SEOUL, -- South Koreans living abroad were exempted from paying 3.6 trillion won (US$3.1 billion) in social security taxes over the past 20 years, thanks to bilateral coverage agreements with over 30 countries, the health ministry said Tuesday.

The country has been signing social security agreements (SSAs) with foreign countries since 1999 and currently has such pacts with 33 countries, including the United States, China, many European countries, India and certain Latin American nations, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The ministry said at the end of last year, 74,030 South Koreans have benefited from the arrangements.

The largest exemptions went to Korean nationals living in China who were excused from paying 1.7 trillion won in the neighboring country's social security taxes. This was followed by exemptions for South Koreans residing in the United States and Japan.

The ministry said agreements with 10 countries are for simple exemptions from dual coverage, with the remaining pacts being the more comprehensive "totalization pacts" that count the combined number of years a person put money into a pension plan, regardless of their place of residence.

The welfare ministry said that with more South Koreans living and working abroad, SSA can reduce the burden for individuals, while maximizing their benefits.

Source: Yonhap news Agency