Can a Foreign Spouse Receive Social Security Benefits?

Can a Foreign Spouse Receive Social Security Benefits?
Updated on March 8, 2024

Can My Spouse Receive Social Security Benefits If They Are Not a US Citizen?

In most cases, non-US spouses can claim Social Security benefits. Your foreign spouse will typically qualify for survivor benefits and may also qualify for spousal or dependent benefits.

There are exceptions, though. To understand whether your non-US spouse is eligible to receive Social Security benefits, let’s take a look at the requirements.

Requirements for a Non-US Spouse to Receive Social Security Benefit

The rules surrounding Social Security benefits for non-US persons are complicated. The exact requirements can vary depending on which country you’ve chosen for your new home. However, there are some general rules to be aware of.

In order for your foreign spouse to claim Social Security benefits, the following must all be true:

  • You must have contributed to Social Security for at least 10 years. (Your spouse is not required to have a history of contributing.)
  • You must be at retirement age (62 years old for most people).
  • Your spouse must be at retirement age (62 years old for most people).

(If you or your spouse have a child under 16 or a disabled child, the age minimum is waived.)

As long as you and your spouse meet these requirements, your spouse should be eligible for Social Security benefits. However, if your spouse continues working while receiving these benefits, they could reach the Social Security earnings limit, reducing the amount they can claim.

Note: If your spouse worked in the US long enough to qualify for their own Social Security benefits, they won’t receive two payments even if they also qualify for spousal Social Security benefits. They can only claim whichever of the two payments is larger.

Additional Qualifying Criteria for Non-Resident Non-Citizen Spouses

While we cover the general requirements for a non-US spouse to claim Social Security benefits, it’s important to note that the criteria can be more complex for non-resident non-citizen spouses living abroad. To qualify, such spouses must meet one of the following conditions:

  1. Residency in the US: The non-US spouse should have lived in the United States for at least five years while married to their US citizen spouse. These five years do not need to be consecutive.
  2. Totalization Agreement: The non-US spouse should be a citizen, resident, or former resident of a country that has a social security agreement, also known as a Totalization Agreement, with the United States.

For more specific information on these criteria, it’s advisable to consult the Social Security Administration (SSA), as Greenback Expat Tax Services specializes in tax-related queries and not in advising on Social Security benefit qualifications.

Can My Foreign Spouse Claim Social Security Benefits in Any Country?

US citizens and their non-US spouses can claim Social Security benefits in almost any country in the world. However, there are some exceptions to this.

First, no one can claim US Social Security benefits while living in Cuba or North Korea. In addition to this, there are a number of countries where it is generally impossible for the US government to send Social Security payments. These include:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Moldova
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

However, certain eligible persons may be able to claim Social Security benefits even in these countries. And regardless, if you move away from one of the above countries, you can claim the Social Security payments that were withheld during your stay.

(This does not apply to Cuba and North Korea. Payments that were withheld while living in either of those two countries cannot be claimed even after a move.)

Again, the rules for claiming Social Security benefits can vary quite a bit depending on where you and your spouse live. For more information, we recommend consulting a qualified expat tax professional.

Can My Foreign Spouse Claim Social Security Survivor Benefits?

Yes. If you pass away, your foreign spouse can claim Social Security survivor benefits. To be eligible, you and your spouse must have been married for at least nine months. (Unless you were to die during active military duty, in which case that minimum is waived.)

If your spouse is eligible for Social Security spousal benefits, they can begin claiming those benefits once they reach age 60. (If your spouse is disabled, the minimum age is lowered to 50, and if they have a child under 16 or a disabled child, the age minimum is waived entirely.)

Once your spouse has reached the minimum age, they can start claiming 70% of your Social Security benefit. If they wait until retirement age, they can claim the full payment.

Get the Answers You Need for Your Expat Taxes

We hope this guide has helped you understand how a foreign spouse can receive Social Security benefits. To learn more about your expat taxes—and how you can lower your taxes overseas—just download our free guide: 25 Things You Need to Know About US Expat Taxes.

At Greenback Expat Tax Services, we specialize in helping expats around the world manage their US tax obligations. Just contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.

Confused about when you need to file? We can help.

When you live in the US, tax day is simple: April 15th! When you move abroad, it’s not so straightforward! Learn about all the expat deadlines and extensions you need to know to file.

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