We are planning to travel for a year starting in mid-September 2022.
The problem we are facing is the issue of renewing the health insurance card in Quebec, Canada, where we live.
Also, we were concerned that we might lose our health insurance after one year of being absent from Quebec.
Health Insurance System in Quebec, Canada
Quebec has a universal health insurance system similar and we are already covered by it.
However, this year is the time for Mai’s card to be renewed after five years, as her health insurance card will expire in December.
Renewing a health insurance card is not that complicated, but you have to be there in person and go to a specific place to have your photo taken and to get your new card.
However, as of December, we will have already left for our trip and not be in Quebec. So that may be a problem because Mai needs to renew her health insurance card.
Apart from that, we may also have a problem having health insurance when we come back from our trip. The condition for maintaining a Quebec health insurance card is that you must be in Quebec for more than 183 days per year.
Since we will be travelling for a year this time, we will be away for more than six months in the 2023 calendar year so there was a possibility that we would lose our health insurance validity because of this.
The counting method is also a little peculiar: a year is defined as the period from 1 January to 31 December of the same year. Within that period, you have to be in Quebec for at least 183 days.
However, there is also a rule that an absence of less than 21 days is not counted as an absence. It’s quite a complicated calculation method.
‘Seven Years Provision’ allows health insurance to continue under special conditions
As I mentioned earlier, if you are not in Quebec for more than 183 days in a year, your health insurance will be invalidated for the following year.
However, one of our friends told us that there is an exception to this rule, and it seems that once every seven years, if you are going to be away from Quebec for more than 183 days in one year, you can make a special application and your insurance card will not be invalidated.
That is called the ‘Seven Years Provision’.
I went to the Quebec health insurance card website several times trying to make an appointment to speak to someone so that we could apply, but the website doesn’t ever have appointments available! I tried at all times of the day, including between 4am and 8am.
It’s quite common in Quebec that things which should be easy don’t always work smoothly!
As their website didn’t work properly, we decided to call the department. There was a phone number on the website. So yesterday, as soon as the department opened at 8.30am, we started calling.
On that day, I happened to have the day off because Mai had an appointment for a blood test and I was going to accompany her to it.
The appointment was at 12:15 noon, but it takes about 30 minutes by car to get to the hospital, so we planned to leave around 11:30am.
As I had taken the day off, we could start calling at 8.30am when the health insurance office opens.
There was a voice guidance system as you may expect, where you press a number and select it, such as this number is for French and that number is for English.
We wanted to talk to someone and ask about the seven years provision system, so we chose the numbers following the robot guidance. However, we couldn’t reach any human beings in that way, just ended up hearing “You can make an appointment on line”, and then the phone hung up.
It was ridiculous. We were calling because their website didn’t work!
If you follow their guidance and select the suggested numbers you will end up in a cul-de-sac and no human operator will answer the phone even you have called 100 times. You need to be a bit clever and think in what kind of situation the operator must come to pick up your phone call.
After such a strategy and several attempts, we discovered a number sequence where tapping this number would bring an operator to the phone.
We could reach the operator, but…
We managed to have someone, not a robot, on the phone after 23 minutes of waiting time which was not so bad because they had put on relaxing classical music as their background noise.
When the operator finally answered, I told her that we had a question about the Seven Year Provision. She told me that she could not answer my questions and that she would put me in touch with someone who could.
Then the classical background music started again and I was put on hold for a while, but while we were waiting, the phone suddenly went dead.
We called again and proceeded the same as before, tapping the number to wait for the operator.
This second time, after waiting for about 50 minutes, the operator finally answered, and I was told the same thing again, that the call would be transferred to someone in charge. And then, the background classical music started playing.
When the background music had been playing for 10 or 15 minutes, the phone suddenly disconnected. We don’t know why.
We tried again. An agent answered the phone after a while and I was told that the call would be transferred and we had to listen to the famous classical music again!
As we expected, the third time was the same. The phone went dead in the middle of the call, and by this time it was already 11.30am.
We had to leave home for the hospital where Mai had an appointment for a blood test, so we decided to give up on that day.
In the end, we had completely wasted three hours of our morning — that’s life trying to deal with the Health Insurance people in Quebec!
We tried again the next day
Mai’s blood test at the hospital went very smoothly and then we went home after doing some shopping. The health insurance office closes at 4.30pm, so we couldn’t call them again after that, so it had to be carried over to the next day.
The next day, Tuesday, we started calling again at 8.30am.
It may be because it was one of the earliest calls in the morning, we didn’t have to wait that long. Maybe 10 or 15 minutes later, the first agent answered.
The agent was a man and I spoke to him in French. That guy said that for the 7 Years Provision we have to make an appointment online. Apparently the appointment site refreshes at 6am, so he told me to access the site as early as possible to make an appointment.
I am an early bird, so I had tried to make an appointment on line between 4 and 8 am before, but it never worked.
Anyway, that operator kindly continued to say that normally he would ask people to make an appointment online, but this time he could make an exception and would connect me to a person who could help. I responded and said to him that it was very generous of him and that I would appreciate that very much.
We were prepared to waste a whole day again dealing with this phone call, but after I was transferred, another person answered the phone relatively quickly.
He was super nice to us. I spoke to him in French and when I said that my French was not perfect, he said, “Don’t worry, I’m bilingual,” and started speaking fluently in English.
Calculate the number of days absent from Quebec
As I mentioned earlier, one of the conditions for a valid health insurance card in Quebec is that you must stay in the province for at least 183 days in a year.
However, the way the days are counted is a bit peculiar: even if you’re away for a long period of time, if it’s less than 21 days, it’s not counted. This means, for example, that if you go somewhere for a couple of days, it is not included in the number of days you were away from Quebec.
Furthermore, there is also a rule that the day of departure and the day of arrival are not included in the absence count.
So when I was asked if we had been away from Quebec for any days earlier this year, I mentioned that we had both spent about two months in the UK, Japan and Kenya.
We told the operator the date we left and the date we returned to Quebec. He calculated the number of days that would count as an absence.
According to his calculation, if we left on 14 September, the number of absent days for the whole year of 2022 would not exceed 183 days.
Actually, we travelled in Mexico from December last year to mid-January this year for 6 weeks in total, but in January the ‘absent’ days were only 16 days(less than the 21 permitted days) so not included as ‘absent’ days in 2022.
We were lucky in a way, because we had not really intended to be away for only 16 days in January. It just happened by chance.
Of course, when it comes to next year which is 2023, we will be away for more than six months, so we were told that we can apply the 7 year exception policy.
So as part of the process, the health insurance department will send us a form that we need to fill in and mail it back to them.
How about renewing Mai’s health insurance card?
I also asked about the renewal of Mai’s insurance card, which is coming in December.
Normally, renewal notices for insurance cards are sent out three months before the card expires. In her case, as her renewal expires in December, she would be notified of the renewal procedure in September.
I was told that in case she didn’t receive that renewal notice by the time of our departure, there are other ways to proceed and he explained to me in detail how to do that.
So it looks like we will not have to come back to Quebec to renew her health insurance card in December. This is very welcome information for us and we were very pleased to hear this.
The only thing left to do now is to finalise all the other procedures one by one.
We are very grateful to have the information from this phone call, especially as we were very concerned about the renewal of Mai’s health insurance card.
This gives me the feeling that one major matter is about to be cleared up in preparation for the trip.