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Get Healthcare in Canada: A Guide for Newcomers

Get Healthcare in Canada: A Guide for Newcomers

Get Healthcare in Canada: A Guide for Newcomers

Learn about how you can benefit from Canada’s healthcare system. Explore provincial healthcare coverage, eligibility, and the necessary steps to secure healthcare for you and your family.


In this comprehensive guide, newcomers to Canada will learn about the country’s healthcare system and the services available to them. This page will go into the details of provincial and territorial healthcare coverage, helping you understand the differences and similarities between regions. You will also find information about eligibility for healthcare coverage, including potential waiting periods, and the steps required to obtain a health card for you and your family.

Furthermore, this guide will help you navigate medical services, including finding a family doctor, accessing emergency services, and understanding prescription medications. We will also discuss dental, vision, additional health services, and mental health resources to support your well-being. Additionally, we’ll explore private health insurance options to supplement provincial/territorial public healthcare coverage. With this knowledge, you can make informed decisions about your healthcare needs and confidently access essential services as you settle into your new life in Canada.


What province has the best healthcare in Canada?

Healthcare in this country operates through a universal healthcare model funded through the taxes that residents pay annually. In most cases, public health services are free for all Canadians at the point of use, although certain medications (ex. prescription drugs) and treatments will require the recipient to pay out of pocket.

Under Canada’s Constitution, health care falls under the authority of the provinces and territories. Canada has 10 provinces and 3 territories. Public health services in each province and territory across Canada are managed by specific insurance plans and agreements in each region. Therefore, the services covered in each province or territory may differ. In each case, insurance to supplement public healthcare coverage is highly recommended.

Here is a list of what medical services are covered under each provincial and territorial healthcare plan. To read about each province/territory’s healthcare in greater detail, please visit the pages hyperlinked in each region’s section below.

Alberta (AB): The Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) completely covers costs associated with “medically necessary” services (as decided by a physician) as well as some services related to dental and oral surgical health.

More specifically, the AHCIP fully covers the following medical services for Alberta residents.

  • Medically required services provided by a physician
  • Psychiatrist visits
  • Medically required diagnostic services including laboratory, radiological and other diagnostic procedures
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery services
  • Bariatric surgery for Albertans who are eligible under the Weight Wise program
  • Breast augmentation and mastectomy for transgender surgery
  • Medically necessary nursing services, laboratory, x-ray and diagnostic procedures
  • Accommodations at a standard level and meals
  • Medications administered in a hospital
  • Use of the operating room, care room, radiotherapy, physiotherapy and anesthetic facilities
  • Routine surgical equipment and supplies
  • Inter-facility transfers in Alberta by ambulance

British Columbia (BC): British Columbia’s Medical Services Plan (MSP) covers these five primary service areas.

  • “Medically necessary” physician and midwife services
  • “Medically necessary” eye exams
  • Dental and oral surgery performed in a hospital
  • “Some” orthodontic services
  • Payment for diagnostic services including x-rays

Note: Eligible low-income individuals may also be able to have the MSP cover costs of treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic services, massage therapy, naturopathy, physical therapy and non-surgical podiatry (foot).

Manitoba (MB): Under the Insured Benefits Branch of Manitoba Health, services covered by public health insurance include the following service areas.

  • Physician services
  • Surgery/anesthesia, x-ray and laboratory services
  • Vision care (one exam every two years for people under 19 and over 65 as well as certain tests)
  • Chiropractic care (up to seven visits per calendar year)
  • Dental surgery (reimbursement is provided in cases where when hospitalization is necessary)
  • Hospital care
  • Ambulance fees

Note: Hospital care coverage under Manitoba public health includes ward-room accommodation and meals, nursing services, laboratory, x-rays and diagnostics; surgery and related supplies; and dietetic counselling

New Brunswick (NB): The provincial Medicare plan in New Brunswick covers the following items and services for residents of the province.

  • Drug coverage under the New Brunswick Drug Plan
  • Physician and hospital fees
  • Most “medically required” services that are provided in a hospital or physician’s office
  • Some in-hospital dental services
  • Hospital care, which includes the following: standard accommodation and meals, nursing service, drugs administered while in the hospital, diagnostic services and therapies

Newfoundland and Labrador (NL): Newfoundland and Labrador’s Medical Care Plan covers these seven service areas.

  • Visits to a physician’s office, hospital or beneficiary’s residence
  • Surgical, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, including anesthesia
  • Pre- and post-operative care
  • Maternity care
  • Radiology interpretive services
  • Certain medically necessary, in-hospital surgical dental procedures performed by a dentist or oral surgeon
  • Hospital accommodation and meals at the standard ward rate, nursing services, diagnostic procedures, medications and in-hospital therapy

Northwest Territories (NWT): In the Northwest Territories, the NWT Healthcare Plan covers costs related to these service areas.

  • Physician diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury
  • Surgery (including anesthetic services and surgical assistance where necessary); obstetrical care (prenatal and postnatal care inclusive)
  • Ophthalmologist services (eye exams, treatments and operations)
  • Hospital accommodation and meals at the standard ward care
  • In-hospital nursing services as well as laboratory, x-ray and diagnostic procedures, and interpretation services
  • Physician-prescribed drugs administered in a hospital
  • Use of the operating room, case room, and anesthetic facilities required for diagnosis and treatment (including necessary equipment and supplies)
  • Radiotherapy treatment, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy (when provided by an insured facility)
  • Detoxification services and medical treatment provided in an approved health facility

Nova Scotia (NS): In Nova Scotia, public healthcare coverage includes the following service areas.

  • Addiction treatment
  • Continuing care (nursing, home support, etc.)
  • Physician services
  • Hospital services
  • Optometry services (under nine years of age and over 65)
  • Ambulance fees
  • In-hospital dental surgeries
  • Infection prevention
  • Mental health services

Nunavut (NU): Nunavut’s public healthcare coverage includes…

  • Physician diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury
  • Surgery (including anesthetic services and surgical assistance where necessary)
  • Obstetrical care (prenatal and postnatal care inclusive)
  • Ophthalmologist services (eye exams, treatments and operations)
  • Hospital accommodation and meals at the standard ward care
  • In-hospital nursing services as well as laboratory, x-ray and diagnostic procedures, and interpretation services
  • Physician prescribed drugs administered in a hospital
  • Use of the operating room, case room, and anesthetic facilities required for diagnosis and treatment (including necessary equipment and supplies)
  • Radiotherapy treatment, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy (when provided by an insured facility)
  • Standard Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ward fees

Ontario (ON): In Ontario, the provincial healthcare plan is called OHIP (the Ontario Health Insurance Plan). It covers the following items.

  • Visits to doctors
  • Hospital visits and stays
  • Laboratory testing in community labs or hospitals
  • Medical or surgical abortions
  • Some in-hospital dental surgeries
  • Some optometry (eye-health services)
  • Podiatry (foot-health services)
  • Ambulance services
  • Costs incurred for travel to obtain health services if you live in northern Ontario.

Prince Edward Island (PEI): In PEI, the following eight services are covered through public healthcare plans.

  • Physician and hospital services
  • Drug plans*
  • Home care, palliative care, long-term care; addiction and mental health services, and drug programs**
  • Dental public health services
  • Chronic disease prevention and management
  • Public health nursing
  • Diabetes program, community nutrition, cancer screening programs, speech language pathology services, etc.
  • Ambulance services***

* – Drug plan coverage depends on the individual’s income level

** – For these services, a portion (up to the full cost of the service) may be covered

*** – Ambulance services are generally not covered by public health, but Island residents in certain situations may be able to have these costs subsidized

Quebec (QC): Quebec’s public health insurance plan, administered by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ), covers the following services and products under its provincial public healthcare plan.

  • General practitioner and specialist physician services only by those who have not withdrawn from RAMQ
  • Medical examinations, consultations, diagnostic procedures, therapeutic procedures
  • Medical procedures (e.g. surgery) and anesthetics
  • Cortisone, eye drops
  • Diagnostic mammogram, vasectomy
  • Urine and glycemia tests

Saskatchewan (SK): The Government of Saskatchewan covers the following services under its public healthcare plan.

  • Inpatient and outpatient services
  • Physiotherapy and occupational therapy, mammogram screening for women ages 50 to 69, vaccinations, HIV testing, and services related to the treatment of substance abuse, mental health and addiction
  • Select services for lower income working families
  • Prescription drug coverage through a family plan is available for children 14 or younger
  • Low-income seniors who are at least 65 years old are eligible for a senior drug plan

Yukon (YU): The Yukon Healthcare Insurance Plan (YHCIP) covers the following service areas.

  • Physician’s services in the doctor’s office, in a clinic, at the hospital, at the scene of an accident or in a patient’s home
  • Care and treatment administered by a physician (including anesthesia) before, during and after an operation
  • Physician care during pregnancy
  • Certain in-hospital dental surgeries
  • Hospital accommodation and meals at standard ward rates
  • Necessary nursing services, laboratory, radiological and other diagnostic procedures
  • Drugs, biologicals and related preparations (when administered in a hospital)
  • Use of an operating room, case room and anesthetic facilities including equipment and supplies
  • Radiotherapy and physiotherapy services
  • Out-patient services

Can Canadian immigrants get free healthcare?

Eligibility for public health insurance extends to all Canadians, including natural citizens and newcomers to this country. However, in some provinces, newcomers are not eligible for healthcare coverage immediately upon arrival to Canada (more on waiting periods below).

What do you need to get free healthcare in Canada?

All Canadians need a health card to access healthcare services in Canada. This document will verify to a doctor or medical professional that the health card holder is registered with the healthcare system in their province or territory.

The application process for a health card varies by region, and there is no shared process used among the provinces and territories across Canada. For example, obtaining a health card in Ontario will require the applicant to visit a Service Ontario location in person. Meanwhile, Alberta allows health card applicants to apply in person or by mail. Health card processing times also vary by province/territory.

Click here to learn more about applying for a health card, including application information specific to each province/territory across Canada.

How long do you have to live in Canada to get free healthcare?

In Canada, a health card provides the holder with access to public health insurance in their province of residence and financial coverage for applicable health services. These are typically basic and emergency care services such as the hospital.

Still, some provinces and territories require public health insurance applicants to wait up to three months for their benefits to begin.

The following lists the wait times for public health insurance coverage in each province/territory:

Alberta: 3 months

British Columbia: 2 months + any remainder of the month after residence in the province is first established

Manitoba: Up to 3 months

New Brunswick: 3 months

Newfoundland and Labrador: No waiting period

Northwest Territories: 3 months

Nova Scotia: 3 months

Nunavut: 3 months

Ontario: No waiting period

Prince Edward Island: 3 months

Quebec: Up to 3 months

Saskatchewan: 3 months

Yukon: 3 months

Where can I find medical services in my area?

Every province and territory in Canada has a government website that can help you find the nearest healthcare provider in your area. Whether you need a family doctor, a hospital or a specialist of some kind, these government resources can be helpful in finding nearby medical services.

To the same end, a simple Google search of your required medical service and your Canadian postal code – a code comprised of six letters and numbers that identifies where you live – can produce a list of the closest and most accessible medical services near you.

How to get a family doctor in Canada

Family doctors, also called general practitioners or family physicians, are basic health providers that many Canadians visit when they need medical care. Although there are walk-in clinics and hospitals (for urgent care) that people can visit for medical needs, a family doctor is the preferred choice of many Canadians due to appointment scheduling and the continuity of care. In other words, family doctors allow patients to avoid waiting in lines by scheduling appointments in advance and providing a consistent care experience because the patient will meet with the same doctor for every appointment.

Finding a family doctor in Canada can be a long journey because family doctors often decide for themselves whether they want to accept new patients at any given time. A good starting point for finding a family doctor would be recommendations from friends and family or getting help from a settlement services provider.

Oftentimes, an online search of family doctors in a local area (using a postal code) will also return results of different family doctors close to where someone lives. From there, a review of the website for a given family clinic will usually reveal if a doctor at that clinic is accepting new patients. Calling the clinic and asking when that doctor is available, then going in to meet with that doctor, can jumpstart the journey toward finding a family doctor for new Canadian PRs.

The following links can help new Canadian permanent residents start looking for a family doctor in their province/territory:

AlbertaAlberta Health Services

British Columbia: BC College of Family Physicians

Manitoba: Government of Manitoba

New Brunswick: New Brunswick Medical Society

Newfoundland and Labrador: Find A Doctor NL

Northwest Territories: List on RateMDs.com

Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia Health

Nunavut: Government of Nunavut

Ontario: Government of Ontario

Prince Edward Island: Government of PEI

Quebec: Government of Quebec

Saskatchewan: College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan

Yukon: Government of Yukon

Note: Simply calling clinics and inquiring about a family doctor may also be a viable strategy if online research does not return any results

How do I get immediate medical attention in Canada?

When a person is experiencing a medical emergency, they need to visit the emergency department at the nearest hospital. It is important for all patients to bring their health cards and personal ID with them. Upon walking into the hospital, an employee will provide further direction to the patient based on the severity of their condition and the patient will eventually be seen by a doctor.

Does Canadian health insurance cover prescription drugs?

Generally, it is important to understand that prescription drugs are provided at no cost to patients attending Canadian hospitals. This is a provision of the Canada Health Act.

Otherwise, the handling of prescription medications and pharmacy services depends largely on the publicly funded drug plan of the particular province in question. In other words, public drug plans determine the eligibility conditions and particular drugs that are covered in each province. For example, Ontario, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories all cover prescription drug costs to an extent, though the conditions (age, where the prescription was made etc.) on this coverage are not the same. Typically, the conditions imposed in each province are based on need, age, income, and medical condition.

Please refer to the links provided in the section titled “What province has the best healthcare in Canada?” for more details regarding each province and territory’s method for handling these two healthcare services.

What is not covered by Canadian health care?

he section towards the top of this page titled “What province has the best healthcare in Canada?” includes links to government pages for each province. These links outline whether or not the province in question covers medical services that are typically not included in public healthcare such as dental care, vision care and podiatry.

Is mental health included in healthcare in Canada?

We must take care of our mental health in much the same way that we take care of our physical bodies. Taking care of your mental health means being sure to handle and address things such as stress, anxiety and depression, as well as properly dealing with the effects of family or gender-based violence, mental illness, addiction or substance use problems or any other mental health problem.

For newcomers to Canada, many resources exist to help them avail a wide range of mental health services, including this guide from the Canadian government.

Doctors, hospitals, crisis phone lines and local organizations all have tools, resources and experts available that can help newcomers handle and improve their mental health.

In particular, newcomer settlement service providers are a useful resource for the newest Canadians because they are well-equipped to provide information about your community, connect you with local people who can help ease your transition to Canada, provide non-clinical mental health and well-being support and refer you to a wide range of other community health services.

Here is a list of some mental health organizations across Canada:

Can you get private healthcare in Canada?

There are several reasons why it would be beneficial for newcomers to get private health insurance on top of the health insurance provided by their province.

For instance, private health insurance would provide medical coverage for an individual’s healthcare needs during the waiting period imposed on public health benefit eligibility by their province of residence.

Additionally, private health insurance would allow insured persons to be covered for needs that are not usually handled by public insurance. These include things like dental work, prescription medications and visits to certain medical specialists such as a chiropodist (foot).