How would a government shutdown affect U.S. expats? S.S. payments are safe but other services would suffer

Sep 29, 2013

As Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., blame each other over the prospects of a U.S. government shutdown, U.S. citizens living out of the country, including in Ecuador, wonder how a shutdown will affect them?

chl capitol1The biggest issue for most expat retirees is whether they will continue to receive their Social Security payments. The answer is yes, although new sign-ups for the system could be delayed, since government employees who ordinarily handle new accounts will probably be on furlough.

Social Security and the U.S. armed forces are generally considered the “third rails” in any budget dispute in Congress. Neither Democrats or Republicans want to be blamed for stopping payments to retirees, who constitute a large voting block or, for imperiling the ability of military forces to defend U.S. interests.

Other effects on expats could be to air travel, since air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees are on the government payroll. In two government shutdowns in the 1990s, thousands of flights, including international flights, were cancelled.

Another possible impact on expats would be to those who need documents processed by the U.S. government. A shutdown would also affect those about to ship household goods from the U.S., since all outgoing shipments need to be checked by government customs agents, most of whom would be on furlough.

Although U.S. embassies and consulates would not close because of their strategic importance, some services to expats and travelers could be affected, including issuance and renewal of passports, as well as general assistance provided to citizens living and traveling out of the country.

Although a short shutdown will have limited affect on most people, including expats, a prolonged cessation of government activities could have dire consequences. At this point, no one in the government wants to speculate on such a scenario.

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