Do Expatriates, Employees or Students Need Different Plans?

If you are a student studying abroad, a company employee stationed out of Canada for extended periods, or a Canadian national permanently residing out of the country, you need supplemental insurance that goes beyond what is available to occasional or frequent travelers. Since you may no longer be eligible for provincial insurance, you may need coverage for preventive care, annual checkups, and routine medical visits. These are not covered by single trip or annual, multi-trip plans designed to cover medical emergencies.

If you are a student, expatriate or a posted employee, deal with insurers who specialize in products designed for you. And you need to shop carefully because even expatriate plans are no substitute for government health insurance. There are pre-existing conditions limitations you need to understand. For example, if you buy a 12-month policy, any illness or medical treatment you have during that time may be counted as a pre-existing condition when you reapply for new insurance the following year. That new policy is based on your medical status at the time you apply for the new policy, not when you applied the first time. And be careful when using the term “renewal.” Many agents call it that, but it isn’t. It’s a new policy. There are some multi-year policies that cover you for, say, five years based on your health at the time of application. They’re relatively expensive and many people are not willing to make such a long commitment, but if you’re going to be out of the country for longer than a year, know what you’re getting into when seeking coverage over the long term.

I know of many Canadians emigrating to the U.S. or some other country find these expatriate plans to be just the ticket to tide them over until they qualify for coverage in their adoptive country. But they have limitations. So be sure you know what they don’t cover. If moving to the U.S., where there is no government health insurance for people under 65, unless you are covered by an employer’s plan, insurance is very expensive and often hard to get. Until you get established, expatriate or international insurance offers a reasonable alternative. But get it before you leave.

If you are a student, be aware that more and more colleges in the United States are now requiring foreign students to have adequate health insurance in place, or to buy special insurance designed for that college. Be prepared to pay. Some colleges in Florida charge well over $1,200 annually, and plenty of co-payments and deductibles apply. Private colleges throughout the U.S. almost all require such insurance as a condition of enrollment. You may be best off buying insurance plans designed in Canada specifically for Canadians studying abroad.

Note also that if you are out of your normal province of residence for more than six months (seven in Ontario) you might lose your eligibility for even your basic provincial health coverage, although there are some dispensations for people who have legitimate reasons other than tourism, to be out of the country for extended periods. Though you may have lived in Canada all your life and paid all the taxes along the way, your medicare is not a birthright. If some bureaucrat in your provincial health ministry finds you have been spending more time out of the country than in during a calendar year, you could lose your provincial health insurance eligibility, and it could take you three months of residence back home to regain it. And you would have to verify that three months.

I’ve seen it happen. You’d think these bureaucrats had something better to do.

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