An expat guide to healthcare and health insurance in Canada
Are you researching an expat health insurance for Canada? It is important to find out about the local healthcare system first.
Whether you are moving to Canada or you are already living there as an expat, read our guide to the Canadian healthcare system, your different options of medical insurance for Canada and an overview of the average cost of local healthcare.
- Total Population (2016): 36,290,000 inhabitants
- Gross national income per capita (PPP international $, 2013): 42,610
- Life expectancy at birth m/f (2016): 81/85 years
- Probability of dying between 15-60 years m/f (per 1000 population, 2016): 76/49
- Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2014); 4,641
- Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2014): 10.4
Healthcare in Canada for expats
Canada has a universal tax-funded healthcare system, called Medicare. Citizens and permanent residents in Canada can enrol in Medicare. The principles of state health insurance are fixed on a federal level by the Canadian Health Act, while the provision of health services is managed by each province or territory. There are therefore 13 state health insurance programs in Canada.
Medical coverage in any Canadian province will give you access to basic health services in any other province across Canada. But if you move from a province or territory to another, you will have to register with the health insurance program of your new place of residence.
Each health insurance program may differ from one province or territory to another but they all follow the same principle: universal coverage for medically necessary healthcare.
Government health insurance plans give you access to medically necessary medical services, such as outpatient care and hospital care. Some services are only partially or not covered at all.
The list of medical acts that are covered may differ from one province or territory to another but generally the services that won’t be covered are: dental care (except for emergencies), prescription medication, prescription eyeglasses, hearing aids, ambulance services, home care, physiotherapy and private hospital rooms.
Most Canadian citizens usually sign up for private health insurance in order to have a wider coverage than that offered by Medicare.
When you use public healthcare services, you must show your health insurance card to the hospital or medical clinic.
If you have an emergency, it is advised to go to the nearest hospital. A walk-in clinic might charge fees if you don’t live in that province or territory.
In many provinces, the waiting time in order to enrol with the state health insurance is around three months. It is therefore advised to get private health insurance in the meantime.
Who is eligible for Medicare?
All permanent residents in Canada can enrol in Medicare. If you are a temporary resident, the enrolment rules differ from province to province, and depend on the duration and reason of your stay in Canada.
If you are visiting Canada (on a tourist or business trip), you are not eligible for Medicare and you are responsible for your medical costs. Some provinces may require that you purchase travel insurance as a visa requirement. It is important to check the rules of the province where you will be travelling.
Regardless of your type of visa, a health insurance is strongly recommended given the high cost of health care in this country.
International health insurance for expats in Canada
An international health insurance for Canada allows you to be treated in the hospital of your choice or with the doctors of your choice, in Canada or abroad. This is often the best option for people preferring to seek treatment in the private sector, whether in Canada, their country of origin or another country.
Under the Medicare Protection Act, enrolment with Medicare is mandatory for all eligible residents and their dependents. However, because it can take time for an expat settling in Canada to obtain their residency permit (around a year), Canadian authorities allow non-nationals residing in Canada to take an international private health insurance for their first year in Canada. Renewal after a year isn’t possible. It is however possible to keep the private health insurance you will have subscribed to cover you internationally but it won’t cover you in Canada anymore. Your international health insurance will be on top of your Canadian state insurance, and will not replace it.
What is the best health insurance for expats in Canada?
The best health insurance in Canada for one expat might not be the best for you as everyone has different needs and expectations.
In order to find which one is the best health insurance in Canada for you, it is important to consider several aspects such as your medical history, your age, your specific needs in terms of medical cover, your situation in Canada, alongside other parameters.
How much does healthcare cost in Canada?
Most of hospitals are public and are funded and managed by each province or territory. Doctors and health care facilities price their fees on an individual basis. Therefore, the medical tariffs are very variable and can sometimes be very high.
Family doctor’s offices:
Canadian GPs (family doctors) see their patients in their private offices. As a patient, you can choose your family doctor. In recent years, there has been a shortage of family doctors and it can be difficult to find a doctor’s office that enrols new patients. In some parts of the country, the only way to see a doctor is to go directly to a hospital but waiting time can be very long.
For someone who doesn’t have a Canadian Health card, the cost of a 15 minutes consultation with a family doctor starts at 40 Canadian dollars but can go up to several hundred dollars, depending on the duration of the consultation, the doctor, the locality where the doctor is, and other factors. The consultation fees must be paid prior to the appointment.
There are also private and public walk in clinics, open 24/7 where it’s possible to see a doctor without prior appointment. These clinics are popular but waiting times can be long.
Consultation fees in private or public clinics is minimum 120$CA for a visitor.
For private clinics, costs can depend on the duration of the consultation.
You need to be referred by a GP in order to see a specialist doctor, except for ophthalmologists.
For non-residents, the daily cost of an emergency room is between 700 and 800 $CA. The daily cost of a ward is between 3000 and 7000 $CA and intensive care will cost between 8000 and 14500 $CA per day.
For un-insured residents, the cost of an emergency room is between 260 and 700 $CA. The cost of a daily ward is between 800 and 4000 $CA and intensive care will cost between 3000 and 12000 $CA.
Daily rates usually include meals, most drugs and tests, blood work and X-Rays, but don’t include doctor’s fees, and some high cost drugs and tests. For a semi-private or private room, there is an extra add-on to pay, however these rooms are not always available.
Ambulance fees can vary from around 130 to 1000 $CA depending on provinces.
You are not required to have any specific vaccinations to enter Canada. However, it is recommended to ensure that your immunisation schedule is up to date.
Health ministries of the different Canadian territories and provinces:
We build partnerships with reputable insurance companies who are long-established in the expatriate insurance industry. All the international insurance companies we work with have both individual and corporate plans. Find out more about our partners here.
- An immigration health surcharge for long stays in the UK - Visitors staying for more than 6 months in the UK must pay an 'Immigration Health Surcharge'. Since Brexit, European citizens are also included.