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United States of America (USA) - Social Security and Welfare

Social security and welfare assistance in the United States is only for those who are citizens of the country. There are no European Union and inter-country laws available to US citizens, as there are in Europe, although changes are afoot in many European countries to address this. In the United States, there is assistance only when you become an American citizen or have the correct working visa status where you’re employed and have paid contributions via your salary.

Like most countries, the social security system is funded via taxes and this provides assistance to families on low incomes and in times of hardship or when an income reduces due to redundancy or illness.

Social Security Benefits

The benefits payable to American citizens are to those who are in need of financial assistance due to low incomes. There are a number of other social security benefits available such as widows’ benefit - if your spouse dies, you will be entitled to a widow’s pension from the government. Children can also be paid a benefit if they are an orphan or a child of a disabled person and they are under the age of eighteen.

Unemployment benefit is paid as a result of unemployment. If you’re self-employed, or a graduate then you will not qualify for unemployment benefit in the US, even if you’re a citizen. There are other exemptions such as gross misconduct in your employment, making yourself intentionally unemployed or unemployment from a dispute with your employer.

The above website provides a vast source of information on the social security system in the United States and details the range of benefits that you’re able to claim. There is a handy entitlement calculator which will help you to have an idea of the amount of benefit you may be able to claim.

Bi-lateral Agreements for US Citizens

The US does have a number of bi-lateral agreements with other countries for those who are working overseas but this is for American citizens who are working overseas. If you’re an expat working in the country, you will have to check if your home country has a bi-lateral agreement with the USA.

Expats and Social Security Donations

If as an expat you have a social security card and live as a resident of the US or have a citizenship green card, then you’re eligible for social security as an employee of an American organisation who will be deducting social security contributions via your taxes directly from your pay. The general rule of thumb is that if you’re permitted to work in the USA then you have a right to claim social security. Most working visas will allow you to claim social security in the event of hardship but you can call the government number to check.

Generally speaking, during your visa application you can apply for a social security number in the US. You do not need a social security number for a driver’s license but you will need one for opening a bank account and this is the time to apply for one. In doing this, you will not need to attend an interview. There are no legal requirements to apply for a social security number; however, life will be much easier with one.

This information sheet provides detailed information for non-citizens on applying for a social security number:

State Pension Scheme

The USA state pension scheme is based on your income contributions via your taxes taken directly from your salary. The pension is means tested and is payable on retirement age. The earliest you can claim retirement state pension is at the age of 62. This will be a reduced rate if you claim and there are thresholds in place for the amounts of state pension paid at certain ages and this is also determined by the year you were born.

This retirement planner gives up-to-date information on the rules for the US state pension as laid down by the US Department of Social Security:

If you’re not eligible for the state pension, then it is recommended that you prepare for your retirement privately and there are many private pension schemes available. There is also the fact that you may be eligible for your state pension from your home country in the US.

Read more about this country

Expat Health Insurance Partners


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