Provinces Set Out-of Country Travel limits, Not Ottawa

When we recently posted an advisory on how long you can stay out of the country for tourism or routine visits, the response was unbelievable.  It seems many of you are confused on that point. Well, it is confusing. Let’s go over the facts.

Each province regulates its own medicare program and only legal residents of that province are eligible. To be eligible, all provinces except Ontario and Newfoundland require you to be physically present for at least half the year (six months plus day). Ontario requires your physical presence for only five months, and Newfoundland and Labrador for four. The rest of the time you can travel.

If you contravene those limits, the province can withdraw your medicare benefits, and you will have to apply for reinstatement after three month of residence, during which you will be uninsured. And you will have to prove your presence for those three months, without interruption.

In most cases the out-of-country travel allowance is cumulative, which means you can total up several trips and apply them to your total for the year. Example: 120 days in Florida, 30 in Portugal, 30 in Ireland= 180.  Two days left in your bank.

An important point to consider is that whether your take your 182 days out of the country or out of your province, it’s all the same to the provincial authorities.  If, for example, you use up your full 182-day allotment in Arizona, you don’t have anything left to visit your relatives in another province—technically. I say technically because who really know when you travel interprovincially? We don’t have provincial border cops.  But if you have an especially nosy and spiteful neighbour who keeps tabs on you, you may be vulnerable.  In any case, be aware of that possibility.

Some provinces, however, give you a little more wiggle room. Quebec, for example, allows additional short trips of up to 21 days, which it does not count against the 182-day limit.  Saskatchewan also gives snowbirds a break by not monitoring their out-of-province trips during the summer months.

In addition, virtually all provinces provide allowance for special, occasional—not annual or routine–long term trips, but you must apply for those.  If you plan a round-the-world cruise, or are planning a year long expedition to some remote region, you can probably get permission if you apply to your provincial health authority. Don’t overlook this possibility.  Usually this comes with restrictions about how long you must stay in your province after you return, or how often you can take such trips.  This is not intended to allow abuse of the normal snowbird rules.

Remember, however, that trips into the United States are governed by that country’s customs and immigration authorities, and those are limited to no more than six months per year—counted cumulatively. Contravening these rules can have very serious consequences, although it’s rare for border authorities to hassle you for an occasional or unintentional lapse.  Still, don’t get greedy.

There are also special permits for students, expatriates or business people living abroad. All provinces have such allowances but you have to get the specifics from your own provincial authority. It need not be complicated. Just do a search for medicare eligibility at your provincial level and you should see any recent changes.

And if you still have trouble, send us a question and we’ll do our best to find the answer for you.

Most important, any trip out of the country should be covered by travel insurance from the moment you cross the border until you re-cross it on your way home.

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