Proof Of Life

This is the first post I will do related to the meetings I have attended over the last two days with the American Citizens Services Unit in the US Embassy in Panama City. I am going to cover a single issue here because I do not want it to get lost in a post about many other things.

This is TOO important. Read the following carefully and multiple times if necessary.

ALL US Citizens living outside the United States, that receive checks from the Social Security Administration, need to read this and understand this! This relates to validating “Proof of Life” to insure that checks you depend on monthly do not get cutoff.

Of all the discussions and presentations that were given, this one probably had the biggest impact. Let me explain the precess as I understand it.

On a Biennial basis, the US Social Security Administration mails out a form to be completed by recipients of payments made by SSA. When a recipient lives outside the US, the form will only be mailed to an acceptable address.

Form GN 02401.080 specifies the policy for when a US address is allowed and when it is not as well as what US addresses maybe allowed.

Anyone that is living in Panama and using a PMB PMA, PTY or other mail-forwarding address does not have an acceptable address. I repeat, if this is the address you have on file with SSA, you will be losing your payments unless you take positive action.

It does not matter if the money is being received in a US banking institution or a Panama banking institution.

By the way, if you are a permanent resident of Panama and use a friend or relative’s address in the US as your address in this matter, you are not compliant.

Let me give you the schedule these letters will be mailed.

If your social security number ends in 00 through 49, your letter will be mailed out in May and June of even numbered years.

If your social security number ends in 50 through 99, your letter will be mailed out in May and June of odd numbered years.

The letters for 2013 will be mailed out between May and June (this month and next month). If you fall in the odd numbered years and have not received your letter by August, you have a problem.

The responses to those letters will need to be received by the SSA. If they are not received, the checks (or direct deposits) will be stopped! This usually catches the recipients by surprise and they wind up having to contact the Federal Benefits Unit in the US Embassy in Panama City to get the check flow turned back on. This is not instantaneous and many living in Panama find themselves with financial problems. No money will be lost, but you may be without money till the problem is solved.

So what do you need to do?

1. The obvious answer is to have a mailing address in Panama. It can be general delivery or PO Box, but it must be in the country where you reside.

As all of us that live here know, General Delivery and even PO Boxes do not insure that you will receive the letter in Panama. That is why you need to mark your calendar for August and if no letter has been received, then you need to contact the FBU in Panama City.

2. If you have a noncompliant US mailing address, you can complete Form SSA-21. Form SSA-21 is going to ask for a mailing address. Then you need to send it to the FBU in Panama City and they will notify SSA of your new address and your payments will continue.

I felt the meetings over the last two days were very worthwhile and when my mind clears, I will post more. However, in the interest of getting this information out as quick as possible, I elected to post it as a stand alone topic.

If you have friends that are US citizens that are permanent residents outside the US and receive SSA benefits, you may want to forward them this information.

Good luck and may the force be with you.

For more information on the Foreign Enforcement Program which serves as a proof of life, please refer to the following link: http://panama.usembassy.gov/ssai.html .

For additional information on changing your mailing address from a US address to a local address, please refer to the following link: http://panama.usembassy.gov/ssae.html

99 thoughts on “Proof Of Life

  1. I think it is more likely concern that all social security benefits would stop for all recipients if the deficit became large enough. I don’t think they will discriminate.

  2. Following are the fax numbers, copied from Susan’s notes in the Social Security files of Panama Laws for Expats, a Yahoo group:

    . You can FAX the form to the international desk using the following fax numbers:

    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 00 to 16: 410-965-5882
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 17 to 32: 410-966-6782
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 33 to 49: 410-965-8054
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 50 to 66: 410-965-9409
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 57 to 82: 410-966-5552
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 83 to 99: 410-966-1042

  3. Once again: Go to the panama laws for expats yahoo group’s FILES and scroll down til you see US SOCIAL SECURITY. Click the folder and you will find many documents relating to US citizens in Panama and social security. Among them is a document explaining how to file the 7162 form, including a list of fax numbers and which ones to use. Also there are a bunch of SSA forms, including that one. There is absolutely no reason to get all worried about mailing address and waiting for stuff to come in the mail. This is the 21st century. Download the form, sign it ). If you don’t want to use a netfaxing service and have a dedicated return fax number (I use trustfax) you can go to any copy shop that offers a fax service and do it that way. If you have never been to that group, you should go, even if you don’t want to participate in chats, there are a large number of documents on all kinds of topics…..

  4. WHAT IF aliens attack? WHAT IF 1000 mile wide meteorite slams into the earth? What if a giant tidal wave swamps Panama? “The night is dark and full of terrors….”

  5. I would recommend that anyone needing this information use the links to the ssa instead of relying on outdated information on a yahoo or any other group site. The group sites might be a good place to start one’s research but the web links should be the best resource.

  6. How does this affect those Retirees living in Panama whose Social Security deposits are made to their US bank accounts? Thanks

  7. As I said, it makes no difference where your SS payment is being deposited. The payments will be cut off where ever the are deposited and if checks are being sent, they will be stopped.

  8. “Can’t make heads nor tails of anything there?” The forms seem a lot less complicated than most tax forms and publications, so I am at a loss to understand why you are having trouble with them….. All but one of the documents there are US government forms and publications. The forms are pretty self explanatory. They are no more difficult to understand than any other government created stuff, so if you are having trouble understanding them, the only thing I can suggest is ask someone who feels more comfortable dealing with government paperwork to help you.

    The only thing in the folder (which can be accessed at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Panama_laws_for_expats/files/US%20Social%20Security%20for%20expats/ .. once you are a member of the group) that is not a government document is a memo I wrote in 2009 called “HOW TO FILE FORM SSA 7162 if you are “of record” as living outside the USA while collecting Social Security Benefits (and get your benefits reinstated if they have been cut off because you didn’t file it”

    Don Ray, I hope you don’t mind if I copy it below, since it appears to confuse some folks, and perhaps others here can answer Jim and Nena’s questions…..To anyone else who may find it confusing, I don’t know any way to make it any less so. I simply stated what I was told by a very helpful person in that office, and I thought it was pretty straightforward.

    As to the fax numbers being “out of date,” the only thing I can say is that I have used them on several occasions since 2010, the most recent occasion being in February 2013 to file the 7162 forms, apply for medicare, register change of mailing address and other communications and they were received. I know they were received because (1) on some occasions, I got follow up replies and (2) on each occasion, I got a confirmation of successful delivery of fax from my netfax service. If you received a “wrong number” reply, you might want to double check that you did not make a typo when you sent the fax. However, based on my own experiences, I believe the numbers are still good.

    HERE is the memo I wrote based on my interview with “Jen” from the International Operations desk…..

    HOW TO FILE FORM SSA 7162 if you are “of record” as living outside the USA while collecting Social Security Benefits (and get your benefits reinstated if they have been
    cut off because you didn’t file it

    I called the SSA International Desk and got the following information about how SS recipients living in Panama can get their benefits restored as quickly as possible if the benefits are frozen because of failure to file the SS 7162 form every year:

    VERY IMPORTANT: MAKE SURE THAT YOU WRITE YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER ON THE FORM OR IT WILL NOT BE PROCESSED. Print carefully and legibly.

    There are four ways you can do this:

    1. You can fill out and sign the form and send it to the local embassy and theywill forward it to the international desk. However, although there is a “paperless system” wherein embassies can send this kind of document direct by (non public) fax number to the international desk, a lot of embassies do not use this system and prefer to use snail mail. This can substantially delay the receipt of benefits.

    2. You can mail the form to the SSA international desk using the address given on their website (the reliability of this depends solely on the reliability of mail in the country from which it is being sent). (I certainly do not recommend this option…)

    3. You can send the signed form via fedex or DHL to their special non-PO box “courier” street address, which is:
    Social Security Administration
    Office of International Operations
    Baltimore, Maryland 21207

    **NOTE: If you do this, you can use a fast print-to-deliver service like http://www.mimeo.conm

    4. You can FAX the form to the international desk using the following fax numbers:

    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 00 to 16: 410-965-5882
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 17 to 32: 410-966-6782
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 33 to 49: 410-965-8054
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 50 to 66: 410-965-9409
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 57 to 82: 410-966-5552
    If the last 2 digits of your social security number is 83 to 99: 410-966-1042

    These fax numbers are not published anywhere, so print and save them.

    HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET YOUR BENEFITS REINSTATED?

    Jen told me that once the international desk has “received the form into the work flow” it will take approximately one month for the benefit deposits/checks to resume. You will be paid retroactively whatever amounts were withheld once the deposits resume.

    NOTE that this 30 day period does not begin to run UNTIL THE FORM HAS BEEN RECEIVED AND ENTERED. If you are sending it to the US Embassy you must add whatever time it take them to get the form to the International desk in the USA.

    I asked her why the US embassy demands that the forms be mailed as well as faxed. She said that this requirement is not one imposed by SSA, since if it was, they wouldn’t accept the forms by fax either. She said that they have no control over rules and procedures utilized by the embassy.

  9. Many MailBoxes Etc. offices offer a local P.O. Box to their member (APDO) and according to them that is compliant with Social Security rules of Proof of Life and local address.

  10. Dear Ray,
    One thing I’d like to make clear is …We’re not frustrated. My husband and I are very happy to have recieved this notice and will comply if we do not recieve the letter. We merely question why Soc Sec would not use the mailing address they have for us but go to IRS records. Merely a question that’s all. It would seem it would be easier to use the adddress they already have and not hunt IRS records. We have zero to hide….we are definately paying our share …LOL!

  11. To Giuocco….
    Definately ! Certainly a point to ponder. I mentioned that to someone today and the response was: “Oh they’d NEVER do that !” Hey, never say never is what I say. And ya know?…it’s a crying shame to have worked and saved and paid our dues to the government our entire lives, and at the grey haired stage of life, not feel as if we can trust our own government. Bottom line…it’s sad.

  12. You need to keep in mind that behind every SSA action, there is a federal regulation. There are many reasons why benefits can be cut off…but there MUST be a federal regulation that supports it. To the best of my knowledge (and I’m certainly willing to be corrected if someone can point to anything in the Federal Register that so states), “using a mail forwarding service as your mailing address” is NOT a stated basis anywhere in the regulations for cutting off your SSA retirement benefits. Failure to file a SSA 7162 form if you are required to do so IS a stated basis for a cutoff. Further, I have never heard of any incident where a recipient had his benefits cut off because “we don’t like your mailing address.” Many expats in Panama have had their benefits cut off because they did not file 7162, We hear it often on panama laws for expats and I have gotten private emails from people who had the same thing happen. Those who followed my advice and immediately faxed the form to the International Operations desk got the benefits restored quickly. Those who did the FBU paper chase thingie had to wait longer. Just saying…

  13. …..and here’s another curious point to ponder. One year we pre-paid a large amt of taxes as we had shifted retirement $ from a Trad IRA to a Roth. The tax we paid was …well, a lot. The government sent it back to us….here…to the PTY address labeled “overpayment” . And we got the entire amount back. OK so it had to be sent back to them under my husband’s SS #… BUT the point here is PTY seems AOK with the IRS, so why can’t SS accept it? Not frustrating…just very puzzling.

  14. i appreciated the info. but, i wonder how a letter is going to prove proof of life. they must be depending on the postal auth to validate the retirees address?

  15. By responding, you sign the form. No signature – no money. No returned conformation by fax or mail – no money. After a certain age the Embassy sends of a person to meet the person face to face.

    To get the money flow restarted after it is stopped requires a face to face I believe. At any rate, I have had to provide the Embassy conformation that I knew some who had their checks stopped to prevent their having to go to Panama City.

  16. In Don’s original post he mentions Form SSA 21 with a link
    Then Susan Garcia mentions Form SSA 7162.
    What is the difference?

  17. If a US citizen has a US mailing address that is recorded with SSA and IRS, receives timely notification of any mail sent to that address, and has social security income direct-deposited to a US financial institution, is there still a potential problem if that person also happens to have a Panama pensionado visa?

  18. SSA does not require a “face to face” in order to resume payment of benefits (including back benefits) to SSA beneficiaries who had them cut off for failure to file SSA 7162. All they require is to receive the form. Once the International Operations desk has processed it, your benefits are resumed.
    Now, it may be that the FBU “non existent requirement of the week just to make life hard for you” now includes a “face to face” meeting with the staff at FBU. But SSA does not require that. Nor does SSA require that you send them a copy of your passport, your birth certificate or anything else. JUST THE SSA 7162 form.
    I am not sure why all this is so confusing…it seems that the problem of benefits cutoffs that some people have experienced for failure to file SSA 7162 is morphing into some kind of paper monster. Its not complicated, really. Download the SSA 7162 form, fill it out, sign it and get it to the International Operations desk by fax (or if you really don’t need the money that badly and don’t mind waiting a bit longer and don’t mind complying with whatever non existent requirement they are imposing “just because its Tuesday,” messenger it or mail it or whatever it to the FBU. Do this every year. If you get the form by snail mail, great. If not, don’t sit around waiting. Download and file it yourself. (Some people are required to file yearly others only every other year, but they don’t tell you which, unless you happen to receive the mailed copy of the form…..) Make sure you send it in a way that is TRACKABLE so you can prove it was received. Call the international operations desk after you do so to confirm it was received and your benefits are being reinstated.

  19. All I can say is that I have been called on more than one occasion to verify that a person that has had benefits cut off is indeed the person they say they are.

    Now it could be that the FBU knows I enjoy meeting new people.

    Non the less, the objective of this exercise is to prevent the problem from happening in the first place and I applaud you for pursuing that goal.

  20. Does the SSA have any idea of the “efficency” of the Panamanian Postal System?

  21. Hello, following the links provided and querying SSA web page it seems the 1. change of address is required domestic or international, 2. If check is being sent to a approved FI no impact, 3. If check is being sent directly to the individual then GN 02401.080 United States Address by Beneficiary Abroad form must be completed every two years.

    I am returning to the US shortly and will visit local SSA to hopefully clarify this situation,

    Also, couldn’t find any reference to what makes a valid overseas address and reference to forwarding services.

  22. Tony, look at GN 02401.80, Part B, referenced in the original post.

    POLICY – WHEN NOT PERMITTED

    A beneficiary abroad may not use a mailing address in the U.S. when the beneficiary is:

    In a barred country (RS 02650.001); or

    Abroad for more than 3 months.

    If you live here more than 3 months at a time, you may not use a U.S. mailing address. A forwarding service is a U.S. mailing address. Also, I wouldn’t count on your local S.S. office knowing the answer to this question with any certainty. You should go straight to the horse’s mouth: Social Security International Operations. I can’t understand why some of you readers won’t believe Susan. She’s a lawyer, she’s personally spoken with International Operations, and she has been doing what she advises for a number of years with success.

    Your assertion “If check is being sent to a approved FI no impact” doesn’t make sense to me. If you meant to say that if the s.s. check is being sent to a bank in Florida the law has no impact, I believe you are reading it incorrectly. It simply says that it is okay to live abroad and have your check deposited in a U.S. bank. This in no way involves the question of what mailing address you must provide SSA if you live abroad.

  23. Hello, by FI I meant financial institution. A change of address is always required. The confusion I have is the bi annual requirement and the foot note on the form. I think the SSA could be more helpful in clarifying their requirements. It would be kind of interesting to know how the SSA will know when a person is out of country. Passports not always required. I do appreciate your alert and will be sure to follow up.

  24. Pingback: The kidnapping Mexican teachers Carnival of Latin America and the Caribbean | Fausta's Blog

  25. SSA regulations REQUIRE social security recipients to truthfully answer all questions on their applications, AND to notify SSA if they move outside the USA. A lot of expats don’t do that. I have not personally read it, but I am fairly certain that actually LYING to the government on a federal form is grounds for suspension of benefits. I am sure that I have seen it on more than one SSA form, and its a standard clause in any application for government anything. I am not sure if failure to affirmatively advise them of a change of address is. As to whether SSA conducts investigations to determine if any recipients are living abroad and haven’t reported it, your guess is as good as mine. There are always audits (see the operations manual to get an idea of how they investigate stuff), but I would guess that looking for people who have moved abroad since they applied for SSA retirement benefits and stated they lived in the USA is probably not at the top of the priorities list. The primary checkpoint for this stuff is your application. When you apply, they do cross reference you with various documents and agencies (most importantly, the IRS) so if your last tax return before applying for social security says you live in Panama, you are likely to be caught. They may also use your IP if you are applying online (a problem that can be solved with Hidemyass or another proxy server.) In most cases, probably not, but that’s a decision that everybody has to make for himself or herself. I think that you are effectively on your honor when it comes to revealing expat status. I know lots of people who are of record as living in the USA when they aren’t, and none of them have been caught. And “where you live” is often a fluid concept. What if you are a cruising sailor who lives on the boat, and the boat cruises all over the place? Where do you “live?” Most cruises use a USA residence address for all purposes, including social security if they are getting it.

  26. Thank You Don for taking the time to explain this so well. For anyone who still has questions your best support as a SS recipient living in Panama will come from the Federal Benefits Unit – contact info as follows:
    E-mail: Panama-FBU@state.gov, Fax: 317-5303
    Telephone: 317-500 only on Mon-Thurs 10:30am-12, and 3-4:30pm/ and Friday 10:30am-12

  27. I have a question on another subject, namely, the “72 hour rule” on leaving and re entering the country. Where can I direct this question for more information. Thanks.

  28. This is dual question to anyone who might have the answers:

    1) How can I find out which address the SSA has on file for me?
    2) With basically no mail service in Panama, and a Mail Boxes address not being an approved address, what address do we provide in the form?

    Thank you.

  29. Bill, within the post and within the comments, you have been provided phone numbers in Panama as well as international numbers for offices that can help as well as email addresses for the FBU in Panama City.

    If you are a permanent resident in Panama and have not notified the SSA of that fact, the the first question is academic.

    If you do not have a P.O. box then the mailing address would be ganeral delivery for the closest Panama mail office.

    If you take the approach that some have recommended and annually notifiy the SSA that you are here, then you won’t have to worry about even receiving the notice and you can continue to use your mail forwarding address for all other correspondence with the US.

    I think all options have been covered and you have to decide how you want to proceed.

  30. Pingback: More Notes From Embassy Warden Meetings | Chiriquí Chatter

  31. Pingback: Proof of Life Followup | Chiriquí Chatter

  32. Pingback: An Evening With Ambassador Farrar and His Charming Wife | Chiriquí Chatter

  33. Pingback: My Proof Of Life Process | Chiriquí Chatter

  34. Pingback: Obamacare = JAWS?? | Chiriquí Chatter

  35. There IS a regulation governing this. Social Security, if they are made aware, in whatever manner, that a recipient is living outside the U.S., will begin deducting 30% from your check(s)! This is the same amount they withhold if you move money outside of U.S. borders/banks.

  36. Pingback: SSA Letter Received | Chiriquí Chatter

  37. My narrative only addresses applying for SS retirement benefits. Two days ago, I verified my SS retirement benefits will kick in in a few days. I started the process online for a domestic situation. The SSA subsequently transferred my application to the international operations desk in Baltimore, MD because of an address problem I had created.

    Even with an unresolved address, the SSA had approved my application and put me in the system to begin receiving benefits. By contacting SSA’s international operations desk and chatting with an agent, my concerns about complications with address issues and not getting the benefits timely were resolved. I faxed in a letter to the agent assisting me and provided my physical location and my general delivery address in Boquete.

    I mentioned the challenge of locating documents and visiting the embassy in Panama City. The agent said the SSA wants to make the process as painless as possible. I asked if someone could still do telephone interviews with the international operations desk (rather than the challenging process of a bus ride to PC, setting up appts. with the FBU at the embassy in Panama City…and then, perhaps, not having the correct document and having to make a subsequent return visit). He is going to find out the answer and get back with me (and he will).

    I was also able to apply for family benefits for my minor children (without having to pull my children out of school for 3 days and visit the embassy in PC). The agent said there was no need to pull my children out of school. They could do telephone interviews for the family benefits as long as we have their birth certificates.

    Yee Haw cowboy!!!

    I’ll share the agent’s answer about telephone interviews (rather than a trip to PC) once I have it along with phone numbers.

  38. Pingback: Panama–Proof Of Life | Island Gossip NewsOnline

  39. Pingback: Message for U.S. Citizens: Social Security Benefits | Chiriquí Chatter

  40. Pingback: Thinking Out Loud | Chiriquí Chatter

  41. Pingback: Lunch With John Law | Chiriquí Chatter

  42. My last reply above was incorrect. I did have to bring my children (and all supporting documents) to the FBU in Panama City in order to apply for benefits for minors. Although the application prepared by a very nice guy in the FBU was dated 2 January 2014, the benefits have not yet kicked in…although I’m hopeful for July…and specifically 3 July. When the FBU page on the embassy web site cautions that benefits might take 6, 7 or 8 months to kick in (don’t remember the exact number of months), you may believe it. The bottleneck appears to be Costa Rica.

    Today, I faxed in my proof of life form to the International Desk. Below is the free fax service I used. I have used it on several occasions in the past 7 or 8 months to provide the International Desk some documents. Perhaps it will be helpful to you.

    http://www.gotfreefax.com/

    You will need to scan your completed form and create a digital copy of it in either a .jpg or a .pdf file.

  43. Pingback: Issues When living in Panama | Chiriquí Chatter

Leave a Reply