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Social Security Coordination in Europe

Many expats want to make doubly sure they have the proper international insurance coverage. However, that does not mean they’d like to be charged twice for social security! Read the InterNations Insurance Guide to find out how international social security agreements help avoid such double payments.
International social security agreements play a large role in expat insurance coverage.

Western European countries have long sought to coordinate their various social security plans. The basis for today’s EU Social Security Coordination was already established in 1958, when a number of first regulations were decided on. Since then, the 28 EU countries, as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland have agreed on common rules which uphold four basic principles in regard to international social security plans:

  • no double contribution or coverage
  • same rights and obligations for foreign as well as national contributors
  • totalization/portability with regard to contribution periods
  • exportability: cash benefits may also be received abroad

Once again, the basic rule is as follows: you are covered in and contributing to the national insurance plan of the country where you are currently working. However, there are a number of exceptions: If, for example, you work and live in different countries and return home at least once a week, you fall under the category of so-called “frontier workers” or “border commuters”. In this case, you are still insured by social security in the country you are working in, but special rules apply for medical costs and unemployment benefits.

Rules for the category of so-called “posted workers” or “foreign assignees” might be of particular interest for European expatriates on an assignment abroad. If your company sends you to work in another EU/EEA member state or Switzerland for a maximum duration of 24 months, you will stay insured in your country of origin. Further regulations for special cases, e.g. employment in multiple countries, do also exist.

In general, these EU coordination rules concern the following branches of social security: healthcare, maternity/paternity and other family benefits, pensions (including pre-retirement), bereavement grants and survivor’s benefits, unemployment benefits, as well as compensation for occupational illnesses or work accidents.

Examples of Further International Social Security Agreements

The section above only describes the agreements between countries that are members of the EU, as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. However, there are numerous international agreements between various other states. The United Kingdom, for example, has – in addition to the above EU policy – also entered into agreements with 20 other countries, including Japan, New Zealand, and the United States of America.

While Australia terminated the social security agreement with the United Kingdom in 2001, it still cooperates with 29 nations worldwide in order to avoid double contributions to social security and to allow the totalization of insurance periods across different countries. And last but not least, the USA are in agreement with 24 different nations, most of them situated in Western Europe, but also including South Korea, Australia, and Chile. For more information on US social security agreements, check the official website of the SSA.

Of course, this is only an exemplary selection of countries and their international social security agreements. It is certainly not exhaustive. So if you haven’t already spotted your particular combination of host and home country, make sure to check whether they have a similar agreement as well. And even if we have already used your case as one of our examples, make sure to check the details pertaining to your specific situation. The devil is, after all, in the detail.