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Overseas Pensions and Social Benefits for Expats

Many expats living overseas, particularly those approaching or at retirement age, start to worry whether or not they can get their pensions and other benefits paid outside of their country of origin.

The good news here is that in the vast majority of cases this is never a problem, though there can be some things worth considering. Do please remember that the issues relating to receiving your state pension overseas can vary hugely depending upon your nationality, your work and contributions history and the country you are moving to. There are too many variables here for a short article to consider so YOU MUST CONSULT YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY OFFICE FOR DETAILS RELATING TO YOUR SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES. What you read here are general statements of principle only.Many state pension payments and related benefits, such as winter fuel allowance for UK citizens, are payable not only if you live abroad but can also be paid by the state directly into your overseas local bank account in the local currency. This avoids the need to have the money paid into your old bank then transferred to your new overseas bank – a process that can cost you money.

Inevitably, some of the rules and regulations are complicated and can change fairly frequently. Even so, you may find getting your pension and other age-related benefit paid directly to your new country is much easier than you think. Just consult the DSS and it can normally be arranged very quickly.

For younger expats, there are of course rather more restrictions upon the other forms of social benefit that are not age-related. In general you will not be eligible for unemployment benefit if living abroad, and many forms of career and training grants only apply to people resident in the UK. Note also that some private insurance schemes such as mortgage protection or injury payments will also only continue to pay out if you are UK resident.

The situation with respect to some state benefits such as disability or carers allowance is exceptionally complicated, controversial and has recently been subject to international court cases. In theory you MAY be able to get these paid overseas but again you MUST seek specialist guidance from the Department of Social Security.

When expats are thinking about pensions and benefits overseas, it is not unusual to find they also start considering what if any benefits they can gain access to in their new country.

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In general, many non-EU countries have very tight rules and regulations limiting foreigner (retired or not) rights of access to social benefits. They will want to see proof that you’ve been contributing into their systems substantially over time before you can claim things such as pensions and unrestricted health cover.

Many will insist that new arrivals show they have appropriate private health insurance cover to cope with health or related problems thereby avoiding the need for state aid. This tendency to demand that expats prove they can pay their way in an event such as a health crisis is increasing, and can now even apply in the theoretically more flexible European Union (EU) member states.

If you’re moving to a country in the EU and you are a citizen of an EU member state, you may be entitled to certain benefits payable locally upon arrival in your new country. Once again, in a short article it is impossible to cover all the variables here by country, but it is easy to find out the specifics that relate to your circumstances by doing a little web-based research or contacting your local social security office.

The EU being officially ‘enlightened’ tries to operate under the principle that citizens of member states are treated equally in all other member states including theoretical access to health and some benefit rights etc. In fact, this principle is not evenly applied and is widely regarded as impractical.

In general terms even most EU countries will only give access to most components of their social benefits system, usually including health, if

a) You have contributed over time into their system or,
b) You are a special case (some refugees, dual nationalities, special needs, some children) or
c) You have a reciprocal re-charge agreement (‘E’ form) showing that the UK will meet the costs of any treatment and benefits you receive.

In most EU countries, as a foreign national you won’t get a pension from the state simply because you’ve passed a certain age. Most social benefits such as unemployment and disability will similarly be barred to you unless again you have some contributions’ history.

In some countries such as France, children’s benefits are immediately available. The equivalent of child benefit allowance is payable from day-1, though only for the second child upwards, and each year grants are issued to all at the start of the school year to help with books and clothes etc.

On the whole though, it would pay to be prudent bordering pessimistic with any assumptions about your entitlements to benefits from day-1 in your new country. Check carefully with their embassy’s on-line information to get the full picture.

Above all, once you arrive in your new country if you’re still of working age and not retired then you should aim to settle in as fast as possible and start contributing into the local social benefit framework. This will ensure that should you need pension or other benefits in future, you will have a foundation of contributions to support your claims.

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