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When to Enroll in Medicare for Legal Permanent Residents

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The general rule is that at age 65 or older, you must have established legal residency (gotten a green card) and have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years before becoming eligible for Medicare benefits.

But some people get their green cards only after living in the United States for more than five years, and some (for example, those who win U.S. immigration “lotteries” in their own countries) get a green card even before moving to the States.

So the Social Security Administration’s rule is that you become eligible for Medicare as soon as both conditions (green card and five-year residency) have been met. That point in time becomes the middle (fourth) month of your seven-month initial enrollment period (IEP).

For example, Katerina had lived in the United States for just four years when she was granted her green card in October 2011, but she needed another year of residency before becoming eligible for Medicare in October 2012. So her IEP for Medicare enrollment began July 1, 2012 and ended January 31, 2013.

Note that as a legal resident, your enrollment may be affected by different rules. For example, if you’ve paid U.S. payroll taxes long enough to have earned 40 work credits, you qualify for full Medicare benefits in your own right with no waiting period. If you’re married to a U.S. citizen or another legal resident, the five-year residency requirement may not apply.

Also, if you’re covered by an employer health plan from your or your spouse’s current work, you’re entitled to delay Part B, provided you meet the conditions.

Because specific circumstances for noncitizens can vary greatly, calling the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 (or TTY 800-325-0778) to find out exactly when you can enroll in Medicare is a wise idea.

This information does not explain whether you qualify for Medicare in these circumstances. This advice is only for the best time to enroll in order to avoid late penalties if you’re in one of these situations.

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