Using The Healthcare System In Canada – A Short Guide For Expats

Canada has one of the strongest Healthcare Systems in the western world, which offers a wide range of options to all its residents, including the expats. The standard of treatments, doctors, hospitals, insurance and medical services in this country are at par with The US and UK.

Doctors and hospitals

Almost all the cities in Canada have a few general hospitals (private and public), in addition to psychiatric clinics, special hospitals and women’s nursing homes. You will also find a children’s hospital as well as pediatric wards in every hospital. The general hospitals are usually huge and can deal with almost any condition.In order to be a part of the Canadian healthcare system, you will need to get yourself registered with a local doctor or a general practitioner. The registration process includes making an appointment and undergoing an initial physical exam; the examiner will also ask you questions about yours and your family’s medical history. In case you have an existing health condition, you may need to go for further tests.

In certain provinces, doctors may not have room for registering more patients. If you face any difficulty in getting signed up with a doctor, try contacting the local college of physicians and surgeons. Look around till you come across a doctor who is taking on new patients. Registering with a GP is important so that you can be referred for specialized services at a hospital, if the need arises.

In case of an emergency, go to the nearest hospital or walk-in clinic. Alternately, you could also dial 911 to call for an ambulance. In Canada, healthcare is provided even to foreigners, regardless of their status. The Interim Federal Health Program will provide you with a temporary cover till your residency status can be established.

Prescription and Medication

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Pharmacies in Canada operate almost the same way as they do in Europe and the US. All major cities will have at least one 24×7 chemist. Very often a pharmacy is located within a drug store, a grocery store or even a department store. Some hospitals and medical clinics have an attached chemist.

You should be able to find most over-the-counter and prescription drugs at a pharmacy. To ensure that you are buying the same medicines as you did back home, ask your doctor about its generic name.

Health Insurance

Though the Canadian healthcare standards were set up by the national government, provincial governments now look after them in the form of the Medicare system. This system isn’t completely free; you may have to pay for certain treatments and medication even if you are covered. In order to make use of the Medicare system, you need to have a healthcare card, issued by your provincial health department.

It is best to apply for a healthcare card (for each member of your family) as soon as you arrive in Canada as it could take you a couple of weeks to get it. The application forms are usually available at the local hospital. Some dispensaries and pharmacies also keep a stock of this form. Do bear in mind that you can only use your healthcare card in your province. If there is an agreement between two areas, you can obtain emergency healthcare in another province, which you can pay for (and claim later) or have charged to your province. If you happen to move to another province, you will also need to apply for another healthcare card.

If you are an expat without a Permanent Residency, you will need to get private healthcare insurance. The cost of healthcare will vary significantly, depending upon the province you live in. Many companies will be able to provide private healthcare insurance at a reasonable price. While some of them operate only in a couple of provinces, you may be able to get nationwide cover with some the others. Some provinces have made private healthcare mandatory for the first three months as you cannot make a claim with Medicare for that period.

Most dental and optical services are not covered by Medicare. Since these treatments can be quite expensive, it is best to get private insurance for these medical services. Alternately, you could always choose to pay for these services as and when you require them.


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