Foreign citizen and FERS, Social Security


Q. A little over three years ago, I retired under FERS.

I was a widower at the time, so no survivor benefit was being withheld from my pay.

I now intend to remarry a French citizen and will reside here in the states for a time, then move to France. I would like her covered by my Federal Employees Health Benefits, at least while we are in the U.S.

Can I sign up now for a full survivor benefit for her? How much will it cost me? I read somewhere that it costs 10 percent of my current annuity plus the difference between the new annuity and old annuities paid to me for the number of months retired, plus 6 percent interest on that money.

Since she is at least not yet an American citizen, when I die, can she still receive the survivor annuity, whether continuing to reside here or if she returns to France? Would she receive COLAs on her portion of the annuity? If she returned to France, would she be obligated to pay taxes in both countries? Of course, as part of FERS, I also receive a Social Security benefit, based on my length of service and work record. Would a new spouse be entitled as a beneficiary to any or all of my Social Security when I die? She, of course, has never worked here in the states and so has not contributed to Social Security.

A. Yes, you could elect a survivor annuity for her. To pay for it, there would be two reductions in your annuity. The first would be the standard 10 percent reduction to provide for the survivor benefit. The second would be an actuarial reduction to pay the survivor benefit deposit. That deposit would equal the difference between the new annuity rate and the annuity paid to you for each month since you retired, plus 6 percent interest. To be eligible to receive the survivor benefit, she would need to be married to you for at least nine months before you died.

You could provide FEHB coverage for her by changing your enrollment from self-only enrollment to self and family from 31 days before through 60 days after the marriage.

The fact that she isn’t a U.S.citizen wouldn’t affect her entitlement to a FERS survivor annuity, nor would it alter her ability to continue coverage under the FEHB.

When it comes to Social Security benefits, non-U.S. citizen survivors or dependents living outside the U.S. and its territories must meet certain requirements to receive Social Security payments. For example, your spouse must have been married to you and lived in the U.S. for at least five years.


About Author

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to


  1. you say that my foreign wife, with no green card and living in the Philippines, can receive survivor annuity after my death. if she has no ss. number, how can she receive any govt benefits.. ?

    • If you were to die, your wife would be entitled to a survivor annuity. To get that she would have to report your death to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. She could do that by calling them at 202-606-0500 or writing them at U.S. OPM, Retirement Operations Center, P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017-0045. At a minimum, she will need to provide OPM with your death certificate and proof of her marriage to you.

  2. Do you know where I can find this in writing on OPMs website? (About a non us citizen spouse being able to receive FERS spouse annuity).

    • The only non-citizens who cannot receive such a benefit are those who live in a country sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.

  3. Everett Bartz on

    I married in Costa Rica 2 years ago. She got her green card this past Dec or 5 months ago, when can I add her to my pension plans which is to provide her the full survivor benefits (50%) when I die?

  4. Everett Bartz on

    Let me add that I completed the OPM paperwork prior to the 2 year mark which was to add my wife to my pension plans.

    • If you completed the OPM paperwork needed to record your marriage then she is already entitled to full survivor benefits.

  5. Hello, how is a USG pension affected if the retiree takes a second citizenship, but retains U.S. citizenship? What about if retiree rescinds U.S. citizenship and becomes a citizen of another country? I know the rule for military pensions is that the pension is gone. Please reply with the paragraph of the law or regulation. Thanks.

    • Below is a column I wrote for The Federal Times in 2013. I thought it would be helpful to you because it speaks to more than federal annuity benefits. Since I wrote it, some of the blocked countries may have changed. If you think you’ll be going to a country that might be blocked, you’ll have to check with the State Department to have that confirmed or denied.

      FOREIGN AFFAIRS – By Reg Jones
      Recent e-mails from readers have reminded me of one of the most neglected groups of federal workers. They are out of sight and out of mind. I’m referring to U.S. citizens who are working in foreign countries, especially those that have married non-citizens. In this column I’ll try to remedy some of that neglect.

      Not surprisingly, there are specific laws that govern whether CSRS and FERS benefits may be paid to federal retirees and their survivors who live outside the United States or its territories and possessions. In most cases, if you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive them no matter where you live. On the other hand, no government payments of any kind may be paid to someone who resides in a “blocked” county, even if that resident sets up an electronic fund transfer (EFT) account outside the country. Currently, the blocked countries are Cuba, Cambodia and North Korea. NOTE: There is one small exception to this rule. Cuban commuters who were CSRS employees working in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base as of August 31, 1979 (or retired or separated on or after that date, and their survivors) may receive the benefits they earned.

      There are also laws governing the payment of Social Security benefits. As a rule, if you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your Social Security payments outside the U.S. On the other hand, regardless of your citizenship you may not receive payments in a blocked country, in Vietnam or in areas (other than Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Russia) which were once a part of the former Soviet Union. That’s true even if you ask to have your payments sent to someone else on your behalf.

      Citizens of a few other countries are eligible to receive Social Security worker, survivor and dependent benefits regardless of whether they ever set foot in the United States. The current list of such countries includes Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

      The same flexibility applies to the citizens of other countries who have earned Social Security benefits on their own work histories, but not to their survivors or dependents. (I’ll have more to say about them in a moment.) This list of countries includes: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gabon, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Federal States of Micronesia, Monaco, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia, San Marino, Serbia-Montenegro, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Trinidad-Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela and Western Samoa.

      Survivors or dependents who are citizens of the countries listed in the preceding paragraph must meet certain requirements in order to receive Social Security payments. For example, a spouse must have been married to the worker and lived in the U.S. for at least five years. Children who cannot meet the residency requirement on their own may be considered to meet it if their parents do. However, children adopted outside the U.S. will not be paid outside the U.S., even if the residency requirement is met.

      If you are not a citizen of any of the approved countries mentioned in this column but you live in the U.S., you will receive your Social Security payments just like any U.S. citizen would. However, your Social Security payments will stop if you leave the United States and are out of the country for six full calendar months. The payments will not resume until you have returned to the U.S. and stayed here for at least one full month. There are some exceptions to this rule and you should check with the Social Security Administration to see if one of them applies to you.

      Finally, a word about Medicare. Medicare generally doesn’t cover health services you get outside of the United States. However, if you return to the U.S., you will be covered for hospital costs. That’s because you paid for Part A insurance through your Social Security tax deductions. Unless you anticipate returning to the U.S. on a regular basis for medical treatment, it may not be worth your while to make the monthly payments required to obtain Part B insurance, which covers doctors and many other medical services.

Leave A Reply