How International Residency Affects Your Social Security Benefits

Beyond the Numbers

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Posted by: 
The Communications Division

Can you live outside the United States and receive Social Security benefits? It’s a commonly asked question, and it’s an issue we addressed in a recent audit report.

Before we get into the specifics of the audit, we should point out what the Social Security Act states about benefit payments to people outside the United States:  

  • You can collect Old-Age, Survivors, or Disability Insurance, or OASDI, if you live outside the United States and keep SSA aware of your foreign address, through international direct deposit.
  • If you receive Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, you cannot receive payments if you live outside of the United States or you’re outside of the country for more than a month.
  • Some people receive both OASDI and SSI in the United States (they’re called concurrent beneficiaries), but when a beneficiary lets SSA know he/she needs international direct deposit, SSA has alerts in its systems so it can suspend the beneficiary’s SSI payments once he/she has been outside the United States for more than a month.

SSI Payments to Puerto Rico Banks

We looked into SSI recipients receiving payments in bank accounts outside the United States, and summarized our findings in a recent audit report. There were three key findings to note:

  1. We identified about 1,200 SSI recipients who received payments via direct deposit into bank accounts outside the United States.
  2. Most of these SSI recipients had accounts in Puerto Rico, and we estimate they received about $1.5 million in improper payments from December 2010 to April 2015.  
  3. SSA improperly paid about $122,000 to 25 concurrent beneficiaries (they received both OASDI and SSI) who had international direct deposit and foreign addresses (so they should not have received SSI).

Case Example and Recommendations

Our auditors looked into some of these cases, and even sent some to them to our investigators for further review. One beneficiary received both SSI and OASDI and had the SSI payments sent to a U.S. bank and the OASDI benefits sent to a bank in Puerto Rico. Our investigators confirmed that the beneficiary lived in Puerto Rico and concealed this information from SSA. The case resulted in a $36,000 overpayment and termination of the person’s SSI payments.

To tighten controls on SSI payments to bank accounts outside the United States, we recommended that SSA:

  • modify its alerts and notify field staff when SSI recipients receive payments in Puerto Rico or Virgin Islands bank accounts;
  • periodically check residency status for SSI recipients who receive SSI and/or OASDI payments in Puerto Rico or Virgin Islands bank accounts;
  • and resolve foreign address alerts timely. 

SSA agreed with all three recommendations. In short, where you are does matter to Social Security and affects benefit eligibility—and you can face consequences for concealing your location. You can read the full report here:  SSI Recipients Receiving Payments in Bank Accounts Outside the United States