Maintaining Provincial Health Coverage While Traveling

Residency Requirements

In BC, a recent court case highlighted the issue of maintaining provincial medical coverage while traveling outside of Canada.  A retired couple had spent a lot of their time visiting family in the Middle East from 2001 to 2010, and rarely used BC’s Medical Services Plan (MSP) during that time.  Suspicious, MSP decided to investigate and determined that the couple had not spent at least six months per year in BC during the years in question, and were therefore ineligible for MSP coverage.  In January 2014, the BC Court of Appeal agreed with MSP.  The couple is therefore liable to repay MSP for BC medical services used while they were non-residents.

Allowable Time outside of Home Province

BC, like all Canadian provinces, requires residents to maintain a residence and be physically present in the province for at least six months per year (snowbirds can apply for an extra month of absence).  Ontario and Manitoba also allow for absences of up to seven months, Newfoundland up to eight months, and the other provinces up to six months.  All provinces also have some provision for longer absences during which time coverage can still be maintained.  For example, BC will provide coverage for up to 24 months abroad once every five years.  You can read about BC residency requirements here:

In practice though, it is difficult for provinces to monitor these rules.  The federal government does not maintain records of departures from Canada, and there are of course no border posts between provinces.  An Alberta snowbird couple could therefore spend five months in Arizona during the winter and another three months at their cabin in BC during the summer, all the while continuing to claim coverage from Alberta Health Services.

However, this court case does signal that provinces are now becoming more serious about monitoring provincial residency requirements.  The large provinces of BC, Ontario and Quebec all face significant budget deficits, and are looking for ways to cut health-care costs.  Canadian residents should therefore ensure that they take the proper steps to maintain coverage while they are abroad.

We Can Help

If you are planning on spending more than six months outside of Canada, feel free to contact us.  We can explain your medical insurance options in more detail.

About the Author

Vance Derban is a licensed insurance broker at BestQuote Travel Insurance Agency.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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