Expat Guide to Healthcare in Canada

Doctor on Canada flag background - Canadian Healthcare

There are more than 600,000 Britons living in Canada, drawn to the country for its spectacular scenery, fantastic quality of life and employment opportunities.

Many choose Canada over its southern neighbour, the USA, for its lower crime levels, cultural similarity to the UK and, of course, its generous social care.

> Read our Canada vs US comparison for more.

If you’re looking for a high standard of living, healthcare forms a major part of that. Canada’s Medicare is often compared favourably to the expensive private health insurance culture of the USA, but what exactly does it include and is it open to everyone? Read on for a comprehensive guide to healthcare in Canada…

An Introduction to Medicare

Canada’s state-funded healthcare system is a point of national pride – much like the NHS in the UK. That’s not to say it is not without fault, but it does ensure essential medical treatment is free at the point of delivery. Rather than a healthcare service, it is defined as a health insurance service, funded by the taxes citizens and residents pay in through income tax, sales tax and things like the purchase of lottery tickets.

Medicare is not run nationally, it is run jointly with each province and territory, making 13 healthcare insurance plans across the country. The federal government sets the national standard and awards a Canada Health Transfer, providing long-term funding, then each province and territory is responsible for the management, organisation and delivery of healthcare services.

Who Can Claim Medicare?

The Canada Health Act defines people who are insured through Medicare as residents of a province. A resident is: “a person lawfully entitled to be or to remain in Canada who makes his home and is ordinarily present in the province, but does not include a tourist, a transient or a visitor to the province.”

The truth is, each province or territory defines its own minimum residence requirements and waiting period (up to three months) before someone can apply for their health insurance card.

Generally, the provinces define residents as Canadian citizens and permanent residents. If you are on a temporary visa it is more than likely you will need to takeout private health insurance. Even if you are moving to the country as a permanent resident, you should take out private health insurance to cover you while you wait to receive your card and access to all services. You can find more information of the different provinces and their health insurance offerings here.

If you are on a work permit, then discuss what healthcare options are available from your Canadian employer, they are responsible for ensuring you are covered by medical and health insurance and workers’ compensation.

What’s Included?

Most primary and secondary care is included in Medicare, with doctor visits and referrals to specialists free of charge. Both in-patient and out-patient services are included as are any medically-necessary services to maintain health and prevent disease, diagnose and treat an injury, illness or disability and physician services.

However, certain things are not included with Medicare, unless you are a senior citizen, child or on a low income. These include; prescription drugs outside hospitals, dental care, eye care, medical equipment and appliances (prostheses, wheelchairs, etc.), and the services of health professionals such as physiotherapists.

Many Canadians take out private health insurance or are offered a certain level of cover to fund these extras through their jobs.

Medicare Challenges

Canada offers an extremely high standard of medical care. However, as with the NHS at home, a nation-wide, free at the point of delivery service is always going to struggle. There are reports of long wait times and a lack of doctors within Medicare, others criticise the fact that prescriptions are not included in the service, which means costs can escalate if you have a chronic disorder. If you are unduly worried about these points, you could take out private health insurance to complement what is available through Medicare.

Moving Within Canada

Medicare is not a national system, it is a health insurance run at provincial level. Therefore, if you are moving provinces, you will be expected to inform your local authority you are leaving and to register with the health insurance plan of your new province.

While that is going through, you are covered by the insurance plan of your “home” (previous) province, for up to three months, which should give you time to submit all the necessary paperwork and register your change of address.

If you are travelling around within Canada and fall ill, you will be covered even though you are in a different province. The Canada Health Act requires all provinces and territories to extend medically necessary hospital and physician coverage to their eligible residents during temporary absences from the province or territory. All your questions on the topic of coverage within Canada will be answered here.

Private Health Insurance

Of course, if you are a temporary resident or are recently arrived in the country, you should take out private health insurance to ensure you are covered for any eventuality.

There are plenty of packages offering health insurance in Canada. You will need to do your research to make sure you find the right one for your needs. If you plan on travelling a lot internationally, perhaps an individual private medical insurance (IPMI) policy would better suit your needs, working both in Canada and overseas.

Another reason to take out private health insurance is to supplement what is available through Medicare. With certain things like physiotherapy and prescriptions not covered, there are packages available that will ensure you never have to worry about these costs.

Private insurance can be costly in Canada, so if you are moving for reasons of employment, it is worth negotiating to have health insurance included in your relocation package.


It may be considered a health insurance more than a health service, but the Canadian Medicare system is not unlike the NHS in the UK, apart from the fact you will be issued with a card to access services.

Make sure you have checked whether you will be eligible for the service before trusting that you fit the criteria. All expats should consider private healthcare at least for arrival in Canada while all their paperwork is being processed.

From there, see what cover you can receive through your work and don’t hesitate to top whatever coverage you have with private insurance.

Check out our Canada Expat Guide for more info on moving to Canada as a British expat.

Are you thinking of moving to Canada? Discover our unbeatable international removals services here.

About 1st Move International

1st Move International are a specialist international moving and shipping company offering packing, shipping and insurance for shipping household goods and personal effects overseas. We have a global reach covering over 80 countries and 6500 worldwide destinations. You can get an international removals quote here or find more information on our international removals UK to Canada service here.

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As the Managing Director of 1st Move International, Mike Harvey brings more than two decades of logistics expertise and three years of specialised experience in international relocations to his role. His comprehensive knowledge spans the intricacies of overseas shipping, secondary yet crucial areas such as visa application processes and immigration requirements, and the wider topic of moving abroad including topics such as comparative analyses of cost of living, healthcare and educational systems worldwide. This expertise allows 1st Move International to equip people with the information they need to not just move overseas, but to make informed decisions about whether, and where, to relocate.