Update on How Long Canadians Can Stay Out of the Country

Since publishing our February report on how long Canadians can stay out of the country according to U.S. and provincial rules, we have been besieged by questions relating to readers’ specific situations. So let’s take another run at it, with a little more detail and updates.

First, let’s understand that there are two separate and distinct sets of rules that govern how long you can stay out of your own country and province.

The first is the U.S. rule that allows Canadian visitors to spend up to six months in that country in any given year. (This allowance is far more generous than the 90 days it grants visitors from other nations).

The second set of rules is the one applied by provincial health ministries that require you to be physically present in your home province for a specified time in order to qualify as a permanent resident, and therefore be eligible for medicare. For most provinces, that requirement is six months plus a day (183 days) spent at home. The exceptions are Ontario—which requires you to be present for only five months (153 days) and Newfoundland and Labrador which requires only four months (122 days). The remainder of the time you can be out of the province or out of the country.

In all cases, if you lose your medicare eligibility, you must reinstate it by being physically present in your province for a minimum of three consecutive months. During that time you will be without provincial health insurance.

According to U.S. rules, you can use your six month allotment in one trip, as many snowbirds do, or split up your trips into several shorter segments. The U.S. also calculates its allotments on monthly bases: example, from October 15 to April 15 (which actually is 184 days).

The provinces also differ slightly in the way they do their counting: the following provinces/territories require you to be physically present for at least 183 days per calendar year (whether in one stretch or in shorter segments):  B.C. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, PEI, NWT, Nunavut, Yukon.

Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador calculate their in-province residency requirements on “any 12-month period,” even if it overlaps from one year to the next.These differences may appear subtle, but the 12-month period criterion prevents residents of these provinces from fusing one full allowance at the end of one year, to another one at  the beginning of the next, so as to gain one big windfall. Obviously U.S. border agents would quickly catch on to this tactic.

Snowbirds who tend to settle in the sun for long periods, often six months at a stretch, sometimes complain that the provincial residency rules prevent them from travelling inter-provincially during the summer as they will have used up their out-of-province allotment. And though we don’t have border agents guarding provincial boundaries to check on who goes where within Canada, this does present a deterrent to inter-provincial travel later in the year.

Quebec has a more practical approach: it allows its residents to travel out of the province, or even out of the country, for short trips of up to 21 days without counting them against the 183-day per year residency requirement. The Regie, in  Quebec, however, warns its residents that it conducts checks to ensure compliance, and persons not following the rule will lose their health coverage for the entire year in which they contravened the 183-day rule, and will have to repay the costs of any medical services provided to them during that year.  Any questions?


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