As someone who indefinitely left the United States more than two years ago in order to live a better lifestyle abroad as an early retiree expat, I don’t have any intentions on moving back to the USA.
My life overseas is just too good to give up.
It sometimes feels like I’m on a 24/7 vacation, even though I remain productive with many of the same things that I was doing when I still lived in the States.
It’s crazy what a change in location can do, though. Especially when that change involves entire countries.
Moving back to the US doesn’t appeal to me. It’s simply not enticing at the current moment.
Now, I’m not saying it’ll never happen. Never say never. There are actually some big reasons why I’d consider moving back.
Well, I think there’s another big reason for an expat to consider moving back to the USA.
That reason is to bring a foreign spouse back to the United States.
Maybe. After all, if you’ve got it good in another country, don’t fix what’s not broken.
Speaking from an American man’s perspective, if you go on to marry a woman in a foreign country, while you’re living there, the common intention is to permanently live in her country.
However, I think there are two major benefits to bringing a foreign wife back to the USA.
I’m not saying these two benefits on their own are enough to convince anyone to go back. But they’re very much worth at least keeping in mind.
I’m not personally a big fan of marriage. And if I were to get married as an expat, I’d probably remain abroad. But these two benefits are compelling enough to at least keep in the back of my mind, should I get married in the future.
If you are married (or even engaged) to a woman in a foreign country, and if you’ve totally dismissed the idea of moving back to the States with your wife, I think you might want to read along.
These benefits are fairly significant. And they’re typically inaccessible for as long as you remain abroad with your wife. They can usually only be accessed if you move her to the United States.
Social Security Retirement Benefits
This is huge.
If you move your wife back to the States, you put her on a path to permanent residency and citizenship.
This means she’s also on a path to collecting Social Security payments at the appropriate age.
There are two ways this can happen.
She could collect spousal SS retirement benefits (typically capped at a maximum of 50% of the primary benefit, although it could be less).
Or she could collect primary SS retirement benefits of her own, but she’d have to acquire the necessary 40 credits before that could be triggered.
Your wife could wind up securing a new source of passive retirement income for the household. That’s once SS retirement benefits are being paid out.
If we calculate the spousal benefit off of the average SS retirement benefit of $1,461/month for 2019, that could be $730.50/month in extra household income. Now, that’s in today’s dollars, but COLA roughly matches up with inflation.
Conversely, she could start working, build up the credits, and even end up collecting the average – or higher – primary SS retirement benefit of her own. The benefit amount would depend on how old she is, when she starts working, her income, etc.
This could be hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars per month that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. That’s because your spouse has to either acquire credits in the US (for the primary SS retirement benefit) or meet the five-year residency requirement (for the spousal SS retirement benefit). There are exceptions to this, such as citizen spouses of treaty countries, but most situations will involve the credits and/or residency requirement.
This extra income might not be enough to offset the jump in cost of living that one would experience after moving back to the United States. It depends totally on one’s situation (which foreign country they live in, how long they will live, etc.).
I know my cost of living here in Chiang Mai, Thailand is about 1/3 of what I’d be looking at in any desirable US city – if we’re comparing things on an apples-to-apples lifestyle basis. So even an extra ~$700/month in household income down the line isn’t much.
But if you already have even a modicum of yearning to move back to the States, this potential monthly windfall might be enough to sway you.
A US Passport
While it’s not necessarily a benefit that can be condensed into dollars and cents, giving your wife access to a US passport is really quite invaluable.
This is coming from a guy who’s dating a Thai citizen and plans to travel with her.
It’s very difficult to do so.
The Thai passport is not exactly a golden ticket to global exploration. It ranks pretty low on the HPI.
Getting a Thai woman a visa to, say, any country in the Schengen Area is kind of a nightmare. The likelihood of getting a visa at all is low. And a denial would come after spending time and money on the process of trying to pass. Even getting Oh to the States as a tourist is tough. We’re mostly limited to ASEAN and South American countries.
A US passport for your foreign spouse could be a major upgrade in terms of your ability to travel together. But this depends on the citizenship of your spouse. I see this idea as most advantageous if your spouse is from a developing country.
I’m hunkering down right now with content production. Current endeavors relate more to personal and professional growth. However, the next phase of my life involves extended international travel, possibly to the point of living in 2-3 different countries all year.
It’s easy for me to do something like this. I can readily live in SE Asia for 6-9 months per year, then just hop over to Europe for summers.
But it’s not easy at all for Oh to follow along. The more we research this, the more difficult it appears to be.
And a big impediment is her Thai passport.
If you have a foreign spouse, upgrading her with a US passport might be like getting her a golden ticket to the world. It opens up a lot of doors.
Not all passports are ranked as low as the Thai passport. Some are ranked higher. Some are lower.
So the value of a US passport will vary depending on circumstances, including how much you plan to travel. But it could be a tremendous benefit that is highly worthy of consideration.
These two benefits are, in my opinion, significant enough to at least consider bringing back a foreign spouse to live in the States. Of course, it depends on the citizenship of your foreign spouse and the overall situation. For instance, being married to a Canadian is a lot different than being married to a Filipina.
However, moving back and setting yourself up with a powerful passport and a significant sum of extra monthly household income in one’s later years is nothing to sneeze at.
Keep in mind, it’s not like you’d have to move back to the US and live there forever.
If you can move back and stay just long enough for her to acquire the necessary residency and citizenship benefits (they can be had as quickly as five years), you could then both disembark once more – except you now have these two benefits you didn’t have before.
Just like it’s possible to take advantage of temporary geographic arbitrage, it’s possible to temporarily move back to the States for some big perks. No change needs to last forever. In fact, no change will. That’s the very nature of change.
With all of this said, I don’t think it’s worth moving back to the USA solely for these two benefits. Giving up that sweet, sweet, FEIE is a tough ask. Moreover, the I-864 Affidavit of Support might turn anyone off to the idea of ever coming back with a foreign spouse. And I’d strongly recommend following three important steps before you ever get married – regardless of where you get married.
But if one is married abroad and already has thoughts about going back to the States, these benefits are lucrative enough to insert into an existing cost-benefit analysis to see where things shake out.
What do you think? Ever consider bringing a foreign spouse back to the United States? Do these two benefits strike you as worthy of consideration? Why or why not?
Thanks for reading.
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