Most Canadian snowbirds aren’t aware that they run the risk of losing their provincial health care insurance coverage if they spend long periods of time outside Canada.
Every province and territory has residency rules that must be followed in order to remain eligible for government health insurance coverage - stay out of the country too long, and you run the risk of being ineligible and losing your health card privileges.
Losing your provincial coverage can be particularly devastating for snowbirds, as it can have serious implications on two fronts:
- When you return to Canada, your provincial plan won’t cover any of your medical expenses, which could result in significant or even devastating medical bills for services we are so used to receiving free of charge, including doctor visits, testing, treatments, procedures and hospital stays.
You can apply for a health card renewal when you return to your province of resdience, but the process can be long and tedious and leave you without medical coverage for months while you get your eligibility back and your elapplication works its way through the system.
- A lesser known, but equally dangerous consequence for Canadian snowbirds who lose their provincial health insurance coverage is that any travel medical insurance policy you have purchased to cover medical expenses incurred outside Canada won’t cover your claims unless your provincial health care insurance is valid.
Your travel insurance policy will have a term requiring you to be covered by your province’s health care plan for the full term of your insurance, as insurance companies co-ordinate any claims you make while outside Canada with your province to recoup some of your medical expenses. If your provincial health care coverage lapses, your travel medical insurance policy will become null and void in almost all circumstances.
How hard is it to keep your provincial health care?
The good news for snowbirds is that maintaining your provincial health care coverage is free and easy, as long as you follow the rules outlined by your province or territory, so there’s no reason why you should ever lose your coverage.
Your Province Only Covers a Fraction of Out of Country Medical Expenses
Be aware that maintaining your provincial health care coverage does not mean you'll be covered for medical expenses outside Canada. Provinces severely limit the types of medical services covered and coverage amounts medical expenses incurred outside Canada, only covering a very small fraction of these costs.
For example, a hospital stay in the U.S. can cost $10,000 or more per day, but Ontario OHIP will only cover a maximum of $400 per day - a measly 4% of your total out of country hospital stay costs!
To ensure you're covered for unexpected medical expenses while travelling, you'll need to purchase snowbird travel medical insurance.
Provincial Health Card Coverage Rules
Below is a general overview of each province and territory’s requirements for residents to maintain their provincial health insurance coverage if planning long term travel outside Canada.
Some provinces have additional rules related to travel notice and application requirements and extended travel allowances. For complete program details and up-to-date requirements, visit the health insurance section of your province or territory’s website listed below.
- Must be physically present in Alberta for at least 183 days during any 12 month period.
- Must be physically present in British Columbia for at least 183 days in a calendar year.
- Must be physically present in Manitoba for at least 183 days in a calendar year.
- Report any expected absences of 90 days or more in a 12 month period and apply for a Term Registration Certificate
- Must be physically present in New Brunswick for at least 183 days during any 12 month period.
- Must be physically present in Newfoundland for at least 4 consecutive months during any 12 month period.
- Must make your home and be physically present in the Northwest Territories for at least 153 days in a calendar year.
- Report any expected absences of 90 days or more by submitting a Temporary Absence Form
- Must be physically present in Nova Scotia for at least 183 days in any 12 month period.
- Must be a “permanent resident” of Nunavut. A permanent resident is a person who has Nunavut as their primary place of residence
- Must make your primary place of residence Ontario and be physically present in Ontario for at least 153 days during any 12 month period
- Newcomers must be physically present in Ontario for at least 153 days of the first 183 days immediately after establishing residency in the province
Prince Edward Island
- Must be physically present in PEI for at least 6 months plus 1 day in any year
- Can not spend 183 days or more outside Quebec in a calendar year
- However, you can take an unlimited number of short-term trips, each not longer than 21 consecutive days, that do not count against the 183 day limit
- Must make your home and be present in Saskatchewan for at least 6 months every year
- Must make your permanent home in the Yukon and not be physically absent for more than 6 months