Everything You Need to Know About the Canadian Healthcare System

There are two constants in life: death and taxes. And, if you have made it past childhood, you could add a third – sickness. That is right. It happens to all of us at some point in life.

You could fall ill anytime, anywhere. And, when that happens, it is reassuring to know that the Canadian healthcare system will take care of you. 

So what makes Canada’s famous health care system so great? Immigrate to Canada, and you will find some differences between being falling sick in your home country and being sick here. This article will discuss the healthcare system in Canada, as well as some differences based on province. 

How Does Canadian Healthcare Work?

Healthcare may not be free. But, fortunately, in the Great North, most of the healthcare needs of the citizens are publicly-funded. This means that Canada’s “Medicare” covers 70% of the health needs of people. The private sector accounts for the remaining 30% and covers prescription drugs, eye services, and dentistry. 

Canadian healthcare delivery is done provincially. In other words, while coverage is universal (meaning “all people”), there may be some differences in care delivery among the provinces and territories. The local governments of each province issues health cards to residents to give a means to access health care. 

ontario health card

You could think of Canada’s “Medicare” as health insurance. But, unlike private health insurance, you can still avail of health services even if you lose or change jobs. Also, you can do the same despite not paying a premium.

Funding comes from the taxpayer’s dollars. But, you may have to pay for medications that require a prescription. And, visits to your local optometrist (eye doctor) and dentist might require some private coverage. 

Is Canadian Healthcare Good?

This is a question you are probably thinking of at the moment. With the information above, you probably already have an answer. In reality, this is a pretty tough inquiry to give an absolute answer to.

You will have to respond to this yourself. To help you, there are some pieces of data worth your attention. 

One of the signs of a good healthcare system is the overall life expectancy of people. Life expectancy is the maximum age people could reach. A long life expectancy tells you a good portion of how well health care services become available to people.

In the case of Canada, as of 2016, the life expectancy was at around 82.2 years. This is 22 years after a person is declared a senior citizen. Many developing countries like the Philippines and India have an average life expectancy of only 70 years (maximum).

What does this mean? In Canada, we could say that people could live longer. And, this is one sign of a good health care system.

Another good sign is how much the government spends on its citizens for health. A survey taken during the same year as above shows that the Canadian government spends about as much as $4,753 per person. Convert this amount to your local currency. And, you will get an idea of Canada’s prioritization on individual health. 

Finally, the death rate of children under 5 could also tell you something about health care delivery in a certain place. For Canada, the under-five mortality rate is at 5 per 1,000 births. This means that if 1,000 children are born, about 5 will die and 955 will live. 

These are just some pieces of data. Looking at these, you may already have your answer. 

Canadian Healthcare Waiting Times

Canada’s medicare covers the health care needs of all of its citizens. For newcomers, 3 months is the waiting time before being eligible to access health services in the province of residence. If you have just arrived, you have could buy health insurance from private firms for your medical needs while waiting. Your employment might also include health insurance as part of your employment benefits. 

Despite a lot of spending on its people, Canada, sadly, has a long waiting time for medical services. You will experience this as you wait for specialized treatment. Of course, different people have different circumstances. So, the figures below are approximate and may not apply to your personal situation. 

Take note. When we say “waiting time”, we mean the time between your consultation with a general practitioner (the doctor you could see right away) to the time you receive treatment from a medical specialist. 

As of 2019, 21 weeks from the day of referral or consultation was the average waiting time for a Canadian patient. This means that a patient would have to wait around 5 months after seeing the general practitioner to get the treatment of a specialist. As you can see, this is a pretty long time. And, it is even longer for provinces like Prince Edward Island. Here, the average waiting time could be about 7 months. 

That’s right. Canada has one of the longest waiting times of any other country in the world. 

Pros and Cons of Health Care in Canada

Every healthcare system comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. 

Here are the advantages of Canada’s healthcare system:

  1. It is universal. This means that anyone with a health card can access health services.
  2. There are many programs for health education and disease prevention. These are all supported. 
  3. There is little to no paperwork, with almost no forms to fill out. Billing is very simple.
  4. Those with special needs are eligible to receive special care

But, nothing is perfect. So, here is a list of some of the drawbacks:

  1. Patient conditions are assessed. This assessment is used to prioritize care. And, often, this is a factor that leads to long waiting times (see the section above)
  2. Health care facilities often located in the city. So, people in rural areas may not access the same level of care.
  3. Medicare has limited coverage. As mentioned earlier, it does not cover prescription medications, dental work, and optometry. 

Healthcare for Newcomers to Canada 

Who are eligible to apply for health insurance from their province or territory of residence? Well, citizens, permanent residents, foreign workers who have work permits, and some international students. 

Who might not be eligible? New permanent residents (for the first three months) and tourists. 

Most likely, you would be considered a new resident. In some provinces, you would be able to apply for health insurance immediately and be entitled to coverage. In other provinces, you will not be able to. You will have to wait for up to three months before accessing your province’s health services. 

With no coverage during this time, you may want to consider buying health insurance from a private insurance company to accommodate your needs during this time.

The cost of seeing a doctor without a provincial health card begins anywhere from $150 to $300. Going to the emergency room in a hospital without coverage? That’s $1,000!

There may be times when you are not in your province of residence. You will still be entitled to basic health services within Canada. But, do learn about restrictions as you may need to pay for certain services like ambulance transportation. 

At the moment of writing, these are the provinces where you could get immediate coverage:

  1. Alberta
  2. Manitoba
  3. New Brunswick
  4. Nova Scotia
  5. Prince Edward Island
  6. Newfoundland and Labrador

In these provinces, however, you have to wait for 3 months:

  1. British Columbia
  2. Saskatchewan
  3. Ontario
  4. Quebec

Healthcare According to Province


Upon arriving in the province of Alberta, you need to register for the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP). You should also provide proof of residency or any document that proves your right to be in Canada. A government-issued ID is also a must. 

AHCIP covers psychiatrist visits, basic diagnostic services like X-rays and blood chemistry, some dental procedures, and basic medically-required physician services. 

If you are a minor or a senior citizen (65 years and over), you are eligible for additional health coverage in this province. 

You could learn more about the AHCIP here.

British Columbia

You ought to apply for the province’s Medical Service Plan (MSP) immediately once eligible. This is because you may only be covered after waiting three months from your application. 

Coverage includes health services across Canada and British Columbia. The province’s services you could access include the services of doctors and midwives, dentists (in a hospital setting), optometrists, and orthodontists (for some services). Basic diagnostics like X-rays are in the coverage as well. 

At the time of writing, residents do not need to pay a monthly premium to the MSP.

You could find more information on the province’s health care delivery system here.


Once you become a permanent resident, your needs will be under the coverage of Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living. But, before that, you will have to present a photocopy of your passport, your other immigration documents, and an accomplished Manitoba Health Registration form. 

This province’s health insurance covers visits to a physician and surgical services. It also covers diagnostic laboratory services. But, these need to be ordered by a physician. 

For more information on registration and coverage, just click here.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick Medicare is the medical care provider of the province. To apply, new residents need to complete the “Application for Registration-Medicare” form and present copies of all immigration documents including an entry stamp on the passport. 

As mentioned earlier, New Brunswick is one of the provinces where you could be eligible for immediate healthcare coverage. You will receive a letter saying when coverage will begin. 

You could find the necessary forms for registration on this link.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Here, certain international students and foreign workers are eligible under the province’s Medical Care Plan (MCP). 

To qualify, new residents, foreign workers, and international students need to provide immigration documents and proof of residence (the permanent residence card for permanent residents). They must also complete a form, the Application for Newfoundland and Labrador Health Coverage form. 

It is important to know that ambulance services are not covered by the insurance. You could expect to spend $115 to use this service. For air ambulance, the fee is $130. Also, dental procedures and long-term care are only partly covered under the MSP. 

For more information on the MSP’s coverage, you could check out here.

Northwest Territories

To apply for coverage, you will have to apply to the Northwest Territory’s Health and Social Services department. You could learn more about the coverage and application process from the main site.

You will only be eligible for coverage if:

  • You are a permanent resident or citizen of Canada. You may also be a foreign worker or international student.
  • You are regularly physically-present in the province for at least 153 days in a calendar year.

You could send your application for a health card by post or online.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is among a number of Canadian provinces that grant immediate coverage to newcomers. The province’s Medical Service Insurance (MSI) program covers medically-required hospital, dental, and eye-related service but with some restrictions. 

Newcomers with permanent residency status are eligible to receive health care coverage on the first day of arrival. This is also true for foreign workers. But, they to provide a copy of a valid work permit. 

A health card could be acquired by contacting the MSI Registration and Enquiry department.


For residents of Nunavut, the provincial health insurance provider is the Nunavut Health Care plan. Only permanent residents are eligible to apply for its coverage. You may also apply if you hold a work or student visa that is valid for more than a year.

You will need the health card to access the province’s health services. If you do not show the card in health facilities, you may be asked to pay for services rendered upfront. 

To learn more, visit here.


The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) provides residents health coverage for a range of health services. These services include hospital visits and stays, ambulance services, (covered) dental services. Also, included in the coverage are podiatric services and abortions. The health care plan of this province also covers the cost of travel to avail of health services. 

As mentioned earlier, there is a waiting time of up to 3 months before you could become eligible. Permanent residents and citizens are eligible to apply. So, if you wish to enrol in the OHIP, you must be granted either of these statuses. 

The application requires you to present proofs of residency and identity such as an Ontario driver’s license, your passport, and a permanent residency card.

Ontario Healthcare is where you could go for more information. 

Prince Edward Island

In order to avail of health services in the province, the health card is an absolute must. To apply for one, you need to be a permanent resident. But, you may also apply even if you are either a foreign worker or an international student. You will be eligible for coverage as soon as you gain permanent residency in the province. But, this could take three months.

There are two options for application:

  • Offline, by downloading the necessary form/s from the same URL

International students need to prepare a copy of their student visa, a verification of full enrolment from your school, and your valid passport. These are needed alongside your application for a health Prince Edward Island health card.


Quebec’s Health Insurance Plan is managed by RAMQ (Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec). 

As soon as you arrive in the province, you should apply for Quebec’s Health Insurance Plan because of the waiting time before becoming eligible. As mentioned earlier, eligibility for health services in Quebec has a three-month waiting time which starts from the date of registration. You may apply online or visit a RAMQ office and apply in-person. Just have your documents with you. 

You will need original copies of your proof of residency in Quebec and a Quebec Selection Certificate (QSC). Temporary foreign workers may also apply by presenting an immigration document of employment. It should contain the employer’s name and the length of employment. Employment should be no less than 6 months. 

The Health Insurance Plan covers a wide array of medical services. It does not cover cosmetic surgery. It also does not cover medical appointments for certification purposes. In other words, do not expect your consultation to be covered if you saw a doctor just to get a medical certificate. 

For a full list of covered services, visit here.


The Saskatchewan Health Authority provides the health insurance of the province. Besides medically necessary inpatient and outpatient services, the insurance fully covers addiction treatment, mental health, HIV testing, breast cancer screening, major dental procedures, and treatments for sexually transmitted infections. 

Ambulance services, routine dental procedures, optometry, and emergency transport are not covered under the 

As usual, you will need to present the health card. Permanent residents can apply for one. But, coverage takes effect after three months of being a resident of Saskatchewan. During the three-month waiting period, the health insurance from the last province of residency could cover medical expenses. 

Students could be eligible for health care coverage if they could present proof of full-time enrolment. Only accredited institutions could do this. So, if you are on a student visa, check the accreditation status of your school. 

To learn more, you could visit the sites below:




Yukon residents could apply for the Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan. To apply for the card, you need to do so in-person once you have permanent residency status. Besides permanent residents, workers on a work permit which is valid for at least a year are eligible to apply.  

International students are not eligible to apply. 

Under the insurance plan, you could use the card for the following:

  • Physician’s services regardless of location
  • Surgical care and anesthesia
  • Maternal and child care
  • Some dental procedures (in-hospital).

However, the following are not covered:

  • Prescription drugs
  • Optometry services (eye services)
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Laboratory tests
  • Chiropractors
  • Dental procedures and visits outside the hospital
  • Medical certificates
  • Appliances like braces, crutches, and walkers (except for those needed by minors.)


With all this said, you should now have a better idea of Canada’s health care system before coming in. As you could see, despite some differences, health care in the different provinces offer its residents health coverage. As long as you do not get sick with something too serious, you should be fine and be able to avail of health services. 

Nevertheless, do try to stay healthy! 

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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