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.

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