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Canada - Health Service

Canadian citizens and permanent residents can apply for public health insurance which entitles them to free medical care. Approximately 90% of hospital care and 99% of GP services are free for citizens and permanent residents. Government health insurance does not usually entitle people to free prescription medication, prescription glasses, ambulance costs or dental care, and private insurance is usually required to cover these areas. Provinces do, however, subsidise these expenses for vulnerable groups i.e. low-income families, children and the elderly.

Health care in Canada is funded by the federal, provincial and territorial governments, mostly through income and consumption taxes. 30% of health care financing comes from private funding, both out-of-pocket and through private insurance, and accounts for expenditure on costs not met by the public system such as dental care, and supplementary costs which allow customers more choice in provider and shorter waiting times for treatment.

The Canada Health Act guarantees free treatment for essential physician and hospital treatment, but what constitutes essential care differs between provinces. Quebec and Manitoba, for example, offer partial tax credits towards infertility treatment and New Brunswick offers a one-time grant. Ontario now fully funds one full round of IVF treatment, although the number of patients on the receiving end is capped at 5000 a year, and there are waiting lists of up to two years. Abortion services differ in accessibility throughout the country, as do funded autism therapies.

All citizens and permanent residents are entitled to enroll in the public health program and receive a health card, which they should show to the hospital or clinic in order to receive free care. All provinces and territories provide free emergency care, however, regardless of whether or not the patient presents a health insurance card.

Usually you must be resident for three months in a province before you are entitled to health coverage there. Temporary residents are not covered by public health insurance plans, and are advised to take out private health insurance to cover any costs they may occur. The same goes for those applying for health cards as permanent residents; it is a good idea to take out private insurance to cover the three-month waiting period.

The Medicare system is very popular in Canada, and a recent survey revealed that 91% of Canadians prefer their healthcare system to that of the US. In an online survey by Leger Marketing, 94% of participants voted the universal health care system as being an important source of collective pride.

The most commonly cited complaint is long waiting times for non-urgent services. A Commonwealth Fund survey found that 57% of Canadians had to wait a month or more in order to see a specialist. The report also found that a quarter of Canadians had to wait 4 hours or more in the emergency room before being seen.

The emergency services number for Canada is 911. Most areas provide an enhanced 911 service to all users, which automatically provides the 911 operator with the phone number and location or address of the caller. Ambulance service is not covered by public health insurance, so the customer must usually foot the bill. One benefit of this is that there are fewer non-urgent calls made requesting ambulance assistance, enabling the service to better serve those who need it most.

One in four adult Canadians and one in ten Canadian children are clinically obese. A 2010 report revealed that 4.1% of Canada’s total healthcare budget went towards obesity-related expenses. Obesity is associated with various chronic health ailments such as diabetes and heart disease, which are prevalent in Canada.

Smoking is banned inside public buildings and workplaces throughout Canada. 2014 statistics reported that 18.1% of Canadians smoke, and the number of smokers is ever decreasing, due to increasing awareness of the dangers of smoking and the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes. Smoking prevalence is highest among young adults aged between 20-35, although in general it is at the lowest since records began. The same restrictions as apply for tobacco generally apply for vaping and e-cigarette products, i.e. smoking them is mostly banned everywhere cigarette smoking is banned.

Many people love their new lives as expats, but others can find the experience stressful, lonely and isolating at times. This may be down to not knowing anyone when they arrive, problems communicating in another language, or simply difficulty in adjusting to the different culture. In Canada there are many counselling services available including services specifically for expats, for example International Health Management in Toronto ( and Rikvah Gloria Horowitz in Vancouver or via Skype or phone (

There are also organisations similar to the Samaritans which can be reached via telephone, such as the Ontario-based Mental Health Helpline (1-866-531-2600) which provides free and confidential counselling and support and can put you in touch with services in your area which can help you further. There are many similar organisations in other provinces around the country, as well as specialised services for LGBT communities and children and teenagers, amongst others.

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Expat Health Insurance Partners


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.

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