What Expats in Canada Need to Know About Canadian Health Insurance
Canada is well known for its high standard of healthcare and its relative ease of accessibility. Canadian citizens and expats who qualify as permanent residents have access to a single-payer, universal healthcare system. This system is often referred to as Medicare. The guidelines and standards for Canada’s healthcare system are set by the federal government, which aim to ensure an equal level of accessibility across the country. But the actual administration of healthcare is a matter for each individual province and territory. Are you confused? Here’s what expats in Canada should know about how the system works.
Canadian Health Insurance Considerations
Canada is a massive country. And when it comes to healthcare, geography can be a challenge! The concerns and priorities for one area might be vastly different from another. Rural versus urban demographics, linguistic traditions, the size of the Indigenous population, proximity of major hospitals, and cultural priorities all influence healthcare spending decisions. For instance, the needs of the elderly Francophone population in northern Quebec can be very different from those of urban, east coast Halifax residents, with their large contingent of temporary students.
Pros and Cons of Local Health Insurance – Canadian Medicare
As an expat who is spoiled for choice on where to settle, you should note that there are pros and cons to the style and level of service in rural areas. The availability of doctors may be limited. However, you will get to know your healthcare team on a more personal level. There is no cold, impersonal, large scale hospital system to get lost in. On the downside, even routine tests might require a drive to a regional hospital. Meanwhile seeing a specialist may require a 4-hour drive.
Healthcare is a VERY popular topic of conversation among Canadians. Medicare is a cherished national institution of which Canadians are tremendously proud. It is also something they love to complain about. It is not unusual for a Canadian to express concern about the healthcare system in other countries. But in the next breath, they will complain about the waiting times at their local clinic in the next! And many of these complaints are valid. Long waiting times are a growing concern.
Qualifying for a Canadian Healthcare Insurance Card
Thankfully, there is no requirement to have a family physician in order to receive a healthcare insurance card. This is the identification card you present at each and every appointment, clinic visit, or emergency room admission. Canadian citizens and permanent residents don’t pay any out of pocket costs to access these services – provided that they present their healthcare card. If you happen to forget it, you will be issued a bill.
In general, to be eligible for a healthcare insurance card, you need to go to your nearest provincial or territorial services office. You’re required to present identification which proves that:
- You are who you say you are,
- You are Canadian or a permanent residence,
- Finally, you have been residing in your province or territory for three months.
ID Challenges with Canadian Insurance
Curiously, while it might feel like you have to present a lot of paperwork to receive your healthcare insurance card, this new piece of ID isn’t as versatile as you might think. You really can’t access the healthcare system without it – but the card isn’t that helpful in other situations. It’s not accepted as proof of age for purchasing alcohol or proving your identity when you vote at municipal elections. In short – this isn’t helpful as a piece of Canadian identification. It’s just for healthcare eligibility.
If you’re eager to take care of your paperwork as soon as possible, make sure you update your mailing addresses so you start getting bills at your new home. This is really important for documenting the length of your residency. If Mom is still forwarding along your Visa statement, that won’t help you!
Advantages of a Global Medical Insurance Plan in Canada
Foreigners living in Canada have unique needs. Some may also have expectations of a higher level of service and access to healthcare providers. Further, if you would like to receive care outside of Canada, you want a plan that will cover you worldwide. For Expatriates and internationals citizens living in Canada, we recommend you consider a global medical plan. These plans provide access to a wide range of private and public hospitals, shorter waiting times, and coverage in any country, including in your home country.
Best International Health Insurance Plans for Expatriates in Canada
Expatriates in Canada have many options for their global medical coverage. Three of the best international health insurance companies are listed below. GeoBlue Xplorer plan is an excellent option for US citizens living in the United Kingdom as they will provide up to 9 months of coverage back in the USA as well as worldwide. Aetna International provides comprehensive coverage at an affordable rate for international citizens worldwide. Cigna Global Medical is a great option for most with a modular plan design allowing you to tailor the level of coverage you need for your specific situation. Our team of international insurance brokers can help walk you through the pros and cons of each option, and others if needed, to help you decide on the right plan for you and your family.
The Best Global Medical Insurance Plan for US Citizens in Canada
- Premium Benefits, Coverage and Service
- Define your deductible and prescription benefits
- For Foreigners in the US or US Citizens Abroad
Recommended International Health Plans for Any International Living in Canada
- Access to Cigna Global’s network of trusted hospitals, clinics, and doctors
- The flexibility to tailor a plan to suit your individual needs
- The convenience and confidence of 24/7/365 customer service
- Fortune 100 company with more than 800,000 expatriate members worldwide
- Access to Annual Health Exams & Medications
- Talk to global member support 24/7/365
For Shorter Trips (less than one year) to Canada: Canadian Travel Insurance
How Family Physicians Are Set Up In Canada
The majority of Canadian citizens and permanent residents have a family physician. This is who they see for annual physical exams and ongoing healthcare management. Family physicians order tests, like bloodwork and X-rays, and refer patients to specialists. Family physicians may operate out of a small office as a solo practitioner. They may also form small collectives where they take turns covering after hours drop-in services. And they might also have a nurse or phlebotomist on staff.
In some areas, the family physician is actually a nurse practitioner. This is a specially trained nurse who takes on many of the duties of a primary care physician. Nurse practitioners based in rural areas may have a rotating schedule where they cover care in communities separated by hundreds of miles. Meanwhile, those in urban areas may be part of a larger clinic that does not just primary care but also community services, like breastfeeding support groups and nutrition services.
Finding A New Family Doctor
However, there are some Canadians and expats who don’t have a family physician or a nurse practitioner. If they are in need of healthcare, they either visit a community walk-in clinic or the emergency room in the event of more serious concerns. For some people, this system works just fine, especially if they’re in good health. But for others, it’s a source of frustration. They may really want a family physician but they can’t find any offices that are accepting new patients.
There is no standardized way to find a family physician in Canada. Often it comes down to asking family, friends, or colleagues who they would recommend and hoping they’ll put in a good word. In some provinces, there is a database where you can register your information to be matched with a family physician. In Ontario, for example, the Health Care Connect program makes note of preferences like language services and travel distance.
The best advice for expats in Canada and new permanent residents is to start your search early. Do it long before you feel unwell. It can be several months until a match comes up.