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Emigrating with State Benefits

Many people who consider emigrating to Bulgaria are confused about what state benefits they can claim as an expat. With more and more people choosing to leave the UK for good this has become a hot topic and the good news is there are quite a few benefits that you are legally entitled to whilst living permanently in Bulgaria.

State Pension

One benefit that remains with you for the rest of your life regardless of where you live is the state pension and this goes an awful lot further in Bulgaria than in the UK.  Of course to qualify in the first place you must have paid into the UK national insurance scheme during your working life. Once you decide to move you have to inform the Pension Service. Your state pension will continue to be paid into your UK bank account and any correspondence relating to it will be sent to your Bulgarian address. If you are just nearing retirement age, the Pension Service will send you a claim form four months before reaching the UK pensionable age.

If you already live in Bulgaria and have been paying National Insurance contributions here you need to state this on the form because your claim will be handled in a different way; this does not mean you will lose out on your UK pension, it will just be handled by the Bulgarian authorities instead. If you don’t work in Bulgaria and are not paying National Insurance contributions here, it is worth continuing to pay voluntary National Insurance Contributions (Nics) so that you will qualify for a full state pension on your retirement. There are also other benefits associated with paying Nics.
If you are unsure about what your state pension will be when you retire you can apply for a pension forecast and this will give you an idea of what you will be entitled to as well as whether you can change your contributions to augment your state pension for the time that you retire.  
Any inquiries you may have about UK state pensions can be handled online or by correspondence with  the Pension Service International Pension Centre at Tyneview Park, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE98 1A, UK or www.thepensionservice.gov.uk

Winter Fuel Allowance

Another benefit, which you can claim in Bulgaria is the Winter Fuel Allowance. This is a payment made to all pensioners in the UK and it adds up to around £200 to £300 depending on your age and circumstances. To qualify for this benefit you must have been claiming the payment, while you were in the UK, so if you are coming up to retirement age and already live in Bulgaria you will not be able to claim. More information is available from Winter Fuel Payment Centre, Southgate House, Cardiff Central Royal Mail, Cardiff, CF91 1ZH or visit the Pension Service website.

Jobseeker's Allowance

If you are looking for work in the UK and decide that you would rather do this in Bulgaria, you can still claim your Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) but only for a three month period. It is worth bearing in mond that by going to look for work in Bulgaria you will not qualify for income-based JSA. You must be registered in the UK for JSA four months before you leave and you have to be actively seeking work in the UK when you leave. The Job Centre must be satisfied that you are going abroad to look for work and you will have to register at the Bulgarian equivalent within seven days of getting you last benefit. If you suddenly find yourself out of work in Bulgaria and have been making National Insurance contributions here you will qualify for unemployment benefit from the Bulgarian authorities. The qualifying period for unemployment benefits is 9 months during the last 15 months and the benefit paid is 60% of the average monthly wage during the last 9 months length of insurance. The amount should be no lower than 90 lv. and a maximum of 180 lv. The Bulgarian government only pays unemployment benefit for a maximum of 12 months and is subject to the amount of contributions made.  You can find out more information about the system in Bulgaria at the National Social Security Institute www.nssi.bg.

Child Benefit

Providing you continue to make NI contributions in the UK you will still be able to claim Child Benefit. If you are living overseas, but your child is staying in the UK and is still in full time education then the person who is looking after your child can claim this benefit. Firstly, you must contact the Child Benefit Office and notify them of a change in your circumstances and they will assess whether you will still qualify or not. If you are only going to Bulgaria for a year then they will continue to make payments to your UK bank account, but if you move is permanent and you do not intend to continue making NI contributions you will not qualify. More information can be obtained at www.hmrc.gov.uk/childbenefit/index.htm .Likewise if you contribute to the Bulgarian National Insurance system then you will qualify for this benefit here and you can find out more information at www.nssi.bg.

Disability Living Allowance

A new ruling by the European Court determined that the Disability Living Allowance can be paid to you if you move abroad and in fact you can take three associated benefits with you; the Disability Living Allowance excluding the care component the Attendance Allowance and the Carer’s Allowance. You must continue to satisfy the usual conditions to qualify for the allowance while you are in Bulgaria; Carers must continue to care for someone for at least 35 hours a week who gets UK Attendance Allowance or Disability Living Allowance at the middle or highest rate. Normally that will mean they are both living in Bulgaria. The UK Government is still in the process of determining whether people already living abroad can now make a claim but until the Government has decided on this it is not allowing claims from people already abroad.

 

Other Benefits

You will only qualify for Sick and Maternity Pay if you work for a UK employer whilst based in Bulgaria. Widows' allowances and bereavement payments, and any benefits payable for industrial injury or disease can all be transferred to Bulgaria. Again whether you qualify depends on whether your deceased partner paid relevant NI contributions in the two tax years before the calendar year in which you claim the benefit abroad. In 2008 that would mean you had paid National Insurance contributions on just over £4,000 of earnings in 2005/06 and 2006/07. You will also qualify if you are the spouse, civil partner or dependent child of a person who has paid enough contributions. If you become too ill or disabled to work you can get incapacity benefit as long as you have paid enough NI contributions. If you go to live in Bulgaria you can take your incapacity benefit with you as long as you continue to fulfil the medical conditions for getting it.