Here’s What Foreigners Need to Know About Canada’s Universal Healthcare System
If you’re a foreigner visiting Canada, you must be wondering if you have access to its healthcare system. Canada is well known for its free universal healthcare. It’s one of the main reasons the country has a high quality of life and health. Furthermore, with the recent global upheaval, Canada has been one of the leading countries in having a good response to COVID-19. So to answer your question, the short answer is yes, foreigners can get healthcare in Canada. However, it highly depends on your status in the country and it may take some time before you are covered.
Healthcare in Canada
We say this because Canada’s healthcare system is different from one province to another. Each province has drawn its own healthcare plan, and it varies in healthcare coverage and who it covers. For example, Ontario’s healthcare plan is called OHIP. It is the only province that covers prescription drugs for those under the age of 24. However, it does not include international students. On the other hand, British Columbia covers both international students and working holiday visa holders under MSP. So before you pack your bags to come to Canada, it’s best to research which province best suits your interest to live, work, or study. Do enough research to find out if the provincial healthcare plans will cover you. Note that it can take months or years to be approved to be on the provincial medical plans and it often depends on your visa or citizenship status, so make sure you have health coverage if in Canada.
Who’s Covered by Canada’s Universal Healthcare Plan?
- Permanent residents
- International students with study permits
- Foreign workers with work permits
- Foreign nationals in the process of obtaining permanent residency in Canada
- Refugees and protected persons
- Temporary residents (special cases)
If you are a non-citizen or permanent citizen seeking to qualify for healthcare coverage, you should be studying or working in Canada for at least 6 months. One plus point is that if you qualify for free healthcare in Canada, your spouse and dependent children automatically qualify for free healthcare coverage.
On the other hand, if you are a visa holder or new resident, there is a 3-month waiting period for eligibility before your healthcare card is activated. In this case, we strongly recommend getting private health insurance during this period. Having comprehensive international health insurance before arriving in Canada will be your best bet.
What if I am visiting Canada and get sick or injured?
One of the reasons you should have international health insurance is that Canada does not pay for visitors for hospital or medical services. Ensuring you have a global healthcare policy in place will help you have peace of mind when traveling to the country. While Canada has a reputation for inexpensive medical services, if you are not covered for healthcare in Canada, the costs associated with an accident or illness can be very substantial. Coverage for most medical claims in Canada is not free unless you are covered by the government, possibly also by an extended health plan or a global health plan.
What is covered by Provincial Government Health Plans?
Each province will differ as to what is covered, but they all have to generally live up to the federal government’s Medical Care Act in 1966, which contributes to the provinces for their health plans provided that the provinces proved reasonable and comprehensive access to insured services – generally without charge or user fees. The plans were meant to be universal and portable. All the provinces differ in what they cover and do not cover. Some even have pharmacare (medication plans).
Here is a partial list of common services covered by provincial governments in Canada:
- Medication in a hospital
- Hospital care – both emergency and non-emergency
- Dental surgery in a hospital
- Doctors visits
- Surgeries – hospital and out-patient
- Scans, x-rays etc…
- Excellent public health services
- Mental health care
- Some home health care
What do you need to know about Private Healthcare in Canada?
It is pretty common in Canada to buy private extended health insurance through private insurance companies. These plans are sold by Canadian insurers if you are covered by the provincial health plan in your province. These extended health policies basically cover what the government programs don’t cover. Private healthcare can also act as supplemental insurance as it covers treatments no covered by Medicare. One of the common ways to get private health insurance is through your employer, but individual health plans are also available. Most companies offer healthcare and dental coverage as a work benefit.
Here’s a list of medical services covered by private extended healthcare plans in Canada:
- mental health counselling
- travel insurance for travel outside Canada
- prosthetic devices
- home care
- long-term care
- speech therapy
- optical care
- registered massage therapy
- hearing aids
- semi-private or private hospital rooms
- dental coverage
Depending on which provinces you are planning to be in, it’s important to know that each healthcare system covers different services.
What if You Don’t Qualify for Provincial Healthcare Coverage?
There are many circumstances where expatriates in Canada will not qualify for provincial healthcare plans, which also means no Canadian extended health coverage. While some expats may rely upon Visitors to Canada policies, these plans generally only cover emergency care and for a maximum one-year period.
If you need a health plan that covers you for both emergency and non-emergency care for a year or more until you qualify for provincial health and extended health plans, then you should look at an international health policy. The benefit of having global health insurance is you can tailor the coverage according to your needs and your family’s needs. These policies can also cover you globally, including back in your home country for up to 6 months per policy year. One of the best international healthcare providers is Cigna and GeoBlue.