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Social Security Rights

21 January 2010
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 21 January 2010

EU rules introduced in 1971 coordinate European countries’ social security schemes, offering solutions to most cross-border problems that may arise. These rules were updated and a new, improved coordination system will enter into force in May 2010.


EU rules do not standardise the different national systems, or replace them with a “single European scheme”. Every country is free to determine the details of its own social security system, including what benefits can be provided, to whom and how much they will be. The only requirement is that they must adhere to the basic principle of equal treatment regardless of nationality.

These rules apply in particular to EU nationals in their capacity as employed and self-employed persons, civil servants, students or pensioners who are moving within the EU, as well as to their family members, or survivors, even if they do not have EU nationality.

Since 2003, third-country nationals and their family members and survivors have also been covered by these rules, provided they are legally resident in the territory of an EU Member State and are in a cross-border situation, ie a situation which concerns not only one Member State, for example, a worker who is working in Member State A and whose children are studying in Member State B.

Your social security rights when moving abroad

Once you start a job in another country, you will enjoy the right of equal treatment regardless of nationality. Another principle is that you are subject to the legislation of only one country. This is to avoid a situation where you pay social security contributions in more than one country or you are not insured in any country. You will, in general, be insured in the country where you work.

There is an exception to this rule: posting abroad. Posting means that the undertaking which employs you in one country sends you temporarily to another country. You will then stay insured under the legislation of the 'old' country whilst being posted in the 'new' country. See guide on the posting of workers under 'related documents'.

For certain categories of persons, different rules apply:

  • Mariners: If you are a mariner and you work on board a vessel flying the flag of a Member State, you will be insured in that State, even if you live in another country.
  • Workers in international transport: If you are employed by an undertaking operating international transport services (by rail, road, air or inland waterway) you are insured in the Member State in which this undertaking is based (exceptions apply if you are employed in a branch office or agency of that undertaking in another Member State or if you are employed primarily in the country where you live).
  • Civil servants: As a civil servant you are insured in the country of the administration which employs you.
  • Persons called up for service in the armed forces: You will be subject to the legislation of the country in whose armed forces you are serving. The same applies to persons called up for civilian service.
  • Persons employed by diplomatic missions or consular posts: As a rule, you will be insured in the State of employment (i.e. the State where the diplomatic mission or consular post is situated); however, if you are a national of the accrediting or sending State, you may opt to be insured in this State instead.

Pensions - EULISSES

The EU coordination of national social security schemes ensures that your pension rights are protected when you move to live and/or work within the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.

Once you reach pensionable age, you will receive a pension proportionate to your social security record in each country you worked in.

If you have not had social security cover in a particular country for long enough to qualify for a pension that country will take account of your social security record in other countries.

Your pension will be exported, regardless of the length of time you lived or stayed abroad.

EUlisses guides to pensions

Coordination of other benefits

EU rules on social security coordination apply to all national benefits including sickness, maternity, old-age, survivor's and invalidity pensions, unemployment or family benefits.

Unemployment benefits

If you become unemployed, you can generally only claim unemployment benefits in the country where you were insured immediately before you became unemployed.

If you are a frontier worker, you generally receive unemployment benefits under the legislation of the country where you live.

EU legislation allows you to retain unemployment benefits if you go to another country to look for work. These benefits are only available for a limited time and under certain conditions:

  • You must have remained available to the unemployment services of the State which pays your unemployment benefit for at least four weeks after becoming unemployed. (This period can be shortened, however, by the unemployment service concerned.) The underlying idea is that you should first exhaust all possibilities of finding a new job in your own country before extending your search for employment to other countries.
  • Within seven days of departing, you have to register with the unemployment services of the country in which you are looking for work.
  • You have to comply with the control procedures organised by the unemployment services of that country.
  • You will then retain your unemployment benefit for a maximum period of three months. If you are not able to find a new job within this period, you will continue to receive unemployment benefits in the country where you were last employed only if you return before the end of the three-month period. If you return later than this, without the explicit permission of the employment services of that country, you will lose all entitlement to benefits. You are entitled to the three-month payment only once between two periods of employment.
  • Please note that many unemployed persons lose their entitlement to benefits because of unfamiliarity with the conditions set out above. They leave the country where they were last employed without having registered with its employment services, they register too late with the employment services of the State where they are looking for work, or they return after the expiry of the three-month period. You should, therefore, contact the employment services of the State which pays your unemployment benefit before leaving the country. This institution will provide you with form E303 which you must present to the services of the country where you are looking for work in order to get your benefit paid within a reasonable time.

Family benefits

Family benefits exist in all countries, although their characteristics and amounts vary considerably from one country to another. EU legislation coordinates family benefits as follows:

  • If members of your family reside in the same country under whose legislation you are insured (normally the country where you work), this country is always competent for the payment of family benefits
  • If members of your family reside in a different country than the country under which you are insured, your family receives, in principle, the highest amount of benefits provided for in the legislation of the countries concerned. In order to avoid overcompensation, Community law provides for overlapping provisions.
  • If you are unemployed, the country which pays your unemployment benefits grants you family benefits, also for members of your family residing in another country.
  • If you are a pensioner, you normally receive family benefits from the country which pays your pension.

Source: European Commission

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