In preparation for getting back to travelling, we had appointments today at ServiceOntario.
ServiceOntario offices are the brick and mortar locations for our provincial services like drivers’ licences and testing, licence plate renewals, vehicle registrations – pretty much anything related to owning a car in Ontario, except insurance coverage – and OHIP cards(for our non-Canadian friends, those are the Ontario Health Insurance Plan cards we carry to show that we are covered by our socialized provincial health insurance, which allow us to access doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc without ever being out of pocket for the costs).
While many provincial services can be accessed online, without visiting an office and with paperwork issued through the mail, anything requiring a new identification photo, or which involves unusual circumstances, has to be done in person.
What we needed was a travel exemption to allow us to be out of Ontario for 2 years.
Normally, Ontarians can be out of the province for up to 212 days each year (7 months out of 12), without needing to do any special paperwork. However, if we’ve met the criteria of being in-province for the other 153 days (5 months) per year for at least 2 years in a row, we can apply to be out of the country for a continuous period of up to 2 years, and automatically return to our provincial program when we return. This option is only available once every 5 years, regardless of the fact that while we’re gone we will continue to pay both our federal and provincial income taxes annually.
Ted and I have never in our lives been away for our full 212 day allotment, so we’re in good shape to meet the criteria, and since we are now 67 and 65, respectively, we probably won’t be using this option again anyway (although, if we stay healthy, who knows what we’ll want to do in our 70’s?).
To complicate things just a bit, this application was not something we could do locally. Not every ServiceOntario office offers every service. Offices in smaller towns tend to focus on renewing licenses. Medium sized towns like ours generally also have a DriveTest centre. Larger communities often have multiple offices, one of which specifically deals with health card issues.
So today we drove an hour to Barrie, our nearest “big city” (population 148,000 vs Collingwood’s 23,000). Barrie has three ServiceOntario offices, but only the largest performs the service we needed: approval for an almost two-year absence from Ontario while maintaining our eligibility for OHIP. We both have supplementary health care and travel insurance, but the key word is “supplementary “; it is only available to people who are also covered by OHIP – hence we cannot let our coverage lapse.
So how did it go?
Our local ServiceOntario office was able to give us hard copy application forms last week, for which we waited in 6-foot distanced line for about half an hour, since the forms are not available to print at home. We then booked appointments online for today in the Barrie office. This morning, we had to fill out a COVID19 screening form, which we submitted electronically before our designated appointment times. We then gathered up our completed forms and current health cards, and got to the Barrie office about 15 minutes before our designated times.
The most difficult part of the day was determining which parking lot to use. With the options being $10 per hour across the street or $1.25/hour around the corner, the choice definitely wasn’t that hard. We were checked in at the ServiceOntario door by a security guard who verified our appointment times, did another quick Covid questionnaire, ensured we were masked, and asked us to use the hand sanitizer (from a dispenser with a foot pump – clever!). Once inside, we were called to one of the service windows where a very friendly and very efficient woman approved our applications, renewed our health card validity through our travel period, and printed our vaccination receipts, all in under 10 minutes total for the two of us.
So what’s next?
Before getting our extended absence approval, we were scheduled to return from our world cruise mid May, and fly to Rome at the beginning of November to end the autumn with a transatlantic cruise before wintering in Mexico, with the interim months in Ontario.
With our applications approved, I can now confidently start planning something more exciting for next summer. I expect we’ll return to Ontario for about 6 weeks following the cruise, at least in part to celebrate our youngest grandson’s May birthday (a couple of weeks late), and for the month of October when the other 2 of our 3 grandsons have birthdays. I really like the idea of July, August and September in Europe, spending a month in each of 3 different countries; places we probably wouldn’t visit during winter months.
Germany (Berlin), Austria (Vienna), and Italy (Trieste) are calling to us, and now we’re one step closer to answering those calls.