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SSI, SSDI & International Exchange

An assortment of foreign currencies are scattered on a table.
An assortment of foreign currencies are scattered on a table.

Starting early to understand how your SSI and/or SSDI benefits interact with international exchange can make a huge impact!

As you investigate all funding possibilities, be sure to keep in mind any income or benefits that  you are currently receiving in the U.S. There’s a possibility you may be able to use these towards your international exchange opportunity.

“While preparing to study abroad in England, I was concerned about how much it was going to cost. I was receiving SSI benefits and involved with the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), and remained eligible for the year I was in England.”
– Beth Ocrant, who has a vision disability

Quick Facts about Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

  • Monthly financial assistance for Americans who are 65 or older, blind or disabled with low income, no work history and limited resources.
  • To qualify, you provide specific documentation of a medical condition meeting Social Security’s definition of disability as well as proof of limited financial resources.
  • With planning and communication, individuals who receive SSI benefits may be able to maintain these benefits during their participation in an international academic exchange.

How to receive SSI while participating in an international academic exchange program

If you are a student receiving SSI payments in the U.S., you may be able to continue receiving SSI payments while outside the U.S. for study abroad for up to one year if you can prove:

  • The international exchange course of study is not available to you in the U.S.
  • The study abroad program is sponsored by a school in the U.S.
  • Participation is critical to your educational and vocational success.
  • You are eligible for SSI for the one month immediately prior to leaving the U.S.
  • You will earn academic credits towards your high school or college degree while abroad.

A student of any age may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits while temporarily outside the U.S. for the purpose of conducting studies that are not available in the U.S., are sponsored by an educational institution in the U.S., and are designed to enhance the student’s ability to engage in gainful employment. Such a student must have been eligible to receive an SSI benefit for the month preceding the first full month outside the U.S.” – Chapter 21 of the Social Security Handbook

Work with your transition or benefits specialist to arrange to continue your SSI payments while you are abroad.

Quick Facts about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

  • A benefit paid to an adult with work credits but who is unable to work because of disability.
  • Work credits can be inherited from a retired parent under the Disabled Adult Child program or earned through one’s own labor. They are rewarded for payment of social security taxes.
  • To qualify, you or a family member must have worked at jobs covered by Social Security and you must have a disability that meets Social Security’s definition of disability.
  • SSDI can be received while abroad, and restrictions vary based on the country.

How to receive SSDI when participating in international programs

  • Notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) if you plan to go outside the United States for a trip that lasts 30 days or more.
  • Prepare information for SSA that includes the name of the country or countries you plan to visit and the dates you expect to leave and return to the United States.
  • SSA will explain how you can arrange for your benefits while you are away.
  • Notify SSA when you return from your trip.

Please note: while Social Security can send SSDI checks to many countries around the world, there are restrictions in some regions as well as certain places where you could not receive SSDI. Learn whether you can receive SSDI on your Exchange using Social Security’s online tool under Related Links.

What about SSI and SSDI if I am participating in a funded program?

If you are accepted into a funded program, such as the Fulbright program through the U.S. Department of State, the funding may be recognized as income. If the program ends in less than one year, you probably won’t need to reapply for SSI or SSDI once you return to the United States. However, if you receive income for 12 or more months, your SSI or SSDI eligibility could be temporarily suspended. Even after this it may still be possible to get back on SSI or SSDI benefits by contacting SSA and asking for expedited reinstatement.

Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify how the program income will affect your SSI or SSDI payments.

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