Can I Get Social Security If I’m Not a U.S. Citizen?

Millions of Americans receive Social Security benefits, and nearly everyone who works in the U.S. pays the Social Security payroll taxes that help to fund the retirement program. What many people don’t realize about Social Security is that paying those taxes often entitles workers to receive benefits — even if they’re not U.S. citizens.

For the most part, the rules on Social Security for noncitizens are very similar to what U.S. citizens have to observe in order to get benefits. However, there are some subtle differences. Below, we’ll go through what it takes to get Social Security as a noncitizen and what actions you can take to ensure that you get the most you can from the program.

U.S. flag planted in a desert landscape.
Image source: Getty Images.

The general rule for noncitizens: Yes, you can get benefits if you would otherwise qualify for them

The Social Security Administration is quite forthcoming in saying that most noncitizens can get Social Security benefits under certain circumstances. Specifically, to get benefits, the following things must be true:

  • You must live in the U.S.
  • You must be lawfully present in the U.S., which includes those admitted for permanent residency or other classifications under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, Family Unity or Immediate Relative provisions, or others fully insured for benefits and who meet U.S. lawful presence requirements.
  • You must meet all the regular eligibility requirements for Social Security.

What that last provision means is that you need to be eligible for the benefits in question in order to receive them as a noncitizen. For example, to receive retirement benefits, you need to have accumulated at least 40 work credits. Disability benefits have differing work credit requirements based on age, while spousal or survivor benefits are generally available under the separate rules that govern those benefit categories.

What if I leave the U.S.?

Living in the U.S. is a typical requirement for noncitizens to receive Social Security benefits,…

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