can you travel on disability?
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Traveling on disability is simultaneously an attractive idea and a serious challenge.  The idea of not needing to live in one place and developing a nomadic lifestyle feels appealing to me, and I am sure to many others as well.  

Once you’ve gotten over the initial shock of your condition, and once you have your disability benefits coming in regularly, the idea of having that money available no matter what you do or don’t do may lead you to daydream about sunny beaches, rainforests in every shade of green, or wandering through cities full of exotic languages, smells, and sights.  

I have done some research and would like to share what I have learned.  As usual, the rules for Social Security Disability Insurance(SSDI) are profoundly different from those for Supplemental Security Income(SSI)

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Leaving the country on SSDI

Yes, you can live in another country and receive SSDI benefits

There are some countries that the US does not deposit money into(for example, North Korea), but for the most part, it may be possible to run away to another country where the cost of living is lower and stay there, as long as nothing else stops you.  

Personally, I have fantasized a little about traveling around the world, but it’s never been more than a fantasy.

Leaving the country on SSI

SSI benefits have different rules, and focus on length of time spent outside the US – if you are gone longer than 30 days, your SSI coverage is suspended.  

If the SSI coverage is for children who moved due to a parent being stationed in another country, they are covered by SSI, but that is the primary exception.  

Sadly, if SSI is your primary source of financial support, you really just can’t leave the country for more than a month without consequences to your benefits.  

On the bright side, if you do leave the country and then come back to the US, restarting your SSI benefits is possible, as opposed to reapplying.

link for social welfare guide

Visiting another country

I have, however, left the country for vacations and to visit people, and there has never been anything keeping that from happening(other than what slows everybody down..time, money, and energy).  

A good friend of mine from college lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I visited her for a bit over a week in 2009.  I had a wonderful time there, and my being on SSDI had no impact on my trip.

The money was tight for me, of course, both in terms of going on the trip and on paying my bills, but I did manage to cover it all.  

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to repeat that experience, but I am hoping to do more international travel in the future.

Again, if you are on SSI, you need to be more aware of the length of your visit, as being outside of the US for more than 30 days will prevent you from collecting benefits.

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Long-term travel within the US

What if you don’t want to leave the US, but the idea of traveling around the country is appealing?  Do you want to sell your home, or stop spending money on rent, and just drive? Or do you want to trade things in for a camper and live on the road?  

It’s not impossible, but there would, of course, be challenges. It’s more doable on SSDI, though it would likely take some really creative budgeting, and of course for your condition to be relatively stable and not require frequent medical care (you don’t want to spend your trip visiting hospitals or breaking in new doctors all the time).  

As long as you maintain your primary address, it’s unlikely that the government will know or care that you are currently spending time elsewhere.  

If you are receiving SSDI, it is a completely federal program, so as long as you can access your bank account, your check should keep coming in as it always has.

If you need to go talk to Social Security for any reason, they will assume you can get to the office nearest your home address.

 If you do reach a point where you need a new or different permanent address, you should update SSDI.

Medicare benefits are also nationally recognized, so you should still be able to pick up your prescriptions(if you use a large chain pharmacy, they can generally transfer your prescription information to their nearest branch).

 If you need to see a doctor, you will need to find the right one to see, but as long as they accept Medicare, most of your costs are covered – if you have a secondary insurance you will need to confirm if they accept that as well, which may be more challenging in a different part of the country.

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Visiting other states on SSI

SSI is, of course, a completely different set of issues.  

While SSI is a national program, the benefits are managed by your state of residence, and in many cases are managed on the county level.  

Many states pay more than the federally generated amount to make up for cost of living disparities or follow state laws about disability needs.  

When you visit other states your checks will continue, but your Medicaid coverage may not get you any service wherever you are visiting.

Wherever you want to go, just think your plans through!

Neighboring states will sometimes have reciprocal agreements to treat patients, primarily in larger and research hospitals, but that’s about the limit of cross-state honoring of Medicaid.

I experienced this personally when I went through a brief period of only having Medicaid coverage – even though I live in New Jersey, my neurologist worked at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, and he was able to admit me there due to the reciprocal agreement between the hospital and NJ Medicaid.  

There are also some Medicaid programs(especially HMOs) that might be primarily managed on the county level, which can make a doctor or hospital visit in another county more challenging.

While treatment options are often limited while on Medicaid, you need to be aware that you may have effectively no coverage while in another state(or county in some cases).

If you are going to visit friends or family who live more than a few hours away, you may want to do some research about how far your Medicare coverage extends, so you know your options should an emergency occur. 

Moving to another state while on SSI is likely to disrupt your benefits, and you will only be eligible for that state’s Medicare coverage.

This is generally expressed in terms of what is in-network and how much coverage you have out-of-network. 

If your Medicaid doesn’t cover out-of-network providers, please proceed with caution. 

To give you an idea of Medicaid complications, a friend of ours moved to Florida from New Jersey. 

She had applied for Disability coverage and was waiting for her answer, but had been granted NJ Medicaid while she lived here. 

She wasn’t eligible for Medicaid coverage in Florida, as their eligibility rules are different. 

She had to pay out of pocket for doctor’s appointments in Florida, as her NJ Medicaid wasn’t accepted by any doctors down there. 

Eventually, she moved back to New Jersey so she could see specialists up here. 

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Conclusion: Can you travel while on disability?

Yes, you can.  Traveling is generally more expensive than staying in one place(or at least more variable) which is challenging to manage on a limited budget like you are prone to having while on disability benefits.  

You also need to be in reasonably stable condition, where you are less likely to need constant medical attention(what fun would it be otherwise?).

If you are on SSDI, there are fewer restrictions and living overseas is an option, with overseas travel relatively unlimited.  SSI is more limiting in terms of resource availability, insurance coverage, and time permitted out of state or country.

If you place a high value on that freedom to travel, you may be able to find a solution for yourself and be able to travel and explore once your condition has stabilized.  

I wish you the best on your journey, wherever it may take you!

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20 Comments

  1. Its a shame that there aren’t hundreds of comments on this. I can’t be the only one who cannot afford to live here (California) on SSDI. I will be going to Uk/Europe so i can for at least 6 months thats clear. Whats unclear for longer or permanently. Cannot move if its all so unclear and cannot lose my SSDI. SSA and lawyers etc are conveniently unclear.
    So yes i can for 6 months and MAYBE longer.
    so not sure how long i can live out of the country as a noncitizen, green card resident. Whether i will be reviewed even now at 60, if they can do it there, and how long will it take to lose the card etc etc???

    1. Valerie – decisions like this can be stressful! You likely will need to call social security to make sure you are ok, but it looks like as long as you fill out any paperwork they send on time, you may be okay for the long term, assuming you can get a visa to stay that long at your destination! https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org/faq/disability-benefits-living-overseas has the details I was looking at. You may need to agree to do some things through the US consolate where you are staying, and there are some countries (like Cuba and North Korea) that the US won’t send money to. You may want to write a list of questions and call social security…it may be a long wait to get through, but you want to make sure you can carry through and that you get the paperwork right! Your call may go faster if you call in the middle of the week, it seems like the waits are sometimes extra long on Mondays. I wish you the best in your adventure, and would love to hear how things go!

      Best wishes,
      Alison

  2. I was on FMLA then rolled to ADA due to my illness, my doctor put me of work for 4 months and ended this month. However, she extended it for another 6 months… i wanted to visit another country to seek some medical alternatives for a month then back here in the U.S for my doctors appointmnts… Am i allowed to go out of the country that long ? Will my EDD Benefits be cut off ( im from California)? Thank you…Jo

    1. Jo, could you please explain ADA in this context?
      If you are on this EDD program ( https://www.edd.ca.gov/unemployment/Eligibility.htm) then I am concerned about your eligibility, period.
      Part of their requirements are that you are ready and able to work while on the program.

      A friend of mine visited another country while on unemployment, and the program saw that he checked in outside the US. He ended up needing to do additional paperwork explaining that he was still actively seeking work and was prepared to work remotely. He didn’t lose coverage, but maintaining it was a fight.
      If I misunderstood, please let me know, but if I was on unemployment benefits and unable to work, I would fear being at risk for some form of fraud charge. To be clear, I am not accusing you of anything, just expressing concern.
      In your situation, I am not sure how to safely navigate things.

    2. Is it possible at all to be on SSDI and live in another country permanently as long as they can send your paychecks there

      1. As long as you meet the financial requirements and can get health insurance in the country that you choose, you should be able to apply for a resident visa. For example, Spain requires a minimum passive income of 2500€ per month plus a years paid health insurance policy with a Spain insurance company for a Non Lucrative Visa. So yes, if you have the funds, living in Europe is much cheaper than the US. I am a retired American citizen living in Spain since 2014.

  3. I’m wanting to travel around the US, will I still get SSI?
    Can I use a P O Box for my address

    1. The big issue with traveling while on SSI is your health insurance coverage. While generally a bit limited, Medicaid coverage is often only accepted in your geographic area – so if you are traveling, you run the risk of being unable to get medical care in local hospitals or doctor’s offices.

  4. Hello,

    Interesting post. I have a question…are those people with short-term disabilities able to travel abroad while out of work? Perhaps for a 2 week stay, or would that be violating the claim’s policy? Do conditions vary from company to company or is there a general rule/standard?

    Thanks,
    Craig

    1. Craig, great question! It likely depends on why you are on short-term disability and what you are doing on your trip. Short-term disability is also an unspecific title that covers multiple possibilities, so the answer may vary based on who is proving this coverage(employer vs. state) and precisely what their rules are. You would want to read the details of the specific program you are covered under.
      I would be less concerned about the duration of the trip than the reason for it. As an example, travel to visit family members is likely more acceptable than going out to do a strenuous activity. Traveling to a different state or country for specific forms of medical care might be even more accepted.
      Use your best judgement in cases like this, combined with a careful reading of the program’s rules and regulations. Just be sure not to do anything which would call your diagnosis/medical issue into question, and you should be fine. A doctor’s letter affirming this information may also be useful.

      I hope this helps!

  5. How much ssdi income does Mexico require for residency in 2020? I only get 1008$ a month and can’t survive in us! Willing to go to other countries as long as it’s safe, warm, and can afford to live and have healthcare and pain meds. Single woman 58yrs old! Even willing to share apt! Please help!!

    1. Barbara, it looks like that may not be an option: https://www.mexperience.com/financial-criteria-for-residency-in-mexico/ Since you asked, I decided to check, even though that’s outside of my usual topics. They want a minimum of $1945 for pension-based residency.
      There may be other options if you look further south, or there may be additional support programs for you here in the US to help you get by. Please check out my information on the social welfare system, or you might find some additional financial breaks by reading over some of Lily Silver’s works, like this one: https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/2020/03/02/how-to-be-poor-in-america/

  6. I had two surgeries late last year so eventually my doctor said that I could travel but that I should do no physical work.Due to Covid 19 I am stuck in the Caribbean as boarders remain closed and SSDI reduced my payments by sixty percent I spoke to them and was told that I am out of the country for six months I have no money and need medicine for depression and etc. Don’t know what to do. Thank You.

    1. Ava,
      Sounds like you’re in a tough position. I was able to find this: https://www.disability-benefits-help.org/faq/can-I-keep-my-social-security-disability-benefits-if-I-move-out-of-the-USA#:~:text=In%20most%20cases%2C%20if%20you,move%20to%20a%20prohibited%20country. Basically, if you are able to get to US territory you’re okay – is it possible for you to go to the US Virgin Islands from where you are? It looks like if you are able to, you should be able to get your benefits returned to the full amount, since that IS a US territory. Also, as far as your medications go, see if you can use your part D coverage to mail yourself the medication you need. Most plans have a mail-order option, and I’d think that you’d be able to change the delivery address to your location. If the issue is with being prescribed the medication, that may be harder. You can ask your doctor’s office for a refill, but some offices do require in-person visits. With Covid-19, more places are allowing tele-visits, so that may be an option for you.
      I’d also recommend calling social security back and reminding them that there is a pandemic going on, which is why it’s unsafe for you to return to the states. Request an advocate and see if they can return you to full benefits at least for the duration of the emergency. You also may be able to fly TO the US, most places may be happy to get rid of us!

      I hope you find this helpful – let me know if there’s more I can find for you!

      best of luck(and keep thriving)

  7. SSDI and looking at permanent relocation outside the United States. I us EFT and don’t receive a check. Am I going to have any long term issues if I don’t come back in the US at all?

    1. Ken,
      if your address isn’t in the country, there is a possibility of issues, yes. I’d suggest you call social security to dig into your options a bit more. The wording is vague, basically just referencing that you may have problems if you are out of the country for over 6 months.

  8. I’m on permanent SSI. Lately I’ve had an interest in wanting to travel to other countries and would like to leave for extended periods of time. If I leave and come back in 29 days, and then leave again, does coming back reset the clock? How do they even know if I leave the country?

    1. Dean,
      I honestly can’t tell you for certain how they’ll know, but it’s one of those situations where they can and likely would backdate the end of your support if they determined that you were out of the country for more than a month.
      It’s a risk. It may be possible that if you have a reliable mailing address and are able to respond on time to any questions they have, that you are fine, at least for a while.
      The problem is that if at any time they do determine that you were out of the country for longer than permitted, they likely will look at all your information under a microscope and do their best to make the case that you owe a lot of money back to the country for what they would likely classify as fraud.
      If you follow this path, be sure to keep careful records of your travels and save proof of your time away and when you return. That will likely be your only defense if at some point they question your eligibility.

      Social security operates very slowly, but once the program determines an irregularity, they can dig up all kinds of details.

      It’s also very possible that they could access information such as when you went through customs(as you would at the beginning or end of any trip out of the country), which would easily prove how often or long you’d been out of the country.

      Be careful about breaking the rules, that could cost you your benefits with the possibility of more serious accusations.

  9. Hi,
    I’m on SSDI and have been for many years. I want to travel from NY to Fl for the winter months. I have the chance to stay for free. I see a Dr monthly for pain medication. I will be traveling with a friend who will be helping me. Is it ok to get a different Dr while I’m in Fl.? Do I need to inform ssa about my travel. I can have any mail sent down to me but don’t want to break any rules. I have straight Medicare and should be able to get a Dr during the time im in Fl. My Dr has said it’s ok. Is that good enough? Please advise me if im missing anything.
    Thanks
    T

    1. Tanya,
      It sounds like you have your things together ❤
      With Medicare you have the coverage for seeing a different doctor, though you may want to see if your current pain doctor can just prescribe enough medication to cover you for your trip, if your needs are stable enough.
      If you do need to see a pain doctor down there, you may want to research your options now, so you can enjoy your time in FL as much as possible!

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