Canadian Healthcare System for Expats

Canada is renowned for its high-quality healthcare system, which is based on universal health coverage. For expats moving to Canada, understanding how this system works is crucial for ensuring access to medical care. This article outlines the key aspects of the Canadian healthcare system for expats, including eligibility, accessing healthcare services, and navigating insurance requirements.

Overview of the Canadian Healthcare System

Canada’s healthcare system, known as Medicare, is publicly funded and provides coverage for medically necessary services, including hospital care, doctor visits, and some surgical procedures. The system is administered by each province and territory, meaning that specific details can vary depending on where you live.

Eligibility for Expats

Permanent Residents. Expats who become permanent residents are generally eligible for public healthcare. However, there is often a waiting period of up to three months before coverage begins. During this period, expats are advised to purchase private health insurance.

Temporary Residents. Those on work permits or student visas may be eligible for healthcare coverage, depending on the province. It is important to check the specific requirements and coverage options of the province you are moving to.

Tourists and Visitors. Visitors to Canada are not covered by the public healthcare system and must have private health insurance to cover any medical expenses.

How to Access Healthcare Services

  1. Registering for a Health Card. To access healthcare services, expats must apply for a health card in their province or territory of residence. This card is used to access medical services and must be presented at the time of care.
  2. Finding a Family Doctor. Many Canadians use family doctors as their primary point of contact for healthcare. Finding a family doctor can sometimes be challenging due to demand, so it is recommended to start looking as soon as you arrive.
  3. Hospitals and Clinics. In addition to family doctors, healthcare services can be accessed at hospitals and walk-in clinics. Hospitals provide emergency care, while clinics can handle less urgent medical issues.

Private Health Insurance

While the public healthcare system covers most medical needs, it does not include services such as dental care, prescription medications, and physiotherapy. Many Canadians, including expats, purchase private health insurance to cover these additional services. Employers often offer private health insurance as part of their benefits package, but individual plans are also available.

Provincial Differences

Healthcare in Canada is administered by each province, leading to some variations in coverage and services. Here are a few examples:

  • Ontario. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers most healthcare services, but there is a three-month waiting period for new residents.
  • British Columbia. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) requires a waiting period, and expats must pay monthly premiums for coverage.
  • Quebec. The Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) provides comprehensive coverage, with a waiting period for new residents.

Tips for Expats

  1. Research Provincial Requirements. Understand the specific healthcare rules and requirements of the province you are moving to.
  2. Purchase Private Insurance. Ensure you have private health insurance to cover any gaps during waiting periods or for services not included in public coverage.
  3. Keep Your Health Card Accessible. Always carry your health card, as it is required for accessing healthcare services.
  4. Stay Informed. Regularly update yourself on any changes to healthcare policies that might affect your coverage.


The Canadian healthcare system provides robust coverage for medically necessary services, making it a strong asset for expats living in Canada. By understanding eligibility requirements, how to access services, and the benefits of private insurance, expats can navigate the healthcare system effectively and ensure they receive the care they need.

For more detailed information, expats should visit the official websites of the provincial health ministries and consider consulting with local healthcare professionals to fully understand their coverage options.