Healthcare in Canada

Can Foreigners Get Healthcare in Canada?

Here’s What Foreigners Need to Know About Canada’s Universal Healthcare System

If you’re a foreigner  or expat visiting Canada, you must wonder 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 emerging diseases and medical conditions.

We get asked all the time on how a foreigner can gain access to medical care in Canada. 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 by provincial coverage and then be able to apply for extended health cover through the private system.

Healthcare in Canada

Canada’s healthcare system is different from one province to another. Each province has 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 determine 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 you are 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 six 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. Comprehensive international health insurance before arriving in Canada will be your best bet.

Health Insurance in Canada For Foreigner

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 will help you have peace of mind when traveling to the country.

In Canada, if you’re sick or injured, seek medical attention promptly. Visit a walk-in clinic, see a family doctor, or, in emergencies, go to the nearest hospital. The level of care received in hospitals in Canada is excellent, but expect long waiting periods compared to the hospitals in the USA.

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, so make sure you get a policy with a large medical maximum. Coverage for most medical claims in Canada is not free unless you are covered by the government, possibly by an extended or global health plan.

What is covered by Provincial Government Health Plans?

Each province will differ as to what is covered. Still, they all have to generally live up to the federal government’s Medical Care Act in 1966, which contributes to the provinces ‘ health plans provided that the provinces provide 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 coverage).

Note that obtaining health services via government plans, such as MSP in BC, and OHIP in Ontario, has become extremely difficult with long waiting lists, crowded ERs and often many months even to see a specialist. There is also a chronic shortage of family doctors with millions unable to obtain one and thus needing to go to a clinic or hospital.

Here is a partial list of standard services covered by provincial governments in Canada:

  • Medication in a hospital
  • Hospital care – both emergency and non-emergency
  • Ambulance
  • Dental surgery in a hospital
  • Doctors visits
  • Surgeries – hospital and out-patient
  • Scans, x-rays etc…
  • Vaccinations
  • More basic  public health services
  • Mental health care, but not Psychology or counselling
  • Some home healthcare

Private Healthcare in Canada

What do you need to know about Private Healthcare in Canada?

It is pretty standard 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 cover what the government programs don’t cover, but still won’t cover services that are provided by the government plans or help you see a specialist or get surgery sooner.

Private healthcare can also act as supplemental insurance as it covers treatments not 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.

Note that for expats to qualify for such programs, they need to be covered by their Canadian provincial government medical system.

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
  • medication
  • home care
  • long-term care
  • speech therapy
  • optical care
  • registered massage therapy
  • physiotherapy
  • hearing aids
  • chiropractic
  • semi-private or private hospital rooms
  • dental coverage

Depending on which province you are planning to be in, it’s important to know that each healthcare system covers different services. Note that the Federal government has started a new dental program, but it is primarily focused on low-income Canadians and children.

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 for a maximum one-year period. The plans are considered very basic and are really meant for short-term visits to Canada. You can also consider travel medical insurance for trips to Canada, assuming you are not a Canadian citizen.

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.