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The Foreign Work Test

Excerpted from "Social Security Handbook". See the up-to-date, official Social Security Handbook at

1823. The Foreign Work Test

1823.1 What is the "foreign work test"?

The "foreign work test" is a separate retirement test that applies to beneficiaries (other than those entitled because of disability) who work in employment or self-employment outside the U.S. that is not covered by the U.S. Social Security system. This test is based only on the amount of time during which the beneficiary is employed or self-employed. It is not based on the amount of the beneficiary's earnings or losses. The foreign work test was intended to make it unnecessary to convert earnings in a foreign currency into earnings in specific dollar amounts.

1823.2 When are benefits withheld under the foreign work test?

The foreign work test only applies to monthly benefits of those who work before attaining their full retirement age. Under the foreign work test, your monthly benefit is withheld for each calendar month that you (or a person entitled to benefits on your record) work:

  1. Outside the U.S.;

  2. In work for pay not covered by Social Security; and

  3. For more than 45 hours.

1823.3 Are benefits withheld if you are over full retirement age and you work?

No. If you are at least full retirement age, we do not withhold benefits for any month you work.

1823.4 Are family benefits withheld if a retirement insurance beneficiary loses benefits?

If you are a retirement insurance beneficiary and you work and lose benefits for one or more months, family benefits are also withheld for the same months. (See the exception below.) Family benefits include:

  1. Benefits payable to auxiliaries (spouse or child) on your earnings record; and

  2. Benefits payable to your spouse on any earnings record as a disabled child, mother, or father.

    Note: The benefits of a divorced spouse, who has been divorced at least two years, are not subject to withholding because of the retirement insurance beneficiary's work.

1823.5 How does work activity of someone entitled to benefits on your record affect benefits?

The work activity of your spouse, child, or survivor beneficiary affects only his or her own benefits.

Last Revised: Jul. 12, 2005



There are 2 Comments

When they state that benefits are "withheld" from the foreign work test, what exactly does that mean? Are the benefits lost because you are not entitled or are they reimbursed to you later?

I could not find a definitive answer on this, so it would be best to contact the SSA directly.

However, the Foreign Work Test seems to fall under the general concept of the "Earnings Limit" which withholds retirement benefits for those who work during retirement (and are receiving Social Security and who are under full retirement age).

In general, if some of your retirement benefits are withheld because of your earnings, your benefits will be increased starting at your full retirement age to take into account those months in which benefits were withheld.


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