Out-of-the Country This Summer? Keep Track of Your Days.

Vacation time is here, and if you’re travelling out of the country, you need to keep track of your days so you don’t contravene U.S. laws or your own medicare eligibility rules. You don’t need to be obsessive. But there are limits to your international travel.

Vacations are to enjoy. They’re not supposed to add stress to your life. You want to be able to slip across the border for a few days or a couple of weeks without carrying a calendar with you. And you also want to be able to take a quick trip on the spur of the moment if the opportunity arises. You can do that.  But it’s easier if you keep track as you go, and know the basic rules before you go.

Since we posted advisories about out-of-country travel rules several months ago, the reactions from visitors to Travelinsurancefile have been overwhelming. It’s clearly an issue that needs to be repeated again and again.  So here’s a little review.

The United States allows Canadians to enter as visitors for up to six months per calendar year. That is from January 1 to December 31: in one continuous stretch or in several shorter stays. But border agents have a lot of latitude.  And if they see you abusing that privilege by linking up your six-month quota from one year, directly to the six month quote of the following year, they can turn you around and send you home because they can justifiably think that you don’t have a permanent home in Canada, that your roots are not there, and that you have no intention to return. Use your common sense and don’t get greedy.  Visiting a foreign country is a privilege and not a right.

A totally separate and distinct set of rules, one that has nothing to do with the U.S., is the out-of-province allowance for the retention of your medicare eligibility. In order for you to be eligible for medicare, you must be a legal, permanent resident of your province, physically present in your province for a specified number of days: not just have a home there, or have your business or family there, but actually live in the province.  All provinces except Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador require you to be physically present for 183 days per year.  Ontario allows you to be out of the province for 212 days (seven months) and Newfoundland and Labrador  243 days (eight months). But the provinces count their “years” differently, so pay attention.

All provinces except Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland count their in-province requirement on a calendar-year basis. That means you add up all the days you were, or plan to be, out of the province in any given year (from January 1 to December 31) and that tells you if you are in compliance or not. The other four provinces mentioned base their in-province requirement on any 12-month period, and that could overlap the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  For example if you left your province October 15 and returned May 15 of the following year you will have been out of the province for 212 days during the last 12-months—the limit for Ontario.

Quebec goes by the calendar year rule (183 days), but allows you short trips of up to 21 days in addition, without counting them against your quota.  All provinces allow extended trips, but only rarely and only after making special application.

Losing your medicare eligibility is serious business, because once you do, you need to reinstate it by living continuously, without interruption, in your province for at least three months.  And you’ll have to be able to prove it. During that time you’ll be without government insurance coverage and if you’re to be covered for health care you’ll need to buy private insurance.  Many of the insurers advertising on TIF offer such coverage.  Check them out if that’s your situation.

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