The United States Social Security Administration (SSA) administers both the Social Security disability program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Both programs are intended to provide financial assistance to disabled, blind or aged individuals. While recipients may leave the country for an extended period – and still qualify to receive monthly Social Security disability benefits – recipients of SSI benefits become ineligible after they have been outside of the country for more than 30 consecutive days in most cases.
The SSI program provides a monthly monetary benefit to eligible recipients who are either disabled, blind or aged and who meet both income and resources guidelines. Unlike the Social Security disability program, eligibility for SSI is not based on your previous work history. SSI benefits are only available to applicants with low incomes and limited resources.
Leaving the Country
If you are an SSI recipient and you leave the country for more than 30 consecutive days, you will lose your SSI benefits under most circumstances. For purposes of SSI determination, leaving the country means leaving the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the Northern Mariana Islands. Although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, residents of Puerto Rico are not eligible for SSI benefits. If you move to Puerto Rico and are currently receiving SSI benefits, your benefits will stop. To re-activate your SSI benefits after leaving the country, you must return to the U.S. and be present for 30 consecutive days before being eligible to receive benefits again.
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Exceptions to the Rule
Although the general rules preclude you from receiving SSI benefits when living outside the United States, there are exceptions. Children of U.S. military personnel who are stationed abroad may still be able to receive benefits. In addition, if you are a student studying abroad and are otherwise qualified for SSI benefits, you may be able to continue receiving them while abroad.
Social Security Disability While Living Abroad
If you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you may continue to receive those benefits while living abroad in most situations. Even if your monthly benefit amount will be less under the Social Security disability program because your earnings were not substantial before your disability, you may wish to apply, because you will likely be able to continue to receive those benefits while abroad. Social Security disability payments may be sent to most foreign countries, unless the country is banned by the U.S. Treasury. The list of banned countries is subject to change. For current information, contact the nearest SSA office or U.S. consulate.