Healthcare In Canada 2023 (A Guide For New Immigrants)

Most residents of Canada are entitled to basic health care free of charge. The provinces and territories administer healthcare in Canada and operate similar systems across the country.

As a new immigrant, one of your first jobs should be to apply for a health card in Canada. This card will be proof of your eligibility for free healthcare and allow you to register with a family doctor.

This article will give you an overview of the Canadian healthcare system. We have also written separate articles with more detailed information for each province and territory.

Canada’s Healthcare System

Canada’s excellent healthcare system provides free primary care to eligible residents, which includes new immigrants. Healthcare is publicly funded through taxes and administered provincially. The provincial systems operate similarly, but there is some variation in coverage, and the application processes vary.

Your provincial plan will also provide basic coverage while travelling within other provinces and territories. However, if you move province permanently, you must re-register for healthcare with your new province. Once you move, you may have to wait 2-3 months before you are eligible for coverage. In the meantime, your previous home province will cover this cost.

Who Is Eligible For Free Healthcare In Canada?

A Colourful Alberta Children's Hosptial In Calgary Apply For A Health Card In Canada
Healthcare In Canada – Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary

All citizens and permanent residents are eligible for free basic healthcare in Canada. Temporary residents, such as those on study or temporary work permits, may also be entitled to free health services.

However, the rules for temporary residents can be complicated and vary according to province, the length of your stay in Canada, and sometimes according to your home country.

Tourists and visitors to the country are not eligible to apply for a health card in Canada or free health care. Instead, they should purchase private health insurance to cover any medical expenses.

What Is Covered By Healthcare In Canada?

If you are eligible for free healthcare in Canada, you will be covered for medically necessary health services such as:

  • Visits to general practitioners, surgeons and other doctors
  • Hospital services
  • Psychiatric care
  • Vaccinations
  • Certain radiology services that a medical practitioner provides

What Isn’t Covered By Healthcare In Canada?

Royal Victoria Hospital In Montreal In Fall Apply For A Health Card In Canada
Healthcare In Canada – Royal Victoria Hospital Montreal

Canadian health care won’t cover you for the following:

  • Prescriptions (some exceptions apply)
  • Dental work
  • Elective cosmetic services 
  • Ambulance transportation 
  • Complementary or alternative medical treatments
  • Services by medical professionals who do not participate in the province’s public health plan

Even if you are eligible for healthcare in Canada, you may want to obtain private supplementary insurance for medical services not covered by your provincial plan. Employers often include supplementary health coverage as an employee benefit, or you can acquire your own coverage.

Assistance With Health Care Costs In Canada (Low Income, Seniors & Others)

Most provinces have programs that offer additional coverage for certain groups of people, such as those on a low income, seniors, children and some First Nations people.

Provincial systems differ, but assistance may be provided to help cover the costs of services such as dentistry, eye care and prescriptions. You normally need to submit a separate application to the province for these additional programs.

Private Healthcare In Canada

Many Canadians have supplemental private health insurance to cover the costs of services not covered by their provincial plan. For example, the private plan would commonly cover services such as dentistry, eye care and prescriptions.

Some people buy their own policies, but this insurance is often provided as a benefit by employers.

Also, note that it’s illegal for private insurance companies to cover services that the government covers. This means that Canadians can’t jump the queue for basic services by paying extra for insurance.

How To Apply For Free Healthcare In Canada

City Of Saskatoon Hospital In Saskatchewan On A Sunny Summer Day Apply For A Health Card In Canada
Healthcare In Canada – City Of Saskatoon Hospital

To receive free healthcare in Canada, you must apply for a health card in your home province or territory. Your health card proves you are eligible for free healthcare under the provincial health insurance plan.

You will need to provide your health card and your ID whenever you need to access healthcare in Canada, and you will also need it when registering with a family doctor.

How To Apply For A Health Card In Canada

To apply for a health card in Canada, you must apply to your provincial (or territorial) health service. The processes can appear complicated, but all involve the following basic steps.

  1. Gather the required ID and proof of residency documentation.
  2. Complete the application form (one per family).
  3. Submit the application form and documentation.
  4. Your Personal Health Cards will be mailed to you.

The methods of application vary. For example, some provinces offer an online application, while others will require an in-person appointment. The table below provides a summary.

Health Card Application Methods - By Province

Health Card Application Methods - By Province
Province Online or Email Mail In Person Phone
Alberta - Yes Yes -
British Columbia* Yes* Yes* Yes* -
Manitoba Yes Yes - -
New Brunswick Yes Yes - -
Newfoundland - Yes - -
NWT Yes Yes - -
Nova Scotia - - - Yes
Nunavut Yes Yes - -
Ontario - - Yes -
PEI Yes Yes - -
Quebec Yes - - -
Saskatchewan Yes Yes - -
Yukon - - Yes -
* For BC: Step 1 Apply Via Mail or Email, Step 2 In-Person Appointment

Required Documents For Health Card Application In Canada

You will need to submit documents with your health card application to demonstrate your right to be in Canada. These vary slightly according to province, but you will generally have to provide two or three documents for each family member.

All provinces will ask you to provide proof of ID and proof of your right to reside in Canada. You may also be asked to provide proof of your address in the province. Examples of acceptable documents are given below:

  • Proof of ID – driver’s licence, passport, permanent resident card
  • Proof of right to reside in Canada – Canadian birth certificate, Canadian passport, permanent residents card, Canadian citizenship certificate, work permit
  • Proof of address – utility bill, driver’s licence

How Long Does It Take To Get A Health Card In Canada?

Two factors affect the time it takes to get a health card in Canada, and both vary according to province.

The first is the time it takes for the province or territory to process your application for a health card, and this can vary from one to eight weeks, depending on the province and the method of application.

The second factor is the wait time before new residents become eligible for coverage. This often depends on whether you moved from within Canada or from overseas; the table below summarises the wait times for each province and territory.

Wait Periods For Heath Coverage - By Province

Wait Periods For Health Coverage - By Province
Province From Overseas From Within Canada
Alberta None 2-3 Months*
British Columbia 2-3 Months* 2-3 Months*
Manitoba 2-3 Months* 2-3 Months*
New Brunswick None 2-3 Months*
Newfoundland None 2-3 Months*
NWT None 2-3 Months*
Nova Scotia None 2-3 Months*
Nunavut 2-3 Months* 2-3 Months*
Ontario None None
PEI None 2-3 Months*
Quebec 0-3 Months** 2-3 Months*
Saskatchewan None 2-3 Months*
Yukon 3 Months 3 Months
* Eligibility Starts On The 1st Day Of The 3rd Month After Becoming Resident
**Eligibility Depends On Which Country You Move From

How To Find A Family Doctor In Canada?

Once you receive your health card in Canada, you can register with a family doctor. You are free to register with any doctor in your area that is accepting new patients.

However, one ongoing issue in Canada is a shortage of family doctors in many areas, especially in smaller communities.

Many people find a family doctor by simply asking around, but if you need help, most provinces provide services to help you find a doctor. The table below gives links to these services for each province and territory.

Provincial “Find A Doctor” Services

What Happens If I Can’t Find A Family Doctor In Canada?

If you can’t find a doctor close by to register with, then almost all communities in Canada have walk-in clinics. These clinics are normally open daily, and you simply show up with your health card and wait to see a doctor.

The downside is that you won’t get the same continuity of care as you would with a family doctor. But you know you can always access medical care if needed.

Canadian Healthcare Cover While Travelling

Do I Need Health Insurance To Travel To Another Province?

If you travel to another province, you will almost certainly have some coverage under your home province’s healthcare plan. However, coverage varies according to province, and you should always check what is covered by your health card and consider taking out private coverage.

Some provinces will provide the same level of coverage in another province as you receive in your home province, while others only cover unexpected medical services and emergencies.

Medical providers in most provinces will directly bill your home province. However, some medical providers will require payment upfront, and you will then need to seek reimbursement from your home province.

Note that Quebec doesn’t have a billing agreement with the other provinces. This means if you travel to Quebec (or from Quebec to another province), you will always have to pay upfront and claim reimbursement.

Inukshuk At Qikiqtarjuaq In Nunavut Apply For A Health Card In Canada
Apply For A Health Card In Canada – Inukshuk At Qikiqtarjuaq Nunavut

Does Canadian Healthcare Cover Out-of-Country Medical Expenses?

The Government of Canada’s website (travel.gc.ca) states that the government does not cover medical expenses for Canadians travelling overseas. However, some medical costs may be covered by your provincial health coverage.

The level of coverage varies according to province, and it is unlikely that you will receive the same coverage as when you are in Canada. In addition, the services covered are likely to be limited, and your province may not pay the total cost.

You will also need to pay upfront and then submit a claim for reimbursement from your home province. It is recommended that you take out private health insurance when travelling outside of Canada, including travel in the US.

Canada Vs US Healthcare A Comparison

Canada and the US both rank well in international surveys on healthcare quality, and life expectancy is high for Canadians and Americans. Canada does perform better on two important measures of healthcare; Canadians have a slightly higher life expectancy than US citizens, and infant mortality rates are lower in Canada.

However, both the Canadian and US systems have their good and bad points.

  • Canadian Healthcare is better than US healthcare because – all Canadians receive basic, essential medical services funded by the government and paid for by taxes. This means that the patient doesn’t have to pay for treatment at the time of care, and a Canadian is unlikely to suffer financial hardship because they have to pay for life-saving treatment.
  • US Healthcare is better than Canadian healthcare because – wait times are significantly shorter. Canadians will always receive emergency care immediately but will generally wait longer for non-urgent care such as knee or cornea replacement.

Healthcare in Canada covers everyone with health insurance, but they limit costs by limiting the number of specialists, which can lead to longer wait times. In the US, the wait might be shorter, but the patient typically pays more. 

Not Sure Where To Make Your New Home?

Looking for a place to call home in Canada?

Let us help!

From the busy cities of Whitby, Ontario or Lethbridge, Alberta, to the small towns of Goderich, Ontario, Courtenay, BC or Devon, Alberta, find out about housing, schools, amenities and much more!

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Jobs In Healthcare In Canada

There are shortages of candidates in many job sectors in healthcare in Canada. This is due to a number of factors, including a growing and aging population. More recently, backlogs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have increased demand for healthcare workers.

Candidates for the following occupations are in demand in Canada:

Final Thoughts On Healthcare In Canada

Canada has an excellent healthcare system that provides free basic healthcare for residents. However, the system isn’t perfect. Wait times can be long for non-urgent care, and the costs to Canadians for services such as dentistry and prescriptions can be high.

Nevertheless, if you have a medical emergency or a serious medical condition, then you can be confident that you will be well cared for. And you have peace of mind knowing that you won’t need a second mortgage to pay for it.

We hope that this has given you a good overview of healthcare in Canada. More detailed information can be found in our provincial health card posts.

If you have any questions for us then please leave them in our comments section below.
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