Can I Leave Canada for a Year and Not Lose my Medicare?

Normally, Canadians who leave their home province for longer than half a year risk losing their medicare benefits. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take that one special trip—to meditate in Nepal or trek the world’s outback–so long as you get permission.

As most snowbirds know well, most provinces require you to be physically present for at  least 183 days in order to retain your permanent residence and your medicare. The only exceptions are Ontario and Newfoundland, where you must be physically present for at least 153 days and 122 days respectively.

But all provinces allow dispensations for long term travel –up to one year—for special circumstances, if requested infrequently and not on a routine basis. British Columbia and Ontario may allow such a dispensation once every five years; Quebec, seven years.  Others may also allow you long-term dispensations, but you have to apply, explain your reasons and get written permission before you leave.

In addition, all provinces may require you to remain in your province for a given period after you return, and may also require that  will have spent a consecutive period of time in your province prior to taking your special leave.

It sounds a lot like a schoolmaster giving his students the rules for Christmas vacation, but those are the rules the provinces have set up to make sure residents don’t wander off too far and get into trouble.

During these absences, your governments still strongly advise you to have supplemental out of country insurance.

If you break those rules and are found out, you could be suspended from your provincial medicare  and the only way to be reinstated is to re-apply and spend at least three consecutive months in the province and be able to prove it. During that time you are without government health insurance and you need to get special private coverage if you are to have any medical insurance at all. So play by the rules.

The provincial governments also have special rules that allow students studying abroad, contract workers, missionaries and others posted in foreign countries to be out of their provinces for extended periods without losing their medicare. But all such extensions have to be approved by the provincde before hand.

I emphasize that these extensions are for special circumstances.  They are not for routine use by snowbirds who want to add several weeks or months to their annual vacation in the sun.

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