits from both countries — in your case, Social Security would take into account your French work record when calculating your monthly benefit.
The agreements also eliminate the need for workers to pay payroll taxes to both countries on the same wages — they pay to just one system.
As might be expected, the details of the U.S.-French agreement can be quite complicated. For more information, read this Social Security document, "Description of the U.S.-French Social Security Agreement."
When you're ready to apply, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and ask what precise documentation you'll need. It will include such things as your U.S. and French Social Security numbers and proof of age.
For the specifics of your foreign work credits, Social Security will get the information directly from its French counterpart agency.
Also of interest: Paying taxes on Social Security. >>
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 for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.