Social Security Spouse Benefits for American Expats with a Foreign Spouse

Americans living and working abroad are eligible to receive social security benefits. We wrote several articles about Social Security Benefits for American expats and social security taxes. Although, US citizens can claim social security benefits, most of the time they are not sure whether a foreign spouse can obtain social security spouse benefits.

This is the latest email from one of our clients, American expats living abroad. I have been married for 10 years. My spouse is a French national. She is not a green card holder. She has never lived in the USA. I am approaching my retirement age and wonder whether my foreign spouse can receive dependent or Social Security spouse benefits. Moreover, can a foreign spouse obtain Social Security survivor benefits? The purpose of this article is to provide a summary of the most common expat tax questions about Social Security spouse benefits.

Social Security Spouse Benefits for American expats with a Foreign Spouse

If a US citizen or green card holder does not live in the USA, can an American expat living abroad still receive social security benefits?

American expats can obtain social security benefits while living abroad if they meet the general requirements:

1. Americans living abroad have worked and contributed to US Social Security within 10 years to accumulate 40 credits. Wages, salary, tips, bonus and self-employment income are the sources of income that is subject to social security taxes.

2. American expats have reached the age of 62 years old. This is the first year that US citizens and green card holders can claim social security benefits. However, it is more beneficial for Americans living abroad to wait until the age of 70. In this scenario the amount of social security benefits will be higher.

3. US citizens and green card holders must live in a foreign country other than Cuba and North Korea. If they move to another country, they can receive social security payments.

Can a foreign spouse of American expats receive social security spouse benefits?

As a general rule, a foreign spouse cannot obtain social security spouse benefits if the both rules are met:

1. Foreign spouse is not a US citizen or green card holder.

2. Foreign spouse has lived outside of the USA for six consecutive months.

However, there are three exceptions to this rule. The country of citizenship and residence as well as the period of US residence play a key role in determining the eligibility for social security spouse benefits.

What is the list of countries which citizens can receive US social security spouse benefits?

This is the first exception. A foreign spouse can receive social security spouse benefits if s/he is a citizen of the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom

Canada, Chile, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea

As long as a foreign spouse is 62 years old and a citizen of one of the above countries, s/he can claim social security spouse benefits. Also, US spouse must be receiving  social security benefits.

In which countries should a foreign spouse reside to get social security spouse benefits?

This is the second exception. The USA has an extensive list of Social Security agreements with foreign countries. A social security agreement is also called a Totalization agreement. A foreign spouse of an American expat can receive social security spouse benefits If a foreign spouse has reached a retirement age of 62 years old and has been a resident of one the below countries. The following countries have a Social Security Agreement with the USA:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea (South), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom

How long should two spouses live in the USA so a foreign spouse can obtain social security spouse benefits?

This is the third exception. If a foreign spouse of an American expat is not a citizen of resident of one of the countries listed above, then this spouse can still claim social security spousal benefits if the following requirements are met:

1. Foreign spouse has resided in the USA for at least 5 years that should not be consecutive.

2. Foreign spouse must be in a spousal relationship during this 5-year period. Spousal relationship includes a period while a foreign spouse is a widow/er. In case of divorce, a surviving divorced spouse cannot receive social security spouse benefits if this spouse remarries before the age of 60 and s/he hasn’t met a five-year test before the age of 60.

Is a foreign spouse eligible to receive Social Security Survivor benefits?

A foreign spouse must meet one of the above requirements to claim social security survivor benefits. If a foreign spouse doesn’t meet a five-year test, then this spouse can move back to the USA as a widower to comply with the requirements. Additionally, a foreign spouse can start claiming survivor benefits at the age of 60. However, it is more beneficial to wait until the full retirement age to maximize the amount of social security survivor benefits.

It is essential to check the website of Social Security Administration for the latest list of Totalization Agreements and other updates for Americans living abroad.

Conclusion

American expats living abroad should review the rules of the USA and a foreign country to determine whether a foreign spouse can claim social security spouse benefits. If US taxpayers have additional expat tax questions about social security benefits, Obamacare and other expatriate tax issues, please contact international tax experts at Artio Partners.