I am a sixty-four year old American citizen living on the northeast coast of Brazil, married eleven years to a wonderful Brazilian woman. I hopped onboard my Social Security retirement benefit as soon as I became eligible (October 2014). I have my monthly check sent to a Stateside bank, and I withdraw cash money here (Brazilian Reals) at a local ATM. Everything is going just fine, and I am happily enjoying my retirement.
In September 2016, my wife and I traveled to the U.S. to visit family and friends. While there, we established her Permanent Residency and applied for her Social Security spousal benefits. Everything went just fine. By the time we returned to our home in Brazil three months later (December 1 to be exact), my wife had her Green Card in hand and was receiving Social Security spousal benefits.
Just before heading back to Brazil after our three-month visit, I approached a Social Security official at the local office and asked him about residency requirements for my wife, i.e., was it necessary for her to be physically present in the U.S. to continue receiving spousal benefits. The official could not tell me with certainty what the residency requirements were, if any, for a foreign-born spouse of an American living off-shore. He suggested I consult the Social Security website. I did this, but, despite hours of research, was unable to get a definitive answer to my question.
So there sits the question, and it is starting to weigh heavily on my marriage. My wife, quite understandably, is afraid of losing her Social Security spousal benefits. I am afraid of calling the Social Security Administration to get the matter cleared up over the phone. SSA may abruptly flag her file and stop payments, possibly level a fine against me. Frankly, we are keeping quiet about the whole thing and hoping we can "fly under the radar" indefinitely. But, as I said, this is starting to worry both of us quite a bit.
Am I worried about nothing, or is there a need for my wife to be on American soil at least a part of every year for her to continue receiving her spousal benefits?
There are a couple of things that I’d like to check on before I give you a definitive answer. I’ll circle back soon. 🙂
I’ll tell you what I think, but with the strong admonition that you seek out a more definite answer. I’ll list some resources at the botton to assist you.
Here’s what I understand about your situation:
1) You are a US citizen
2) You reside full time in Brazil
3) Your spouse is a citizen of Brazil
4) Your spouse has a ‘green card.’
My personal opinion is that your spouse is not entitled to collect a spousal benefit in your current scenario. To help form that opinion, I turned to the SS piece titled Your Payments While You are Outside the United States.
It states the following under section 4 on page 5:
If you are a citizen of one of the countries listed below [omitted for space] and you are receiving benefits based on your own earnings, we will continue your U.S. Social Security payments. *If you are receiving benefits as a dependent or survivor, you must also meet the conditions listed in this publication under the heading “Additional residency requirements for dependents and survivors.”***
Since Brazil is on the list of countries, it’s apparent that if someone is receiving benefits as a dependent, they must also meet the residency requirements.
On page 9 & 10 of the same publication:
Additional residency requirements for dependents and survivors
"If you are a citizen of a country in which we require dependents and survivors to meet additional residency requirements, you’ll have to show that you lived in the United States for at least five years. During those five years, the family relationship on which we base benefits must have continued to exist."
If I were you, I wouldn’t take this lightly. In the same piece they use some pretty strong language. "If you fail to report or deliberately make a false statement, you could be penalized by a fine or imprisonment. You also may lose some of your payments if you do
not report changes promptly."
Please get a more qualified answer to your question!
I would start by contact the SSA. I know that you’ve had that experience already, but if you keep trying, you’ll be able to find someone to answer your questions with authority.
Find an attorney who specializes in these issues. A firm such as https://www.rrulegal.com/ (and many other such as these) could help you determine how to fix this issue.
Best of luck in your search for a solid answer!
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