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Social Security: can you request payment if you are not a US citizen?

Most non-citizens who work in the United States will be required to pay Social Security taxes, giving them the right to claim benefits when they retire. 

Most non-citizens who work in the United States will be required to pay Social Security taxes, giving them the right to claim benefits when they retire.

There are a few groups within the workforce that do not have to pay taxes to the Social Security Administration, but the vast majority of workers do. In 2021, employers and employees are each required to pay 6.2 percent of their salary to the SSA, unless they have an annual income over $142,800 a year. For self-employed workers, the law states that they must pay 12.2 percent of their total income to the SSA.

Citizenship status can also impact whether or not one will have to pay Social Security taxes. Logically, if a person is only coming to the United States for a short time, they are not required because they will never ever claim benefits. Additionally, this allows workers to save a part of their income for their retirement in their country of origin, should they ended up not living in the United States when they are seniors.

However, whether or not you will be required to pay depends largely on your profession and visa.

The IRS states on their website that there is an “exemption from Social Security and Medicare taxes to nonimmigrant scholars, teachers, researchers, and trainees (including medical interns), physicians, au pairs, summer camp workers, and other non-students temporarily present in the United States in J-1, Q-1 or Q-2 status.”

Those on an H1-B visa, in most cases, are still required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Can non-citizens claim Social Security benefits?

Yes, and the requirements are the same across citizenship status.

Like US citizens, those without citizenship must have earned at least forty work credits to claim benefits. Forty credits equate to about ten years of work.

Totalization Agreements

In some cases, a person can be negatively impacted if they move to the United States late in their career as they may not have the work credits necessary to claim benefits here or in their home country. To combat this issue, the United States and other countries began establishing “totalization agreements” that “coordinate the U.S. Social Security program with the comparable programs of other countries.”

There are two main functions these agreements serve.

The first is to eliminate the opportunity for two countries to be taxing a worker for Social Security. The second ensures that workers who have paid into Social Security schemes in two countries are not penalized and left without benefits when they retire, should they come up short on the work requirements in both places. 

Totalization agreements have been signed between the US and

  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  •  Belgium
  • Norway
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Sweden
  • Spain
  • France
  • Portugal
  • Netherlands
  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Ireland
  • Luxembourg
  • Greece
  • South Korea
  • Chile
  • Australia
  • Japan
  • Denmark
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • Slovak Republic
  • Hungary
  • Brazil
  • Uruguay
  • Slovenia
  • Iceland.

Receiving payments as a non-citizen

Non-citizens residing in the United States who are eligible to claim benefits will receive them through the same form as their citizen counterparts.

However, for both groups there are limits on what funds can be sent should a beneficiary not reside in the US when they retire. Those in countries with totalization agreements typically do not encounter problems receiving their payments through direct deposit so long as their bank is able to receive funds internationally.

The SSA banned from sending payments to North Korea and Cuba and has reported issues when trying to send benefits to “Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.” For this second group of countries, the SSA says that it can “make exceptions for certain eligible persons.”