Canada is known for its free health care. However, most of these services are available only to permanent residents and Canadian citizens. All international students who study in Canada need to have health insurance.
A summary of Canada’s health coverage
Canada’s universal healthcare system is funded through taxes. This means that health services are often free or at a fraction of their cost. Each province has its health care system, managed at the provincial level. There are 13 different local and territorial plans for health insurance, and you don’t need to pay for most services with a provincial insurance card.
Each territory or province issues health insurance cards to residents. Depending on where you live, there may be a wait before you can apply for a health insurance card. For example, in British Columbia, there can be a three-month wait before you are eligible to apply for a Medical Services Plan. If you are a resident of Alberta, however, there is no waiting period before you can apply for a card.
Each province or territory covers the cost of any medically required health services. This includes visits to a family doctor or physician, blood work and x-rays, and hospital stays in standard wards. The availability of additional medical services under universal health coverage will vary from one province to the next. Manitoba, for example, offers seven chiropractic visits per annum, and Nova Scotia provides primary dental care for children under 14.
Why is international student health insurance important?
International students who study in Canada must have health insurance. While many Canadian provinces offer health insurance for international students, not all do. All Canadian provinces and territories will provide free emergency medical services to those who do not have a card. However, this coverage is limited.
You will need to pay out of pocket for any health-related expenses if you aren’t eligible for insurance or health care. These services can be pretty expensive. Although you might only have to pay CAD 120 to visit a doctor at a clinic, an emergency room visit costs $1,000 and a $3,700 charge for care in a standard ward. You may have to pay upfront for costs depending on the location you are going for treatment.
It is easy to see how a medical crisis could lead to thousands of dollars in financial losses. Nobody plans to become sick. However, it is best to be prepared in case the worst happens.
International students can get health insurance from their provincial governments.
While some provinces offer coverage for international students through their provincial health insurance plans, others require that you register for private insurance.
These are a list of all the provinces and their study requirements to be eligible for universal health coverage:
Other options for international students in health care
You should have health insurance coverage if you plan to study in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Quebec, or the Yukon. There are several options:
You may be able to get health insurance through the college or university you are attending. These plans may be optional or mandatory, depending on which post-secondary institution you attend. It will vary from one insurance company to another. Still, coverage should include visits to a doctor and hospital stay and diagnostic testing, ambulance, and emergency medical care. You may also be eligible for vision and eye care.
For international students, contact your college or university.
If you are studying in Manitoba
International students must have primary coverage through the Manitoba International Student Health Plan. You will be covered for eligible medical services, such as doctor visits and x-rays.
For students in Ontario
Students studying abroad must be covered by the University Health Insurance Program (UHIP) for health insurance. UHIP helps you cover hospitalizations and medical expenses while you’re in Canada.
Private health insurance
Private health insurance is available for those who aren’t eligible to receive regional coverage. Basic health insurance will cover you for hospital stays, prescription drugs, ambulances, and, depending on the plan, a portion of your dental costs.
You may need to pay a portion of your medical expenses out-of-pocket depending on which insurance provider you choose and what package you select. When choosing an insurance package, compare monthly premiums, deductibles, coverage, and other factors. Pre-existing conditions, high-risk behaviors like smoking, and other factors can affect the cost of private insurance. Include the cost of premiums and other emergency expenses in your monthly budget.
Getting add-on insurance
Even if your province covers you, it is brilliant to purchase add-on insurance. These will cover you if you travel during summer breaks or for items not covered under universal health coverage.
Pre-arrival travel coverage
You will likely want to settle in Canada before you start your studies. International students must have valid medical insurance in Canada. You must get insurance as soon as possible, even if there is a waiting period.
It would be best to look for travel insurance that covers cancellations of flights, flight delays, luggage loss, medical expenses, and trip cancellations. Also, make sure to check if your policy covers COVID-19-related medical expenses.
Consider purchasing travel insurance if you plan to travel to other countries, such as the United States. A valid health card can cover you for other countries’ essential services (such as visiting the doctor). Still, you won’t be covered in the U.S. for medical emergencies, delays or disruptions in flight (if you fly), or vehicle coverage (if driving).
The OmbudService for Life and Health Insurance has a tool to help you find life, travel, and health insurance in Canada.
Your financial institution or credit card company may be able to help you find insurance. RBC, for example, offers insurance plans that are specifically designed for international students and visitors.
Canadian and international students usually have to obtain health insurance during their stay. You may have to apply for private insurance if you live in an area like Ontario that does not provide global student health coverage. Before arriving in Canada, you must do research to determine if the province you plan to live in offers international students health coverage.