Canada is known for providing some of the best health care in the world, and you can access free health care. If you’re moving to Canada, here are some important things to know about how to access free health care and the medical system. As a newcomer, knowing how to get free medical care when you’re sick, or have an accident can save you from worry and out of pocket expenses.
Applying for health care is one of the first steps you can take when you arrive.
Who pays for health care in Canada
In Canada, public health care is paid for through tax money. Basic health care services, like hospital visits and medical treatment are free. All Canadian citizens and permanent residents may apply for public health insurance. This insurance can save you money and provide you and your family peace of mind when it comes to health care.
How to access free health care in Canada
To access free health care, you need to apply for a provincial health card. Once you are approved, you will receive your provincial health card. The health card proves that you are covered by a provincial health care program. You will have to show your health card each time you visit a doctor or receive any medical care.
You can get an application form from:
- A doctor’s office
- A hospital
- A pharmacy
- A settlement service agency
- Or, you can apply online (see section below: Provincial and Territorial Health Care Programs in Canada).
You cannot apply for health care coverage before you arrive in Canada.
When to apply for free health care
You should apply for health care coverage as soon as you land in Canada because there may be a waiting period before you are eligible to apply. So, apply right after you land to minimize your waiting!
Download our free e-book to learn what medical documents you’ll need to bring to Canada:
There may be a waiting period
You may have to wait up to three months to be eligible for a government health card. This waiting period applies to permanent residents in the following provinces:
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
To protect yourself during this waiting period, you can buy private insurance to cover you and your family from unexpected health care costs.
Do you need private health insurance?
The free health care that Canadian citizens and permanent residents enjoy gives you access to basic medical services. But, not everything is covered. So, it’s important to think about:
- What coverage you’ll need if you land in any of the provinces with waiting periods (British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario) to protect you during that time.
2. The health care needs of you and your family (for example, do any family members have health issues that have costs that aren’t covered?)
3. Do you require supplemental (or extra) private insurance to meet your health care needs (for example, do any family members have extensive health care needs?)
If you’re employed, your employer may offer a health care benefits package. Many immigrants to Canada are unaware that this is something that many companies offer their employees. A benefits package will cover some, or all of the costs for dental, medications, and other services not covered by a government healthcare program.
Canadians in every province can purchase additional private health insurance to cover services not covered by a government health care program, or an employer’s health care benefits program.
What do Provincial and Territorial health care programs cover?
Each provincial health care program may provide slightly different coverage, so find out what is covered in the province where you live. In general, government health care programs cover things such as:
- Appointments with your family doctor
- Visits to walk-in clinics and some other health care providers
- Visits to an emergency room
- Medical tests and surgeries
- Necessary surgery
- Laboratory and other diagnostic procedures
Some examples of the hospital and medical services not covered by provincial health care programs include:
- Most prescription drugs
- Dental services
- Eye exams and eyewear, like glasses or contacts
- Appliances such as hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs
- Visits to physiotherapists, chiropractors, or similar health providers
What to do if you lose your health card
If you lose your health care card, contact the provincial health ministry to replace your card as soon as possible. You may have to pay a small replacement fee.
It’s a good idea to carry your health card in your wallet at all times in case of a medical emergency. In an emergency, hospitals will treat you without seeing your card first but, you will have to show your card later if you want the province to cover your hospital bills.
Documents you need to apply for a health card
To apply for a provincial health card, you’ll require identification to prove your Canadian citizenship or eligible immigration status. So, you’ll need your:
- Birth certificate
- PR card or Confirmation of Permanent Residence
It’s best to confirm what documents you’ll need with the provincial or territorial health care program where you plan to live.
Finding a family doctor
Most Canadians have a family doctor or “GP” (general practitioner), so once you have coverage, you will want to find a GP. Your GP will be your first contact with the health care system.
To find a family doctor:
- Ask a friend or family member if their doctor is accepting new patients.
- Check with the province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. They will have a list of doctors accepting patients.
- Doctors generally control or direct their patients’ access to most health care specialists, as well as to hospital beds.
Your family doctor will:
- Decide which diagnostic tests you will need and generally makes the appointments for these tests.
- Prescribe any necessary medications that you can pick up at a pharmacy of your choice.
If you have a medical emergency, go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital. For non-emergencies, you can schedule an appointment with your family doctor to get treatment or a referral to a health care specialist.
Traveling with prescription medication
You can bring a 90-day supply of any prescription medication that you currently taking to continue your treatment. However, you must:
- Carry the medication in the original hospital or pharmacy packaging
2. Have the original label on the packaging to show what the health product is and what it contains
3. Have a valid expiration date (for example: within 90 days of your arrival).
When you know how to access health care, you and your family can rest easy knowing that you are protected both medically and financially when you arrive in Canada.
Provincial and Territorial health care programs in Canada
Click on the province or territory where you plan to live for more information about how to apply for a government health card.
Alberta: Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP)
British Columbia: Medical Services Plan (MSP)
Manitoba: Health, Seniors and Active Living
New Brunswick: New Brunswick Medicare
Newfoundland and Labrador: Medical Care Plan (MCP)
Nova Scotia: Medical Services Insurance (MSI)
Ontario: Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP)
Prince Edward Island: Health PEI
Quebec: Québec Health Insurance Plan
Saskatchewan: eHealth Saskatchewan