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Healthcare in Canada is decentralised, comprehensive and universal for all citizens and permanent residents. The universal public health insurance affords low-cost access to doctors and other health practitioners. Unfortunately, expats with temporary residency in Canada are not eligible for the same benefits.
This insurance system, known as Medicare, allows individuals to seek treatment at both private and public healthcare facilities; though the overwhelming majority of hospitals, clinics and practices in Canada are, in fact, private. The system does not dictate which doctor or service provider an individual must use.
Still, even if expats don’t qualify for Medicare and must take out a more expensive private health insurance plan, they can rest assured that they will receive high-quality treatment administered by well-trained professionals.
Public healthcare in Canada
The healthcare system in Canada is funded publicly by taxes, but doctors and hospitals run their own businesses privately – billing the government for services rendered.
Each province or territory defines the procedures and services covered by its particular health insurance plan. All core health services, such as acute hospital care and most physician services, are covered. This affords expats and locals alike a fair opportunity to receive high quality treatment.
A downside to the system is the fact that waiting times can be long. Though emergencies are addressed immediately, some individuals report waiting weeks for a mere consultation and even up to six months for an important surgery.
There is also a shortage of general practitioners and many won’t take new patients. To make matters more frustrating, specialists require a referral from a general practitioner before they can provide treatment.
Still, despite these issues, it's commonly agreed that the benefits of the public healthcare system in Canada far outweigh the downsides.
Getting a health insurance card in Canada
Expats moving to Canada should make it a priority to apply for a medical card upon arrival. Application forms are available online. Identification in the form of a birth certificate or passport and confirmation of permanent residence is required to complete the process.
Only once this documentation is processed can expats qualify to receive Medicare treatment of any kind. In most Canadian territories and provinces, each individual member of a family receives a unique personal identification number and accompanying card.
Insurance co-pays vary across provinces and territories in line with each location’s policies and wealth distribution, but are generally cheap across the board. Note that medical care services offered in one province or territory may differ in another, and we recommend acquiring private health insurance when travelling across Canada. It’s also advisable for expats waiting for their health insurance card (a three-month waiting period is standard) to take out private health insurance for that period.
Private health insurance in Canada
Private health insurance in Canada is used by locals and residents as a supplement to Medicare, and is used by temporary residents as the main source of cover.
Various packages are available, and expats will need to conduct some research and carefully evaluate their priorities to see which plan and service provider is most suitable.
Premiums tend to be on the expensive side, so if relocating to Canada with a job offer in place, expats should negotiate the inclusion of private insurance in their employment package.
Pharmacies in Canada
Pharmacies can easily be found in all major Canadian cities. They are located within drug, grocery and large department stores, while others are attached to hospitals and medical clinics.
Expats will find that they can get most prescription medicines at a pharmacy in Canada. As some medication is expensive, it is best to keep the receipt in order to claim the cost from either Medicare or a private health insurer.
Emergency medical services in Canada
Emergency medical services in Canada are regulated by individual provinces and, by law, must be provided to anyone in need.
In case of a medical emergency, an ambulance can be requested by dialling 911. Paramedics in Canada are highly trained and provide excellent care at the scene of an accident or emergency.
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"Calgary has an excellent healthcare system and we have only had positive experiences. My husband and daughter had an accident that required medical attention and the paramedics were there within minutes. They were taken to Foothills Hospital where they received great care." Find out more healthcare in Canada in our interview with Catherine.
Are you an expat living in Canada?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Canada. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
Cigna Global Health Insurance
With Cigna, you won't have to rely on foreign public health care systems, which may not meet your needs. Cigna allows you to speak to a doctor on demand, for consultations or instant advice, wherever you are in the world. They also offer full cancer care across all levels of cover, and settle the cost of treatments directly with the provider. Cigna is currently offering a 10% discount for seniors (over 60) on their Silver package.
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