How to Get Social Security While Living in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a popular destination for retirement abroad: With near perfect weather, plenty of outdoor activities, moderate cost of living, and great quality of life, Costa Rica is an excellent place to spend your golden years.

One of the questions we often hear is regarding federal benefits: Do you qualify for any (or all) federal benefits if you live abroad? How can you receive Social Security while in Costa Rica? What about Medicate and SSI?

The short answer: If you retire abroad, you’re eligible for Social Security but not Medicare or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Now, getting down to the details:

Filing for Social Security Benefits in Costa Rica

The skip-to-the-good-part news is that, not only can you receive Social Security while living in Costa Rica, but the process is easy and hassle-free.

The process of applying for Social Security is as easy as hopping online; you can apply in about five minutes – no further hassle. The only requirements are that you 1) be a new applicant; 2) apply under your own social security number; 3) begin receiving benefits within the next 4 months, and; 4) be at least 61 years and 9 months old.

What’s more, in countries with a large concentration of U.S. retirees – like Costa Rica – embassies have dedicated staff for Social Security and other benefits issues. So, if you’re already here and have questions, check in with U.S. Citizen Services at the San José Embassy. Even better news: Most SS-related questions can be handled via phone, so you won’t need to schedule a trip into the city. (And if you do need an in-person visit, ask about upcoming scheduled consular outreach; the U.S. Embassy sometimes programs appointments out our way.)

If you’re wondering about taxes, not much changes between the U.S. and Costa Rica: You’ll still have to pay taxes on your benefits, and those taxes are calculated based on your earnings. For example, joint filers with annual earnings of $44,000+ may be required to pay taxes on 85% of their benefits.

The Practical: How to Receive Social Security in Costa Rica

There are a few ways to receive your Social Security benefits in Costa Rica; which you choose really depends on your lifestyle.

An uncommon, albeit possible option is to receive Social Security payments via check, mailed to your U.S. address. Your checks would be forwarded to Costa Rica, where you would need to make a deposit. Know that international checks can take 6+ weeks (and sometimes, much more) to clear.

A second option is to receive your Social Security payments via direct deposit to your U.S. bank. Depending on how you interact with your home bank, you could either transfer funds to a local bank, or you could use an international debit card to withdraw funds here in Costa Rica.

Finally – and this is currently the most popular option – you may request that your federal benefits be deposited directly to your Costa Rican bank account. At least three banks currently offer direct deposits: Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, and Scotiabank.

If you choose this option, make an appointment at the U.S. Embassy to receive required supporting paperwork; then, take those docs to your bank, where you’ll open a SS direct deposit account.

Thinking of retiring to Costa Rica? Receiving your Social Security benefits is simple – one less hurdle to jump!

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