Canada Healthcare: Are You Eligible & How to Apply

Did you know that you are probably eligible for public healthcare in your province or territory?

And did you know that:

  • It’s free!!
  • It gives you extra coverage you don’t get with private insurance.
  • It might help you qualify to get a few $100 refunded from your (required) private insurance supplier.

If you have an International Experience Canada (IEC) visa, are an international student, or have a different temporary resident visa, stick around! I’ll cover how Canadian healthcare works, who is eligible for public healthcare in Canada, and how to apply for it. 

Let’s dive in.

How does Canadian healthcare work?

Canadian healthcare is not a national system. Each province or territory has an individual healthcare system and public healthcare plan you can sign up for. 

There are some similarities between the healthcare plans, but you will need to look at the province you want to reside in to determine whether you are eligible for provincial healthcare and how to apply.

Who is eligible to apply for Canadian healthcare

Although each province and territory has slightly different requirements to access its healthcare plan, all provinces and territories require you to be deemed a resident. The Canada Health Act defines a resident as:

"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."

Unfortunately, this means that if you have any of the following visas or travel documents, you will not be able to apply for provincial healthcare programmes: 

  • Visitor visa
  • Super Visa 
  • Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) only

International students may be eligible for healthcare in some provinces, but not all. But, those on an International Experience Canada (IEC) visa, either a Working Holiday visa, a Young Professionals visa, or an International Co-op internship, are eligible to apply as long as they meet the requirements for the province they reside in. 

Are you on a Working Holiday visa and wondering why you should apply for provincial healthcare in Canada when you already have insurance? Check out the three reasons why you should enrol in provincial healthcare

Province eligibility 

Each province has distinct eligibility criteria. Let's look at the eligibility criteria for three regularly visited provinces: Ontario (ON), British Columbia (BC), and Alberta (AB) examining:  

  • The eligibility requirements for each province 
  • how long do you need to wait until you are enrolled in provincial healthcare
  • How to apply for healthcare in BC, ON, and AB

If you are moving to a province or territory not mentioned above, explore our links page listing the URLs for each provincial government health plan

We'll start with British Columbia. 

British Columbia

The public healthcare plan in British Columbia is known as the Medical Services Plan (MSP)


To be eligible for MSP, you must: 

  • Stay in British Columbia for at least 6 consecutive months
  • Have a valid work permit for at least 6 consecutive months
  • Be employed for at least 6 months (while the work permit is valid)
  • Work a minimum of 18 hours per week

International students who study in British Columbia for more than 6 months are required to apply for MSP but must pay a fee to access it. As of 2020, this fee is $75 per month for all international students.

For people on an IEC visa you do not have to pay to access MSP. 

Time until you are enrolled

It can take up to 3 months to be registered for MSP in British Columbia. So, you should apply for MSP as soon as you meet all the eligibility requirements. 

How to apply


1. Gather the required documents 

All eligible temporary residents must provide

  • A document which confirms your immigration status, e.g., a work, study, or relevant visitor permit 

If you have a Working Holiday visa, you also need

  • A copy of your employment contract indicating your full-time status or the number of hours worked; or
  • A letter from your employer stating:
    • The date employment started 
    • Your contract type
    • The number of hours worked per week or your full-time status. 
    • Expected end date (if a fixed-term contract); or
    • That your employment is indefinite by nature with no fixed end date

If you, or your employer, are unsure how to write the employment letter, here is an employment letter example.

2. Submit the application form 

Submit the BC Application for Health and Drug Coverage form by mail or apply online.

3. Wait to receive a letter about your MSP enrolment 

After you’ve submitted your application, you may need to wait up to 3 months to gain access to MSP.


Ontario’s healthcare programme is known as the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)


Ontario has a long list of eligibility requirements to qualify for OHIP. 

They require that you meet all minimum requirements plus at least one additional requirement. 

You must meet all of these minimum requirements:

  • Be physically in Ontario for at least 153 days (5 months) in the first 183 days that you start living in Ontario (6 months).
  • Make Ontario your primary residence.
  • Be physically in Ontario for at least 153 days during 12 months.

You also need to meet at least one of these requirements:

  • Be in Ontario on a valid work permit, working full-time in Ontario for an Ontario employer for at least 6 months, or ‘indefinitely’. (If your employment letter uses a fixed end date, you will only be given OHIP coverage until that date.) 
  • Have a Temporary Resident Permit (only certain case types, e.g. 86 through 95)
  • On a valid work permit in Ontario via the federal Live-in Caregiver Program.

The list above is not exhaustive. If you don’t meet at least one of the requirements listed above, check out OHIP’s eligibility page to see if you fulfill any of their additional requirements. 

International students are unable to access OHIP. If you are an international student residing in Ontario, you should get a comprehensive insurance plan that covers your time in Canada. View our International Student Insurance page listing a range of insurance options for your trip to Canada, or run a quote on the right side of this article.

Time until you are enrolled

Unlike other provinces, Ontario has no wait time for enrolment. This means that as soon as you enter Ontario and apply for OHIP, you’ll be able to access their healthcare services. 

How to apply


1. Gather necessary documents

You’re going to need

  • A document that confirms your immigration status, e.g., your work permit 
  • Proof of your Ontario residency, e.g., a utility bill, monthly bank statements, or a letter from your employer.
  • Proof of your identity, e.g., passport, credit card, employee ID card
  • Proof of your employment (a contract or an employment letter)
    • If you are sending a letter, it must contain:
    • Your company’s letterhead
    • Confirmation that you work full-time
    • The title of your position
    • When your employment began
    • That the employer intends to employ you for a minimum of six months (the letter can state that you’re a permanent employee)
2. Download the coverage form

Next, you should download the “Registration for Ontario Health Insurance Coverage form.” You can download the form in either English or French. 

3. Go to a ServiceOntario centre

Take your necessary documents and completed form to a ServiceOntario centre. You might be able to book an appointment before you go.

4. Wait for your confirmation

Now you need to wait until you are informed about your coverage. 


Alberta’s healthcare plan is known as the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (ACHIP).


To be eligible for ACHIP, you must

  • Intend to live in Alberta for at least 12 consecutive months. 
  • Be on an active study or work permit. 
  • Have a work permit length of at least 6 months 

So, international students can apply for healthcare in Alberta if they meet the other eligibility requirements. If you have a study permit with a validity of fewer than 12 months, you may be eligible for ACHIP coverage as long as you intend to reside in Alberta for 12 months at least.

If you have a work permit, you must have at least a 6-month work permit length to be eligible to apply. You do not need to have employment to access Alberta’s healthcare services.

Time until you’re enrolled

In Alberta, your healthcare coverage begins on the first day of the third month following the date of established residency. 

So, if you become a resident of Alberta and apply for healthcare on the 14th of April, you will have access to healthcare services on the 1st of July.

How to apply


1. Gather all the necessary documents

You must have three types of documents. These include: 

  1. Alberta residency confirmation, e.g., utility bill, Alberta driving license, home insurance
  2. Confirmation of your identity, e.g., passport, government-issued driving license, Government issued registries ID card
  3. Documents which detail your legal entitlement to be in Canada, e.g., work or study permit, 
2. Fill out the application form

Once you have all the required documents, you should fill out the application form for ACHIP coverage.

3. Submit the application

You can either apply for ACHIP in one of the participating registry offices or send the application by mail.

4. Wait for your confirmation

Now all you need to do is wait to receive confirmation of your coverage.

When does provincial healthcare expire?

If you have a contract or letter with an end date, e.g., a 6-month work contract, you may only be able to access provincial healthcare until your work contract ends. 

Similarly, if you apply for provincial healthcare late and only have a short time left on your visa, your coverage will end when your permit expires. 

Either way, if you are in Canada on a temporary visa, whether that’s an IEC Visa or a student visa, your healthcare coverage will end on the same date as your immigration status expiration. 


So, now you know whether you are eligible for public healthcare in Canada. But you need to know that for most temporary visas, getting insurance is a visa requirement throughout your stay in Canada. If it is a visa requirement, you must have an active insurance policy, even after receiving public healthcare. 

However, did you know that if you purchase a BestQuote MEDEC policy and sign up for provincial healthcare, you can get up to 25% off your remaining premium

Explore our IEC insurance guide to find out more about the MEDEC policy. Or you can use our free price comparison tool to the right of this article to compare insurance policies and find the best policy.