With universal healthcare system in provinces and territories, there are several health services for immigrants in Canada. The standard of health care in Canada is one of many factors that attract immigrants from all over the world. The government has made available health care facilities that make consultation and diagnosis easy, with competent medical practitioners being employed to attend to residents.
Canada’s health care system is funded by a huge percentage of the income taxes received from the public and is responsible for the relatively high tax rates in Canada. If you are having it in mind to move into Canada, I bet you will be more than eager to become a beneficiary of the almost free medicare available for residents. It is therefore important that you know enough about health services for immigrants, the services provided, and the processes involved.
Canada’s Universal Health Care System
Since its inception in 1967, the Canadian Health Care System has achieved more than enough to be scored as very effective. Supervised by the Canadian Health Act, the system has remained publicly funded (through taxes) and strives to provide health care services that are for the most part free and accessible to all Canadians. The only criterion required for access to health care services in Canada is being a citizen or having permanent residency. With any of those, you can apply for public health insurance and gain access to health care services for free. After applying for the insurance, you get a health insurance card which you must present at medical centers at all times to receive free treatment.
Health services options for permanent and temporary immigrants in Canada is managed under the health insurance plan which is unique for each province and territory. You should therefore lookout to know what the plan in your province entails and the services it covers. In all the provinces, basic emergency medical services are usually provided for free, even without a health card.
Canadian Provinces with Health Insurance for Immigrants and Temporary Residents
Government of the following provinces and territories have established health care plans and insurance options for citizens, immigrants and temporary residents such as students and workers. Visitors to Canada are not covered by government insurance and may require private insurance before coming or upon arrival.
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
Each province or territory has its unique healthcare plan and so the services that are covered differ from place. Ontario for example is the only province that includes prescription drugs for those under the age of 24 through the public health insurance plan. A visit to the health care website of each province will inform you on what their health insurance covers and what it does not. Note however that once you get public insurance from any province in Canada, you have access to the basic health care service provided in other provinces and territories in the country.
Registering for Public Health Insurance in Canada
To get universal healthcare in Canada, you must be a citizen or at least be a permanent resident. This means new immigrants have restricted access to medical care and will have to pay for most health care services or get insurance. Only a few provinces grant access to health insurance immediately on arrival.
In most of the provinces, you must wait up to 3 months and a day to get government health insurance. This is because those provinces will begin to consider you as a permanent resident only when you have stayed that long in the locality. Simply contact the ministry of health in your locality to get briefed on how long you will have to wait. While you are still in the waiting period, you may want to get private health insurance to cater for your health. Once it’s time to apply for public health insurance, you will be asked to provide your identification card and evidence of permanent residency before your application can be finalized.
Asides from permanent residents, these set of people may also be covered by Canada’s Provincial Health Care System:
- International students with a study permit as proof
- Foreign workers with a work permit as proof
- Clergymen such as priests and rabbis
By qualifying for public health insurance, your spouse and dependants automatically become beneficiaries of free health care services.
Other Health Coverage Plans Provided by the Government
- Refugees and Protected Persons
The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) is responsible for providing a form of temporary health insurance to protected persons, refugees, and refugee claimants until they and their wards or dependents become eligible for the health insurance plan in their province or territory. Some of the medical services provided for refugees are:
- Medical test before immigration to Canada
- Treatment of medical conditions that could make refugees not fit to immigrate to Canada
- Preventive measures during an outbreak of disease.
- Health Education
The Canadian government fully funds periodic programs and trainings to educate citizens and residents to be proactive in handling health issues. The programs seek to create awareness in the communities on how to avoid injuries and control the spread of infectious diseases. The trainings usually do not require previous medical knowledge and are available for all citizens irrespective of age and status.
Private Health Insurance Plans and When to go for them
With a government health insurance card, you get access to basic medical services for free. These services do not usually cover prescription drugs, dental care, prescription glasses, physiotherapy, and home care, or long-term care. Citizens and non-citizens alike only get access to these services through any of these options:
- Paying for the services
- Employer-sponsored health care plans
- Private medical insurance
The second option does not apply as a rule and only works in organizations that have health coverage plans for their workers. Such plans may apply only after you’ve been supervised and completed a probationary period as an employee in the organization. To enjoy the best of medical attention without any restrictions, you will need to subscribe for health insurance from any of the private organizations that offer them.
Such private organizations are either profit or non-profit. Examples of non-profit organizations that offer health insurance are cooperative societies, clubs, and groups that see the need to have the health needs of their members covered. Before you can apply for insurance, you may be required to first be a member of such non-profit organizations.
Health Services for Students in Canada
Most international students in Canada don’t have access to permanent residency and you will need to get health insurance during your course of stay for study. Although before then, you can check through the health care service offered by the province you will be schooling in as few provinces include international students in their insurance plans.
If your province is not offering such and you wish to get access to health services for immigrants, you can check your school for the insurance packages they offer to international students. Some schools make it compulsory to register for their health insurance package while some may allow you to opt-in for an insurance package elsewhere.
Health care service for Students According to Province
|Province||Public Student Insurance||Duration of Study||Insurance Plan
(Public and Private)
|Alberta||available||6 months or more||Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP)|
|British Columbia||available||6 months or more||British Columbia Medical Service Plan (MSP)|
|Manitoba||not available||–||Manitoba International Student Health Plan*|
|New Brunswick||available||1 year or more||New Brunswick Medicare Coverage|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||available||1 year or more||Labrador’s Medical Care Plan (MCP)|
|Northwest Territories||available||more than 1 year||Northwest Territories Health Care (NWTHC)|
|Nova Scotia||not available||–||Health care plans provided by individual institutions|
|Nunavut||the territory does not host international students||–||–|
|–||University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP)*|
|Prince Edward Island||available||6 months or more||Prince Edward Island Health Card|
|Quebec||available through reciprocity agreements with some countries||Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ)|
|Saskatchewan||available||6 months or more||Saskatchewan Health Card|
|Yukon||not available||–||Yukon College Health Insurance Plan*|
Note: Insurance plans that are asterisked are those provided by the educational system and not the government.
National Health Emergencies
Provisions have been made available by the Public Health Agency of Canada to provide information in various languages that will serve as a guide during national health emergencies. Asides from giving up to date information on pandemics and public health, the PHAC is also responsible for:
- This includes travel vaccines and other disease-preventing vaccines.
- Trainings on safety in the environment, situation reporting, and hazard control.
Drug Use and Prescription in Canada
If you have already been prescribed some drugs before your arrival in Canada, some rules determine your access to such drugs depending on what category they fall under. Medication in Canada falls under two main groups:
Over the Counter Drugs (OTC):
These are drugs that you can readily get without any prescription from a medical practitioner. Hence, they are also called non-prescription drugs. For a drug to be sold over the counter in Canada, it must have met the requirements for safety, quality, and effectiveness. For this reason, any over-the-counter drug is safe to buy in Canada so long as it has a Drug Identification Number (DIN) as an indication that it is recognized by the local drug authorities.
These drugs are only administered based on prescription by a medical doctor. Sometimes, an over-the-counter drug in your country may be a prescription drug in Canada and vice versa. If you have been working with a prescription before moving in, you can check out Canada’s Prescription Drug List to determine the status of the drug. Doing this will help you know what processes you need to take when you want to get such a drug after you are already in Canada and can also help you avoid bringing in drugs that are considered illegal into the country.
Drugs that you are bringing in from your previous country, whether prescribed or not must be those that will be exhausted over 90 days when taken in their right dose. Preferably, the drugs should be in their original company packaging with each containing a label that explicitly describes the drug and what it does.
After you have exhausted the drugs you brought in with you, you will not be permitted to use a foreign prescription to get drugs from a pharmacy shop. A walk-in clinic in Canada can be an urgent source of medical prescription, especially if you don’t have a family doctor yet and can’t afford the delaying process of finding one. We hope this resources are helpful to helping travelers to understand options for health services for immigrants in Canada.