Dreading Retirement – An Ex Pat Headache

It is now official. My husband and I have social security numbers in three different countries. While on the surface it may look like we have hit the ‘pension jackpot’, the reality is most likely going to be a nightmare. As Americans (who have to file a tax return each year no matter where we live), we already have the country finger-pointing to deal with when it is tax time. But there are tax agreements, are there not? Well, yes, but what is decided at policy level usually turns into a bureaucratic minefield at the level of access. America wants to know exactly what taxes we have paid in Germany (not just what was withheld), and Germany wants us to do the American tax returns first before submitting one to them. So yes, we have a tax accountant in the USA and a tax lawyer here in Germany to help us negotiate the maze. Basically, “tax time” is all year long over two years for each tax year, and we are spending almost as much on our paid help as we do in taxes – or at least if feels that way.

So you can understand my dread of the year we retire. Thanks to the age difference between my husband and myself, we will be able to retire the same year. In September, we will have been married 30 years. Of those, 9 were spent in the USA (of which we are citizens), 15 were in the UK and 6 (and counting) in Germany. Presuming we will stay in Germany until retirement (the current plan), we will have spent 20 years in Germany. I was reading up recently on agreements about social security retirement payments between the UK and America. It sounds very logical, but what happens when a third country is thrown into the mix? I have a feeling that Germany will absorb the UK and US elements and be our main source – especially if the UK is still part of the EU. But that is 14 years down the road, and who knows what will happen. Germany is well-known for checking out what pensions from other sources you are eligible for – and reducing their outgoings relative to those amounts. If our tax affairs are anything to go by, getting through all that pension paperwork for 3 countries could take a few years. I suspect we will need a healthy savings account to float us while the bureaucrats bicker. We do have non-governmental pensions, of course. Ah – more with which to delay payments. How delightful.


About Lois Loban Stuckenbruck

Trained as a Ballerina, then completed a BA in Business Adm and English Literature at Milligan College. More recently trained to be a lay pastor (Reader) in the Church of England. Wife of a Biblical Scholar, Mother of three. I'm an American who has also lived many years in England and Germany (currently Munich). I have worked as an Editorial Assistant, Systems Manager (Xerox Stars on Ethernet Network), and several positions in higher education fundraising (Alumni and Development).
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2 Responses to Dreading Retirement – An Ex Pat Headache

  1. Walter L. Taylor says:

    Will your residence in retirement have any impact on collecting from the social security programs of the other two countries?

    • The country of residence is not as important as the length of employment for deciding who pays what (as far as I can tell). However, if you land in one country and receive payments from another, you will have to deal with fluctuating exchange rates and loss of money through international transfers.

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