Moving to Canada? Everything you need to know about Canada’s health care system

Published on May 26th, 2023 at 06:30am EDT


Canada is an exciting country known for its multicultural society, breath-taking landscapes, and publicly-funded health care.

That said, moving to Canada can come with its fair share of challenges, such as navigating the country’s health care system, which can be daunting for many newcomers. To help you get to grips with how the system works, including how to apply for a health card and access urgent care, here’s the essential information you need:

Unpacking Canada’s free health care system

As a permanent resident or landed immigrant, you can apply to access publicly-funded Medicare health services. Through Medicare, basic medical services such as doctor visits, hospital stays, and diagnostic tests are provided for free or at a fraction of the cost. However, because these services are primarily funded and delivered by each provincial government, the specifics of coverage and delivery may vary slightly from province to province. Therefore, you should check with the province of your intended residence, work, or study to determine available services.

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In general, Medicare doesn’t cover services and items like dental care, vision care, and prescription drugs, and without suitable private health insurance, you may have to pay for them out of your pocket. So, stay informed about what’s covered and what isn’t, and consider your options carefully.

Transitioning to Canada: Applying for a health card

To access Medicare services in Canada, you’ll first need to apply for a Canadian health card. Applying for a health card, or provincial health card as it’s also known, is usually free. The application process differs depending on the province, but all require supporting documents, including proof of residency and immigration status and a government-issued ID. It’s worth keeping in mind that some provinces may have a waiting period of up to three months before you can receive care.

Once your application is verified, you can use your card to access medical care covered by the government. You’ll need to present your card whenever you visit a doctor or hospital to confirm your eligibility.

Finding a family doctor for you and your loved ones

Family doctors, or General Practitioners (GPs), provide essential primary health care services and serve as valuable guides through the Canadian health care system. They can help you understand your options for care, make informed decisions, and provide referrals to specialists when necessary. You can find a family doctor by registering with the provincial health care system, asking for recommendations from friends or colleagues, or using online resources such as the Canadian Association’s Doctor Finder tool.

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Urgent care in Canada: How to get help when you need it

Canada offers free emergency medical treatment regardless of immigration status, and you don’t need a health card. However, going to the nearest hospital in case of an emergency is recommended, as some walk-in clinics may charge fees if you’re not a resident of that province or territory. If you can’t get to a hospital, dialing 911 will connect you with police, ambulance, and fire services, no matter where you are in the country. The cost of ambulance services in Canada is usually partially covered by each province, with patients responsible for a lower co-pay amount.

What makes a private health insurance plan a smart move

Private health insurance, held by about two-thirds of Canadians, can offer a wider range of services and benefits, shorter wait times, and a broader network of health care providers. Furthermore, it’s important to note that some provinces in Canada may only provide health coverage to their residents. This means you may not be covered if you require medical attention or have an accident outside your home region.

Although private health plans are often acquired as an employment benefit, it’s wise to be aware of their potential limitations and explore alternative coverage options.

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Why choose an international plan from Cigna Healthcare?

An international health plan from Cigna Healthcare provides fast access to quality care whenever and wherever you need it – from 24/7 phone and online GP appointments and mental well-being support to hospital treatment, including cancer care. And because Cigna Healthcare understands that everyone’s needs are different, they offer a range of add-ons covering outpatient treatment, dental and vision care, and prescriptions to tailor your health plan so it’s right for you.

Whether you’re moving to Canada to work or live, a Cigna Healthcare plan ensures you have everything you need to stay healthy and happy – without worrying about unpredictable medical expenses.

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