One of the main advantages to living in Thailand and other sanctuary countries (providing sanctuary from the economic chaos that is America today), is that the low cost of living allows someone living on social security payments to survive and perhaps even thrive. There is some question about whether one can survive in most parts of the US with an income just from social security, but it is definitely possible in Thailand and other countries. Add a small pension or some other source for a little income, and one can live quite well here.
As we get old, we want to start collecting on this socialist government Ponzi scheme called social security because we have been paying money into it since the first day we started working. Most of us older guys have 30 or 40 or so years of paying a good chunk of every paycheck into this program, and we better damn well be able to collect on it — even if it is the worst return on that investment anyone would ever tolerate (and of course I am so very sorry for generations after me that have been paying and continues to pay into the program without the likelihood of getting anything, ever).
Living overseas has no effect on you getting your social security IF you are living in the right country. If you decided to live in Cuba or North Korea in your retirement, you won’t be getting any of YOUR social security payments sent to you (edit.note: “haven’t we punished Cuba enough yet? Canadians are going there with no problems”). But also if you decide to retire in Cambodia, Vietnam, or in the republics of the former Soviet Union (except for Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia) you also cannot get your social security check sent to you. The social security police will hold your payments until you relocate to a place that agrees with them (Note: there are some exceptions to this policy in these latter countries, usually by going to the embassy in those countries each month to get your check).
If you are overseas and you own a business or am employed while living overseas and getting some social security benefits, you may not know about this little regulation from the social security administration:
If you work or own a business outside the United States and are younger than full retirement age (which is somewhere between 65 and 70 depending upon the year you were born), notify the nearest U.S. Embassy consulate or Social Security office right away. If you do not, it could result in a penalty that could cause the loss of benefits. Report your work even if the job is part-time or you are self-employed. Some examples of the types of work that should be reported are: work as an apprentice, farmer, sales representative, tutor, writer, etc. If you own a business, notify us even if you do not work in the business or receive any income from it.
These restriction on working are in the Windfall Elimination Provision of the SSA regulations (windfall? You have to be kidding me!)
From my personal experience and what others have related to me as a retired or semi-retired person, it is may be wise to maintain a US home address, a US banking relationship and a permanent mailing address from where you can call home — perhaps that spare bedroom of your adult kids. Have your social security checks automatically deposited into your US bank, and draw them out via an ATM card as needed wherever you happen to be staying overseas. The best banks for this purpose are those that have no ATM fees or foreign currency conversion fees (such as Bank of Charles Schwab). Most regular retail banks will hit you with lots of fees for converting the money to another currency (3%), plus ATM fees of a couple of bucks to a lot-a bucks on each transaction, so shop around for the right bank.
Of course, just like if in the US, an overseas beneficiary has to notify social security right away if there are changes in the status of the people getting benefits, such as
- Death (be sure to let everyone know about your death right away)
- Changes in marriage (give the SSA the note she left you taped to the fridge)
- Returning to working when getting social security disability payments (another windfall your government is watching for)
- Changes in dependents (like she finally grew up, Yea!)
But how do you do that when you are overseas? The Social Security website tells you to simply pop down to your nearest social security office, but if you are like me living in a remote place, there are no nearby social security offices. The social security website says simply visit your nearest US embassy or consulate for answers to social security questions, but I can tell from personal experience that this is not likely to be of help.
Most embassies and consulate do not have social security personnel. In Thailand, for instance, they embassy people can give only very limited general advise, and can really only collect forms and send them off for you to the SSA. If you have a question, they will have you write it down and they will mail the question off for you to social security to hopefully get an answer in two or three weeks. If you use the website form for the Chiang Mai consulate to ask a social security question, they will promise to get back to you in three days, but from my experience will not respond back at all (it must go into the rotary file under the desk). You are pretty much alone on this.
For those in Southeast Asia, the nearest social security office is in the US embassy in the Philippines, and it is best just to call them directly yourself (tel 63-2-301-2000, ext 9). Don’t even bother with the US embassy or consulate elsewhere that does not have a social security office, because you will be spinning your wheels getting no answers. To find out where the nearest overseas social security office is to you, go to this SSA link. Or you can call the social security office in the US, and the non-toll free numbers for international callers are located at this SSA Link. The SSA does not want to use email to discuss any benefits or specific questions because it is not secure.
You have also probably spent many years paying big money into this Ponzi scheme as well, but if you live overseas you learn very quickly that you cannot use it outside of the US. That’s too bad, because Medicare could save billions of dollars if it allowed Medicare recipients to get treatment overseas — even encouraged them to leave the US to get treatment — as the cost of treatment in places like Thailand are a small fraction of the cost for the same service in America (plus the little secret Thai expats know is that the medical treatment in Thailand is just as good if not better than what you get in the USA).
Medicare is broken into two main groups – part A to cover hospital expenses, and part B to cover doctor visits. Part A costs no money, and Part B has a premium the SSA will deduct from your SS check each month if you sign up. Since you cannot use the Part B overseas at all, you may not want not to sign up for it. Plan A is given to you automatically with age (for me, age 65) and you don’t have to do anything to get it started.
Here is what you need to beware of: because most people getting Medicare sign up for Part B (and they should if they live in the US), SSA often assumes you’re going to get it and starts deducting it from your social security. Then, after you see the smaller SS check after awhile, it is up to you to squawk and demand that they stop and have it cancelled. This happens time and again, and some folks at the US Consulate in Chiang Mai told me that this is their most common complaint from expats about social security.
One way to avoid this problem — I am hoping — is to notify the SSA before you turn 65 to let them know specifically that you do not want Part B. (I have done this and am watching my checks to make sure they do not start deducting). Understand that most things done by these wasteful massive government bureaucracies are not done by people, but by machines that are often unable to pick out personal situations and requests (actually SSA is reducing their human workforce).
To use the benefits of Part A of Medicare, I would have to hop on to a plane to go back home or go to Guam, the closest US territory.
Medicare Part B, which charges a premium, would not have any impact on your Social Security benefits if you chose not to take it. But you must be aware of the consequences of not taking it: If you decide to move back to the U.S. and want to start Part B coverage, the premium could be 10% higher for each 12-month period that you could have been enrolled but weren’t. And there is a limited window each year, from Jan. 1 through March 31, when you are allowed to re-enroll. So you will be punished for not signing up and paying for Part B, even though as an expat you cannot use it (who said the system had to be fair?).
There are a lot of retired expats (like myself) that can also receive medical treatment through the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical System. There are VA hospitals and medical clinics all over the US, but apparently only one outside of the US, located in Manila, Philippines. If you are already in the VA medical system and need medical care, a vet can go there for treatment, or hop a plane back to the US.