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Health Services for Immigrants in Canada


    There is a popular adage that says ‘Health is Wealth’. You have to be strong and healthy to work for an income that will cater to your basic needs. The Canadian government has this in mind and has made the healthcare services free and available to all Canadian citizens, Permanent residents, and even foreign workers with valid work permit not excluding the international students with valid study visas.

    Although the last two mentioned (Foreign workers with valid work permits and international students with valid study visas) might not have all the basic amenities at their disposal but they can apply to get a public healthcare card, this will help them to get health attention without actually paying heavily for it.


    Public health care coverage varies from province to province, however, most medical care deemed necessary by the Federal government of Canada is covered at no cost to its citizens. There are however some exclusions, such as prescription drugs, as well as dental, mental health, and optometry, unless deemed medically necessary.

    There are programs that work towards preventing injuries and teaching citizens about health issues. The programs are funded by the government of Canada and are created to help reduce healthcare costs and to teach people how to take control of their health before they turn into more serious problems.

    There are programs for seniors, those with disabilities, awareness campaigns for back injuries, and many others. These programs are designed to help people in Canada stay healthier because they are educated about health-related issues.

    Instead of having a single national plan, Canada has 13 provincial and territorial health care insurance plans. Under this system, all Canadian residents have reasonable access to medically necessary hospital and physician services without paying out-of-pocket. Roles and responsibilities for health care services are shared between provincial and territorial governments and the federal government.

    The provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the management, organization, and delivery of health care services for their residents.

    The federal government is responsible for:

    • setting and administering national standards for the health care system through the Canada Health Act
    • providing funding support for provincial and territorial health care services
    • supporting the delivery of health care services to specific groups
    • providing other health-related functions

    Canada’s Universal Health Care System

    If you’re a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, you may apply for public health insurance. With it, you don’t have to pay for most health care services. The universal health care system is paid for through taxes.

    When you use public health care services, you must show your health insurance card to the hospital or medical clinic. Each province and territory have its own health insurance plan. Make sure you know what your plan covers.

    All provinces and territories will provide free emergency medical services, even if you don’t have a government health card. There may be restrictions depending on your immigration status. If you have an emergency, go to the nearest hospital. A walk-in clinic might charge fees if you don’t live in that province or territory.

    The ‘Universal’ health care system is not so universal for people who are not citizens, permanent residents, foreign workers with a valid permit, or international students with a valid permit. Transients, visitors, and temporal citizens would be charged to pay for their healthcare bills.

    Usually, workers must be employed full-time by an employer and students must be enrolled in full-time studies for a period of 12 months to qualify. The Canada Health Act states that all insured persons are entitled to the insured benefits offered within that province.

    “Insured persons” are lawful residents who have lived in the province for three months and live there for at least 183 days a year. However, those who obtain permanent residency in Canada may have a waiting period of 3-months before they can access free healthcare – it all depends on the provincial government in which they reside.

    Canadians most often turn to primary health care services as their first point of contact with the health care system.

    In general, primary health care:

    • delivers first-contact health care services
    • coordinates patients’ health care services to support:
      • continuity of care, which means receiving high-quality care from diagnosis to recovery
      • ease of movement across the health care system when more specialized services are needed from specialists or in hospitals.

    Basic Health Coverage

    Almost all essential basic care is covered, including primary care physicians, specialists, and hospital services. However, this health coverage does not cover dental, vision, Cosmetic surgery, and some forms of elective surgery, ambulance services, physiotherapy are not considered essential.

    Pharmaceutical benefits are only available to the elderly, disabled, or low-income earners. It is advisable to have extra private health coverage that government-free health care does not cover. If you work, you may get extra coverage from the company or organization you work for.

    The health care of veterans is well looked after in Canada and they receive the care that they need in their later lives when they may retire to care homes or seniors’ centers.

    The Canadian government not only treats injuries sustained in the service of their country but veterans get whatever care that they need.

    What’s more, all veterans who are injured, disabled, and retired are admitted to lifelong financial support and care under the Canadian health care system. This long-term care includes medical care facilities and comfortable accommodations at nursing homes all over Canada.

    In some cases, the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) provides temporary health insurance to

    • refugees
    • protected persons
    • refugee claimants

    The temporary care covers you and your dependents until you are eligible for health plan coverage through your province, territory, or private plan.

    How to Apply for Public Health Insurance in Canada


    Apply for a health insurance card as soon as you arrive in Canada. Forms can be found at doctor’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and immigrant organizations. Documents required are identification and confirmation of permanent resident status. Some provinces (Ontario, B.C., Quebec, and New Brunswick) have a three-month waiting period for coverage.

    As mentioned earlier, Canadians do not pay directly for healthcare services but pay through government taxes (except in B.C., where you pay a monthly premium). When traveling outside of your territory or province, you may need to purchase private health insurance to have the same medical services covered. Newcomers also need to purchase private health insurance to cover themselves during the three-month waiting period.