Canadian Healthcare for Immigrants

In the United States, and throughout the world, people look to Canada as an exemplar for effective, universal healthcare coverage. Before moving to a new country, one of an immigrant’s chief concerns will be understanding the healthcare system in that country and how it will work for them as a newcomer. Yes, Canada takes the health and well-being of its population very seriously. But as a new or temporary resident of Canada, what kind of health care coverage can you expect, and at what cost? Let’s take a look at Canadian healthcare for immigrants.

An Overview of Canada’s Healthcare System

In Canada, healthcare is managed and administrated at a provincial level. For most of the country, however, Canada has a fairly standardized health system. The biggest difference is in Quebec, which often marches to the beat of its own EKG. To learn more about those differences, you may want to visit our various articles on the Quebec Healthcare System,  Quebec Health Services and Quebec’s RAMQ Health Card.

Like most developed countries on earth, Canada’s population does enjoy universal care. This means that every Canadian citizen and permanent resident is required to obtain health insurance, either through the government or from a private provider. The cost and terminology may vary slightly from province to province, but the health insurance program or medical insurance plan is typically funded through public taxation.

Here’s a brief rundown of who is eligible for public health insurance, what it covers, and how to apply. (Keep in mind, some details may vary between provinces).


To be considered a resident, and therefore eligible for health insurance, you must meet these conditions:

  • A citizen of Canada or permanent resident,
  • Individuals on Work Permits or Study Permits can get temporary health coverage for six months or more.
  • Physically present in Canada at least six months in a calendar year, and
  • Dependents of medical insurance beneficiaries can also be covered, if they are residents of the same province 


Generally, the public system covers health care costs for consultations with doctors, specialists (if referred by a general practitioner), and hospital fees. Included medical benefits are:

  • Medically required services from an enrolled physician,
  • Maternity care from a physician or a midwife,
  • Medically required eye exams provided by an ophthalmologist or optometrist,
  • Diagnostic services (x-rays and laboratory services) provided at approved diagnostic facilities, when ordered by a registered medical professional
  • Dental and oral surgery, when medically required to be performed in hospital, and
  • Some orthodontic services.

Services, treatments and procedures NOT included in public health care are:

  • Services that are not medically required, like cosmetic surgery,
  • Most dental services,
  • Routine eye examinations for persons from 19 to 64 years old, 
  • Eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc.
  • Prescription drugs (for this you can enroll in Pharmacare),
  • Acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, naturopathy, physical therapy and non-surgical podiatry services (except for beneficiaries with premium assistance status),
  • Preventive services and screening tests not supported by evidence of medical effectiveness,
  • Services of counsellors or psychologists, and
  • Medical examinations, certificates or tests required for driving insurance, employment, school, immigration purposes, and other purposes.
  • (SEE Extended Health Coverage, below.)

How to apply

You can find application forms for regional health insurance in most doctor’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies and immigrant organizations. This should be one of the very first things you do when you arrive in Canada. Be aware that some provinces (Ontario, B.C., Quebec and New Brunswick) have a three-month waiting period before you can get coverage.

Healthcare Options for Temporary Residents

The Canadian Health Act guarantees access to healthcare for every citizen and permanent resident who spends more than 6 months in a given province. However, this guarantee does not cover tourists and visitors.

Usually, visitors and transients can receive free care for emergencies.

As a temporary resident of Canada, the type of coverage you can receive will depend on the nature of your temporary status. Refugees are generally eligible for healthcare under the Interim Federal Health Program. This program provides healthcare coverage for individuals whose residence status is pending and are not yet eligible for provincial or territorial insurance.

Temporary residents who are in Canada on a Work Visa should ordinarily have health care insurance provided by their employer.

International students attending school or university in Canada may or may not qualify for public healthcare, depending on the province. Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan all offer healthcare coverage to international students. Specific conditions and requirements vary between provinces. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Yukon do not coverage for foreign students. In these case, you may want to look into Extended Health Coverage options (see below).

Extended Health Coverage

Once you have enrolled in a provincial or territorial healthcare plan, you may decide to opt for an even higher level of coverage. There are a number of reasons why this might be a good idea. In some cases foreign students will not receive provincial health insurance, and sometimes temporary foreign workers do not get coverage from their employers. In these instances, it is strongly recommended to pay for coverage from a private insurance company.

Even among insured Canadian citizens and residents, it’s not so uncommon to pay for supplemental coverage. This could be an attractive idea for anyone looking to close up some gaps in their basic provincial plan. Perhaps you want a better plan for medical or dental, or you’re interested in less conventional treatments like chiropractic and acupuncture. It could also be a sensible option if you find yourself spending too much money on prescription drugs. It all depends on your specific medical needs and the specific coverage and exclusions in your provincial or territorial health plan.

If you’re making a move to Canada and need more help understanding the landscape of Canadian society, take a look at ARIANNE. For more than 20 years we’ve been providing relocation support to Canadian newcomers, helping them navigate the bureaucracy, enroll in healthcare, find housing, explore schooling options, and so much more.

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2018-12-28T16:17:54+00:00By |Canada, Health, Immigration|0 Comments

About the Author:

Fred Hornaday took a road trip from California to Wisconsin for his first birthday party. Since then, his itch to travel has led him on numerous cross country and transcontinental adventures throughout North America and Europe. He met his wife in Germany, got married in Denmark, and honeymooned in Colombia. He knows a thing or two about international travel and relocation.

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