Can Americans access US Social Security income when living in France?

For those moving from the US to France, we look at options for transferring funds and what to do about healthcare

We look at options for transferring funds and what to do about healthcare
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Reader question: I am a retired American, over the age of 65. My dream has always been to live in France. If I come, can I continue to receive my Social Security payments in France as I would need this income?

Yes, you can, but it takes some patience to work out the details.

There are two ways to collect your social security benefits, which an American is entitled to until they die.

One way is to maintain a bank account in the US. This way a person can use their bank debit card with its pin to access funds from an ATM in France when needed.

However, if one does maintain an account after moving to France, some kind of physical address is still needed. A US post office box may be used for bank correspondence.

The second way is to open a French online bank account before one becomes a resident. You can research such international banking options online.

However, the easiest way to access Social Security monthly benefits is to use one’s American debit card as mentioned above. Currency exchanges by these electronic banks require a small currency conversion fee, which may not be worth it on a regular basis.

Once an American becomes a resident of France, a physical bank account can be opened near to where they live.

The problem will remain, however, with transferring these Social Security funds from your American bank to your French bank. The cost can be prohibitive on a regular basis. In addition, keeping these funds in dollars can be beneficial for reporting to the US government on the yearly IRS tax form, as explained below.

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What about tax and healthcare?

Tax-wise, when living in a foreign country, US-sourced social security and other retirement pension benefits remain taxable in the US under the US/France double tax convention.

The money has to be declared both in the annual French tax return and to the US on an IRS form 1040 as well.

There is, however, no double taxation of the income if it is correctly declared as France applies a tax credit to annul any French tax.

Social Security payments include a monthly deduction for Medicare, the free healthcare in the US for people aged over 65.

It is recommended not to get rid of Medicare in case of a medical emergency while travelling back in the US. An American cannot use Medicare in France.

Once a resident of France, you will be enrolled in the healthcare system in France which is widely seen as excellent.

Most Medicare deductions on a Social Security statement are not more than $160 per month.

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If maintaining a US bank account, ask your bank how much you are allowed to take out per day with your debit card. With the ever-fluctuating euro/dollar exchange one can access Social Security funds on a day when the exchange is most favourable.

At an ATM in France, found all over French cities and towns, you have two choices when receiving euro cash: choose the debit amount at the euro price; or choose a debit with the exchange rate added upon withdrawal.

Most ATMs in France will add an additional percentage to an exchange rate, which might be higher than the actual day’s rate. Taking the euro price is better.

It is a good idea when moving to France to register with the US. Embassy. The Embassy or American Consulate in the major cities of France can also assist with questions about benefits received in the US while living in France.

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