Healthcare in Canada: Basics for Newcomers

Moving to a new country can be an exciting but challenging experience, especially when it comes to navigating the healthcare system. As an international student in Canada, understanding the basics of healthcare is essential to ensure you receive the necessary medical assistance when needed. In this blog, we at Isempower will provide you with all the information you need to know about healthcare in Canada as a newcomer. Let’s dive in!

The Canadian Healthcare System

One of the top reasons newcomers choose Canada as their new home is access to a publicly-funded universal healthcare system. We’ll explore how the system works, with a portion of taxes funding healthcare services in each province. This allows eligible individuals to receive basic health and medical assistance either for free or at a fraction of the cost.

Applying for a provincial health insurance card

In Canada, to get access to medical services, you need a health insurance card. Each province or territory issues these cards to its residents. As a newcomer, you have to submit an application to the provincial government to get the card or done through your college or university institute.

Consider this scenario: If you’re in Ontario, you should visit Service Ontario to submit an application, while if you’re in Alberta, you should visit Service Alberta

The websites will have addresses to physical locations and also mention the documents required for your application. You can simply walk in at the location that’s closest to you and apply for your health card. All applications need to be submitted in person. The documents required as part of your application may vary by province but largely, all provinces require proof of residency, government-issued ID, and documents proving immigration status. 

Once your application is verified, the health card is mailed to your residence. You will need to show this card whenever you visit a hospital or a doctor. 

Understand the health coverage provided

Depending on your immigration status, the government of Canada provides free emergency medical services, even if you don’t have a government health card. If you have an emergency, it is recommended to visit the nearest hospital. A walk-in clinic may charge fees if you’re not a resident of that province or territory.

Typically, provincial insurance only covers basic medical services. Items such as prescription medicines, dental care, physiotherapy, ambulance services, prescription eyeglasses may not be covered by the government, and you will have to pay out-of-pocket if you don’t have any other private insurance plan. Many employers offer some form of extended health insurance benefits to their employees to cover scenarios or situations that provincial insurance does not. So, it’s a good idea to check with your employer about these benefits and be well-informed about your options before signing the offer letter. 

Finding a Family Doctor 

Most Canadians have a family doctor as a primary point of contact whenever they need medical care or advice. A family doctor provides you and your family with basic care, and will also be the one to provide a referral if you need to see a specialist. 

You can find a family doctor in Canada by: 

  • Asking a friend, colleague, relative or acquaintance 
  • Contacting an immigrant-serving organization
  • Contacting a community health centre in your area
  • Checking the provincial websites for finding a family doctor

Learn more: Healthcare in Canada by province

Now that you’re familiar with the basic overview of how healthcare in Canada works, let’s look at each province and territory to understand their healthcare plans in detail. All provincial insurance plans have the same basic standards of healthcare and share common features. However, there are some subtle differences that may be important to note regarding how long it takes for health coverage to take effect and what exactly is covered.


  • Provincial insurance name: Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP)
  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Coverage begins from the date residency is established (typically, the date of arrival). 
  • Coverage: Includes full coverage for medically necessary physician services, some dental and oral surgical health services, and hospital visits and stays.
  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access Health Link.

British Columbia

  • Provincial insurance name: Medical Services Plan (MSP)
  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Coverage may start three months after your arrival date.
  • Coverage: Includes services by physicians and midwives, dental and oral surgery performed in a hospital, necessary eye exams, x-rays, and some orthodontic services. 
  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access HealthLinkBC.


New Brunswick

  • Provincial insurance name: New Brunswick Medicare and Drug Plans
  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Once a completed application form is received and eligibility is established, a letter indicating the actual start date of the New Brunswick Medicare coverage is issued and followed by a New Brunswick Medicare card.
  • Coverage: Includes physician’s services, certain specified surgical dental procedures, and most hospital services. 
  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access Tele-Care.


  • Provincial insurance name: Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) 
  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Previously, newcomers were required to wait for up to three months for OHIP coverage unless they qualified for immediate coverage. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this wait period has been waived off.
  • Coverage: Doctor visits, hospital visits and stays, medical or surgical abortions, eligible dental surgery and optometry, podiatry, ambulance services, and travel for health services if you live in northern Ontario. 
  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 1-866-797-0000 / 1-866-797-0007 or access Telehealth Ontario.


  • Provincial insurance name: Québec Health Insurance Plan 
  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Waiting period of up to three months from arrival date.
  • Coverage: Includes medical procedures, anesthetics, medical examinations, eye drops, diagnostic mammogram, urine and glycemia tests, and vasectomy. 
  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access Info-Santé 811.

As you settle-in in Canada, one of the things on your checklist should be to familiarize yourself and learn more about healthcare coverage offered by the province or territory you reside in. The things you need to do to get a health card and understand the process to be followed should you need medical assistance. Being well-informed can help you make a healthy transition to Canadian life.