Episode 136 – Distant shores are calling. But first…

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).

The sample Health Card that OHIP uses on their website. The real thing is quite fancy, with laser engravings, holographic overlays, and even a couple of tactile features. Once an Ontario resident has their card, they simply carry it with them at all times so that it can be presented to any medical practitioner. The card is automatically replaced every few years – and the photo on it updated at regular intervals.

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.

Woohoo!!

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.

9 comments

  1. Hi Rose:
    I’m very excited to hear that you are moving forward toward your amazing cruise 🚢! As always, I’m enjoying your episodes and living vicariously! I have often mentioned your blog to my sister who lives in a small ski town in BC. She and her husband ski all winter and then travel all summer – most recently in an RV. She wondered if you’d mind if she followed your blog. I think you’d inspire her to try something new!

    Would you please let me know if you’re okay with her following your adventures?

    Thanks,
    Donna
    (From OTHS 😊)

    Like

  2. Two years????? Rose……..
    Now, I’m just being selfish…

    So happy for you and Ted because I know you are gong to enjoy such a-m-a-z-i-n-g adventures. I so love reading your blog,
    💕💕💕

    Like

  3. So happy to see you guys taking this step. I think it will be 2023 or 2024 for our next extended year of travel. I cannot wait to see all the pictures from all the places! Any news on the cruise adding Australia back to you cruise now that it will be open again?

    So exciting!
    Cheers,
    Lynne and John

    Like

  4. I’m a new follower to your blog but have really enjoyed skipping around and seeing your travels, old and new. I was living in Germany for about a year in the mid-eighties in Wuerzburg, and went to some of the same places. The lovely photos bring back lots of memories and I wish you bon voyage or Gute Reise as you strike out on your new adventure!

    Like

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