Canada’s new trade agreement with the United States and Mexico (replacing NAFTA) has gone through a tortuous negotiation, but finally has been completed.
And according to the new rules built into USMCA (US, Mexico, Canada Agreement) there are no changes to visa requirements for workers and professionals affected by the new accord. The old NAFTA rules remain for business visitors, professionals, intra-company transferees, and traders and investors. (For details or updates on those rules, you can visit the Government of Canada’s website.)
In short, the agreement doesn’t change a member country’s general immigration regulations governing public health, safety, and national security; and, significantly for workers and professionals posted abroad for long periods, it still doesn’t make provisions for any kind of reciprocity for health care coverage as has been a staple for individuals and companies operating within European Union countries.
USMCA (like its forerunner NAFTA) is tied to trade, and trade only. And given the vast differences in the way health care is delivered and paid for in the US and Canada—and Mexico as well—that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. That means that workers/professionals posted abroad under the USMCA must plan their health coverage options carefully, and preferably with professional guidance.
Travel insurance plans designed for short-term visits to foreign countries are only available to Canadians who actually live in their home provinces for at least five months a year (except for Prince Edward Island or Quebec, which have mandatory six-month residency requirements). They’re not designed for expatriates posted abroad for longer periods, or students pursuing degrees abroad.
Neither do they offer the more extensive coverage benefits, such as regular health assessments, maternity benefits, or preventive services, that workers posted abroad need to have, especially if they are accompanied by their families.
More than 85% of resident Americans are well covered for their health care needs by Medicare-based plans for the elderly or disabled, and employer- or business-sponsored plans for employees. The remainder have access to individual medical insurance through large private insurers, but accessing any of these plans for non-permanent US residents is complicated and expensive.
However, expatriate or international plans are available from many of the Canadian insurers who also offer short-term out-of-country insurance, albeit it’s best to deal with agents and brokers who have expertise in these products and can tailor plans according to need—this can be done at the corporate level for companies employing or sponsoring their expat workers, or independently for workers, professionals, or students arranging travel on their own.
Individual health needs vary. Differences need to be addressed according to the worker’s age, health status, family circumstance, location and duration of posting, and type of work. There are many variables that need to be considered, and cost is only one of them.
Best to deal with insurers that can offer and explain a variety of products and options. Take your time. But don’t try to do it yourself.
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