Many who sign up for a military career do so for the adventure, the travel and the opportunity to live and work in foreign countries. And retiring from the military doesn’t mean the adventure needs to stop. In fact, you can opt to spend your retirement in a foreign country and still receive a range of benefits and services you’ve earned through your military service. Unfortunately, there are also a few benefits that you’ll have to forgo if you decide to live overseas.
Can I Retire from the Military Overseas?
As a military retiree, you are eligible to live and retire anywhere in the world. In fact, retirees usually have no restrictions as to where they live once they separate from the military. If you opt for foreign residency, it usually will not impact your retirement benefits. Most VA benefits will be available regardless of your place of residence or nationality, including your pension, education and training, health care, insurance, disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and burial.
Benefits of Retiring from the Military Overseas
There are many benefits to choosing a foreign location for your retirement, which could include stretching your guaranteed pension dollars to living near like-minded people in expatriate communities.
According to the Department of Defense, as of 2022 about 40,000 military retirees were living outside of the United States. Living abroad doesn’t have to mean being isolated from other Americans. In fact, there are many countries around the globe with entire communities of retired expatriates. Locating one of these communities means you could enjoy an easier transition to your new homeland while gaining support of those in a similar situation.
Retirement Visa Programs
When deciding on your next home, you’ll also have to weigh factors like a country’s tax rate and other relocation fees. Of course, some countries are more welcoming than others. Many countries, particularly poorer nations in Southeast Asia and Latin America, offer formal retirement visa programs aimed at luring pensioners and easing their transition. These programs include reduced or no taxation for retirees on a pension, meaning you save considerable money over other countries or the United States.
Qualifying varies from country to country, but in general, you must verify your age, show proof of your pension, proof that you have private health insurance, and not have a criminal record. Visa applications are typically made stateside through the nearest consulate or embassy of the country where you are aiming to relocate.
Other countries may have more restrictive policies like requiring that you have a job, be married to a local national, or other qualifiers for residency.
Guaranteed Pension for Retired Military
If you opt to apply for foreign residency, it makes no difference in your retirement benefits, including your health care, most of your VA benefits, and, most importantly, your pension. Military retirees enjoy a rock-solid pension plan, one of the best offered in the United States, that’s available after 20 years of service to active-duty service members. Opting to live in a country with a relatively low cost of living means you could enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle for the duration of your retirement.
Benefit Payments Through Direct Deposit
Receiving your pension payments is as simple as setting up international direct deposit services through a financial institution in your new country. Once your benefit payments are sent from the United States, your payment arrival will depend on the local institution’s processing time.
Military retirees living abroad are not charged a currency conversion fee by the International Treasury Services, but your local financial institution may opt to charge you one.
Education Benefits for Retired Military Living Overseas
Just like if you had opted to retire in the United States, you may still wish to continue or finish your education while living abroad. You will still be eligible to receive your military education assistance and all the perks of your GI Bill benefits to attend approved programs at foreign schools.
Overseas VA Disability Benefits
Opting for an overseas address does not disqualify disabled veterans from receiving disability compensation, the tax-free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service.
Overseas Military Retiree Medical Care
You can receive medical care for your service-connected disability while you’re living abroad through the VA Foreign Medical Program. Through this program, the VA assumes payment responsibility for treatment of your service-connected disabilities.
Special Adaptive Housing Grant
Not all of the VA’s housing assistance programs are available to those living overseas. However, disabled veterans may be eligible for a Specially Adaptive Housing grant to accommodate your disability. To qualify, you must have a substantial ownership interest in your home to be adapted or built. Improvements or modifications must also first be approved by the VA.
Do I Qualify for VA Loans if I Retire Overseas?
Unfortunately, if you opt to buy a home in a foreign country, you will not be eligible for a VA loan for its purchase. According to VA rules, “Real property securing a VA-guaranteed loan must be located in the United States, its territories, or possessions,” which include Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The regulations also forbid borrowers from purchasing a home stateside while living outside the U.S. due to VA loan occupancy requirements that require a borrower must live in the home purchased with a VA-insured mortgage.
Use eBenefits to Manage Veteran Benefits Overseas
Applying for, accessing and managing your veteran’s benefits from afar should be no problem thanks to eBenefits, the VA’s online portal to benefit information. Upon retirement, you simply register for a free account, which will provide you full access to a slate of options for managing your pension and retirement benefits.
Resources for Veterans Living Overseas
As a veteran living overseas, there are many resources available through the VA when you need assistance understanding or accessing your veteran benefits:
- For general benefit assistance, call (412) 395-6272 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday. You can also submit a question using ask.va.gov, the VA’s inquiry routing and message system.
- For education benefits, call (918) 781-5678 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday.
- For assistance with international direct deposit and currency conversion, call (918) 781-7550 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday; or send email to [email protected].
- To speak to a benefits representative at an American embassy or American Consulate, visit Social Security’s Foreign Country Service Information page. This page includes a list of Federal Benefits Units with staffs who are trained to provide a full range of VA benefits assistance to include claim submissions.
- To speak to a VA Overseas Military Services Coordinator, visit Overseas Military Services Coordinators page. This page offers contact information for VA Overseas Military Services Coordinators who can assist with a full range of VA benefits assistance.
- If you wish to appoint an accredited representative to help you manage and apply for benefits, use the Manage Your Representative for VA Claims tool to locate and appoint a recognized representative from a Veterans Service Organization, attorney, or claims agent by state/territory, zip code, or by the organization’s name.
About The Author
Craig Richardson is a military veteran who started his journalism career while serving in the Navy. Following overseas deployments to the Med and Middle East, including service in Operation Desert Storm, he left for the private sector but continued with journalism. He has worked for several publishers and news organizations over nearly 30 years and continued to cover stories with ties to veterans and military affairs throughout his career.
- N.A. (ND) Veterans Living Overseas. Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/persona/veteran-abroad.asp
- N.A. (ND) Compensation. Retrieved from https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/index.asp
- N.A. (ND) VA disability compensation. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/disability/
- VALoans.com Staff (ND) VA Loans for Purchases in Other Countries. Retrieved from https://www.valoans.com/articles/va-loans-in-other-countries/