We were recently engaged by an American client who wanted to know if her Canadian spouse can claim her U.S. Social Security spousal and survivor benefits.
Our client, Joni, is a retired American musician eligible for Social Security benefits. Joni recently married Mitchell, a sweet talking Canadian citizen living in Canada, who she couldn’t help herself from falling in love with.
Mitchell knew how to Court and Spark Joni into leaving behind her home in Los Angeles for a life on Mitchell’s farm in lovely Woodstock, Ontario. Joni had made a lot of money and wanted to quit the crazy music scene and be a Free Woman in Woodstock.
By the time Joni got to Woodstock, however, she began to wondering if her husband can qualify for her Social Security benefits.
As we discussed in one of our previous posts, U.S. Social Security benefits can be received in Canada free of US tax.
In this post, we explain how, provided certain rules are met, a foreign spouse can also receive spousal Social Security benefits.
The general rule is that a non-US citizen or non-US resident spouse, such as Mitchell, cannot receive Joni’s spousal security benefits if he lives outside the US for six consecutive calendar months.
However, a foreign spouse who is a citizen or resident of certain countries – among them Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom – can receive spousal social security benefits if the following rules are met:
- The foreign spouse has reached full retirement age;
- Social Security benefits are currently being received by the retired spouse who worked in the US; and
- The retired spouse and foreign spouse have lived together in the US for at least five years while married (doesn’t have to be continuous) in the case where the foreign spouse is not a citizen or a resident of certain countries such as the ones listed above.
In the event Joni dies, then Mitchell will be entitled to Social Security survivor benefits if he meets the requirements for spousal benefits mentioned earlier and he has not remarried.
Better yet, Mitchell can still qualify for spousal and survivor benefits even if Joni’s ex-husband, Graham, is entitled to spousal and survivor benefits.
So, while Joni may have left behind the paved paradise of Los Angeles, escaping to Woodstock has made her feel unfettered and alive. And luckily for Joni and Mitchell, when it comes to a foreign spouse collecting Social Security benefits, neither of them will be left feeling Blue.