Updated: Nov. 14, 2017
“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated“, Mark Twain is quoted as saying.
To continue to get his royalty checks, Mark Twain had to prove to his publishers that he was still very much alive.
Similarly, to continue to get your SSA checks, you have to prove to Social Security that you are still alive.
And you need to do it every 2 years.
That is how often the US government requires a Proof-of-Life” response from every social security recipient.
Otherwise they will stop your Social Security payments.
FYI, the official name of the “Proof-of-Life” requirement is the Foreign Enforcement Questionnaire.
Acceptable Address Required
However, the US Government will only send you this vital Proof-of-Life request if you have an “Acceptable Address”.
If you live overseas, what SSA considers an acceptable address is strictly defined.
What Is An Acceptable Address
If you live in Panama, you must provide SSA with your mailing address in Panama. This is true even if your checks are direct deposited into a bank located in the US.
SSA’s requirements for an acceptable address:
- You must have a Panama address on file with SSA
- You can use general delivery or a PO Box, but it must be in Panama.
- You cannot use a forwarding service
- You cannot use a friend or relative’s address in the USA
Note: These requirements are the same regardless of the country you live in. You must provide SSA with your mailing address in that country. In the example above, the country is Panama.
How To Correct Your Address
If you haven’t provided SSA with an “acceptable address”, you need to change your address.
Which means you need to fill out Form SSA-21. Send Form SSA-21 and your passport to the Federal Benefits Unit (FBU) of the US Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica. For more information on changing your address, visit the US Embassy’s Federal Benefits page.
The FBU will inform the SSA of your new Panama address.
You must do this if you want to receive your Proof of Life form/questionnaire.
SSA Check Suspension
You must return the questionnaire to SSA by December. If you don’t respond in time, your Social Security benefits will be suspended.
That is, you will not receive your Social Security check starting in February or March.
Don’t worry. Even if your checks are stopped, you will get all your SSA checks. Unfortunately, it may take some time to restart your checks and receive your back payments.
Go to the “Contact FBU” section below, to learn how to let the FBU know you didn’t get your SSA check.
UPDATE: The US Embassy in Panama City no longer handles Social Security inquiries by US Citizens.
The Regional Federal Benefits Unit (FBU) of the US Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica is now responsible for providing Federal Benefit services to US Citizens living in Caribbean, Central and South America countries.
Which means if you live in Panama, the Federal Benefits Unit of the US Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica is your “go-to” place for questions about your Social Security benefits (as well as Veterans’ benefits and more).
For comprehensive information on SSA’s services abroad, please visit SSA’s Service Around the World.
When To Expect Proof of Life Letter
You will receive your Proof of Life questionnaire every other year. The questionnaires are mailed out in May.
Which year you get it depends upon your social security number (SSN):
- If your SSN ends in 00 – 49, you will get your letter in even years (2016, 2018, 2020…)
- If your SSN ends in 50 – 99, you will get your letter in odd years (2017, 2019, 2021…).
If you are 90 years old or older, you will be sent a Proof of Life request every year.
Again, the SSA sends out the questionnaire in May. If SSA does not receive your completed questionnaire by September, it will send out a follow up letter in October.
You must return your proof of life form to SSA before the end of the year.
No Proof Of Life Letter?
If August comes and you still haven’t received your Proof of Life questionnaire, you need to take action immediately.
You must contact the FBU (see below) ASAP. Part of the mission of the FBU is to help US Citizens receive their SSA payments.
The Federal Benefits Unit in San Jose operates on an appointment-only system.
To tell the FBU about your “lost” SSA check, schedule an appointment, or to ask questions, contact them via their online inquiry form.
They don’t promise a speedy reply.
On their webpage they state, “We normally respond to e-mail inquiries within 15-working days.” By email inquiries, they mean inquiries made via their online inquiry form.
You can also send the FBU a letter or fax them. The FBU in San Jose, has both a Costa Rica and a USA mailing address. To get those addresses and their fax number, go to their webpage here.
Although the FBU does not provide a phone number, you can call the US Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica. Their phone number is (506) 2519-2000. (506 is the country code).
Worldwide US Social Security Benefits
There is also an office to help US citizens living overseas or planning to live overseas with their SSA benefits.
It has a very dry and bewildering name: Office of Earnings & International Operations (OEIO).
You can visit OEIO’s website here.
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Check out this post on whether expats need to pay into ObamaCare.