The total dollar value of Old Age Security (OAS) payments sent to retired Canadians living abroad — which has increased steadily over the past ten years — dropped slightly during the pandemic, when global travel restrictions slammed the brakes on international travel.
The total sum of OAS payments to retirees abroad dropped by 0.17 per cent between 2020 and 2021. The sum then spiked by 9.7 per cent between 2021 and 2022 to hit a ten-year high.
The office of Seniors Minister Seamus O’Regan told CBC News that while the pandemic’s effects led to the increase, the percentage of seniors receiving OAS while living abroad has remained constant over the past decade, at about 2.2 to 2.7 per cent.
While O’Regan’s office said only about 1.3 per cent of overall OAS spending goes abroad, the total amount of those payments grew by 50 per cent between 2012 and 2022, from $414 million to $621 million.
The president and CEO of CanAge, a national seniors advocacy group, said the spike after the pandemic reflects both a pandemic correction and a realization by some seniors that retirement might be better abroad.
“The pandemic had a profound impact on how Canadian seniors have been thinking about their retirement in a positive way, but also thinking about the what-ifs, and the cost of care associated with what it feels like to age in Canada right now,” Laura Tamblyn Watts told CBC News.
Watts said those seniors were reflecting in part on how the pandemic hit long-term care facilities in Canada.
Concerns about long-term care
More than 80 per cent of Canada’s known COVID-19 deaths during the first few months of the pandemic happened in long-term care and retirement homes — the highest such rate among nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
More than 17,000 residents of long-term care homes in Canada had died of COVID-19 illness as of July 2022, according to the National Institute on Ageing.
Watts said once the pandemic ended, “you see almost immediately people saying, ‘I’ve got to get out of here, or I have to make better choices, or I have seen the grim reaper come about what aging in Canada looks like.'”
The rising cost of living and the higher interest rates of the post-pandemic era, Watts said, have also prompted seniors to ask if assisted living is more affordable abroad.
Seniors can qualify for a full OAS pension if they have lived in Canada for at least 40 years after they turn 18. Canadians who lived in Canada for at least 10 years after they turn 18, but not more than 39 years, qualify for a partial OAS pension.
The OAS is paid to Canadians outside of the country if they have accumulated at least 20 years of residency in Canada after the age of 18.
If a senior leaves Canada before establishing 20 years of residence, they only get OAS payments for the month of their departure and the six months after that.
O’Regan’s office said Canada has agreements with other countries that allow Canadians to qualify for OAS and retirement benefits in other countries without having lived and worked there.
There are 60 such agreements currently in force, which allow Canadians to receive benefits for varying lengths of time.