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SS Survivor Benefit for Non-US Citizen, Lives Abroad
Old 02-23-2020, 08:52 AM   #1
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SS Survivor Benefit for Non-US Citizen, Lives Abroad

A friend has asked me for help on this question. I'm hoping someone here can shed some light...the SSA website is a bit confusing.

She is 71 years old, has never lived/worked in the US and is not a US citizen. Her husband, who died age 85 and who was a German national, lived and worked in the US before they met, and was receiving SS retirement benefits based on his (qualifying) record of employment and residency. These were sent to him to his residence in Switzerland by check.

They met and married after his time in the US. He died in Switzerland. Switzerland is defined by the SSA as a "totalization agreement" country with the US. However, they moved to Switzerland (from Great Britain) after he reached Swiss retirement age and so never paid into the Swiss social system.

We talked with the SS office in Maryland by telephone and they said she was not eligible for a survivors benefit as she was a non-US citizen. I read that non-US citizens can get survivor benefits as long as they lived in the US for at least 5 years (calculated variously). She never did. But there are exceptions, including that the NH (the Number Holder, her husband), lived in a totalization country.

But it isn't clear to me that he also had to have paid into the social security system of that country. In this case, her husband moved to Switzerland as a retiree, and so never had to pay into the Swiss system.

Does anyone have any direct experience with this kind of situation? Many thanks in advance. I know it's a long shot. My experience with the SSA is to verify what they tell you on the telephone.

-BB
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Old 02-23-2020, 09:36 AM   #2
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No idea, but interesting so I had to look it up.

My experience is that SS answers vary depending upon which person answers the phone. Not surprising as it's so complex.

I'm thinking you are on the right track, that she qualifies based on where she lives:

https://pocketsense.com/social-secur...w-7410755.html

"Non-citizen widows and widowers living abroad, with limited exceptions, must satisfy the Social Security residency requirement: They must have lived in the United States at least five years, and their marriage must have existed for part of those years."

"One main exception to the residency requirement is for widows or widowers who are citizens of one of the countries Social Security's Country List 1 or residents of a nation on Country List 3. These lists basically overlap, and are limited to European countries except for Japan, South Korea and Chile, on both lists,. and Israel, on List 1."

That website references SS pamphlet which is:
https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10137.pdf

Sometimes it is hard to find the gov't worker that understands their own rules, so keep knocking on doors.
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Old 02-23-2020, 10:36 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Sunset View Post
No idea, but interesting so I had to look it up.

My experience is that SS answers vary depending upon which person answers the phone. Not surprising as it's so complex.

I'm thinking you are on the right track, that she qualifies based on where she lives:

https://pocketsense.com/social-secur...w-7410755.html

"Non-citizen widows and widowers living abroad, with limited exceptions, must satisfy the Social Security residency requirement: They must have lived in the United States at least five years, and their marriage must have existed for part of those years."

"One main exception to the residency requirement is for widows or widowers who are citizens of one of the countries Social Security's Country List 1 or residents of a nation on Country List 3. These lists basically overlap, and are limited to European countries except for Japan, South Korea and Chile, on both lists,. and Israel, on List 1."

That website references SS pamphlet which is:
https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10137.pdf

Sometimes it is hard to find the gov't worker that understands their own rules, so keep knocking on doors.
We are moving to the USA (five years) for this exact reason. We live in Peru and so our choices were limited to "putting our time in" in Chile or the USA.

One interesting factoid is even if you qualify, benefits can not be paid without the beneficiary having a valid SS#.
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Old 02-23-2020, 11:03 AM   #4
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Sunset and NYEXPAT, Thanks so much for your responses. Yes, I agree that many times the person on the 'phone may not fully understand your question or their own rules/policies. And, the need for an SSN for the survivor is a new wrinkle I didn't expect.

In my own case, as an American living abroad, I filled out a questionnaire which was processed in Maryland but then I had to deal with the European office in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt guy responded with a gruff email asking why I entered N/A for several questions. I told him that I left them blank and entered nothing as they weren't relevant to me. He insisted. So I asked him to send me a copy of what he was working from. Turned out to be a computer report from Maryland, which entered N/A for blanks. It took a while but he finally understood that he was looking at processed information, not my raw answers. But it took about two weeks to get over just that one hurdle! In the end it all worked out, but it was anything but straightforward for my simple retirement benefits application.
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Old 02-23-2020, 01:00 PM   #5
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Years ago I filed for my benefits as well as my children. It was easy peasy and only required a call to the Baltimore office and a visit to the embassy here in Peru. The only wrinkle is they also wanted to pay benefits to my young wife as a caregiver to my two young sons. I explained to them that she was not eligible due to her not being a citizen of the USA and never having lived there. They keep insisting and finally stopped when my wife agreed to sign a statement declining her benefits!
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Old 02-23-2020, 01:11 PM   #6
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Years ago I filed for my benefits as well as my children. It was easy peasy and only required a call to the Baltimore office and a visit to the embassy here in Peru. The only wrinkle is they also wanted to pay benefits to my young wife as a caregiver to my two young sons. I explained to them that she was not eligible due to her not being a citizen of the USA and never having lived there. They keep insisting and finally stopped when my wife agreed to sign a statement declining her benefits!
Watch them come back later when you are living in the US, and decline her spousal benefit because she signed some form years ago
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Old 02-23-2020, 03:17 PM   #7
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My mom has been getting survivor benefits for the last 40 years living in Ireland. She never lived in US. Just like clockwork direct deposit into her bank. The only time they got really interested was when she turned 100 the embassy called to ask us to send a letter from her doctor that she was still alive
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