Totalization Agreements: Understanding the Impact on Expat Taxes (2023)


In today's globalized world, many individuals find themselves working in multiple countries, which can lead to complex tax and social security obligations. One crucial aspect for American expats living and working abroad is determining whether the United States has a totalization agreement with their host country. This article aims to shed light on totalization agreements, their significance, and how they can affect expat taxes.

What Is a Totalization Agreement?

A totalization agreement, also known as a social security agreement, is a multinational treaty that establishes rules regarding an expat's social security contributions. These agreements enable individuals who work in multiple countries to collect social security benefits from one or both of their home countries. It is important to note that totalization agreements should not be confused with tax treaties, as they serve different purposes.

Understanding the Impact on Expat Taxes

Expats often face the risk of double taxation, where they are required to pay both social security taxes in their host country and the United States. However, totalization agreements can help mitigate this issue by clarifying which social security system an expat should contribute to. Let's explore how totalization agreements affect employed and self-employed Americans living abroad.

Totalization Agreement for Expat Employees

The details of totalization agreements may vary from country to country, but they typically follow these rules for employees:

  1. Assignment Duration: If a US company assigns an employee to work in another country for less than five years, the employee will continue to pay into the US Social Security system.
  2. Exceeding Five Years: If the assignment exceeds five years, the employee will pay into the social security system of the host country.
  3. Non-US Employer: If an American is working for a non-US employer in another country, they will pay into the social security system of the host country.

It's important to note that expats can contribute to and earn credits from both social security systems at different times or for separate income streams. These credits count toward an individual's social security coverage in both countries, ensuring they receive the benefits they are entitled to.

Totalization Agreement for Self-Employed Expats

For self-employed expats, the rules regarding totalization agreements can be more complex and varied. Factors that may affect the payment of social security taxes include:

  1. Source of Income: The source of an expat's income can determine which social security system they should contribute to.
  2. Duration of Self-Employment: The length of time an individual has been self-employed may also impact their social security obligations.
  3. Nationality and Tax Residency: An expat's nationality and tax residency status can further influence the determination of social security contributions.

Similar to employed expats, self-employed individuals can earn social security credits in both countries, which can be applied to the respective social security systems.

Totalization Agreements vs. Tax Treaties

While totalization agreements aim to prevent double taxation in relation to social security, tax treaties focus on preventing double taxation of income. Tax treaties determine which country has the right to tax a specific source of income. It's essential to note that tax treaties usually do not cover social security contributions. Therefore, expats residing in a treaty country may still face double taxation on social security without a totalization agreement in place.

Benefits and Considerations

If your country of residence is on the list of countries with a totalization agreement with the United States, you may be able to reduce your tax liability using the rules outlined in the agreement. However, totalization agreements can be intricate, and seeking advice from an expat tax professional is highly recommended to navigate the complexities of social security taxation.

It is crucial for all expats, regardless of their location, to maintain accurate and up-to-date records of their earnings and social security contributions. These records play a significant role when claiming benefits or filing taxes, ensuring compliance with the relevant regulations.


In conclusion, totalization agreements play a vital role in protecting American expats from the burden of double taxation on social security contributions. By understanding the rules and implications of totalization agreements, expats can navigate their tax obligations more effectively while maximizing their social security benefits. If you have further questions or need personalized assistance with your expat taxes, consider reaching out to Greenback Expat Tax Services, where dedicated professionals are ready to provide comprehensive guidance for your specific situation.


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