How to Navigate Healthcare in Canada for Non-Residents

Canada is known for many things, including its unique healthcare system.

The country’s universal healthcare system is recognized as one of the best national health systems in the world. It’s no surprise that visitors to Canada may be curious whether this health coverage extends to them as well. 

Read on to learn the ins and outs of healthcare in Canada for non-residents so you can prepare for your next visit.

Canadian Healthcare System Overview

First and foremost, it’s important to understand how medical care in Canada works. The country’s universal healthcare system is funded through taxes. Under the Canada Health Act, any Canadian citizen or permanent resident is eligible for this public medical coverage, and so too are certain temporary residents (international students, visitors to Canada on a work permit, refugees, etc.). With this plan, those who are allowed to join don’t have to pay for most healthcare services or emergency medical services.

It’s important to note that each of Canada’s provinces and territories has a distinct public health plan that covers different services. And about two-thirds of Canadians also invest in private supplemental health insurance to cover costs excluded under their provincial government health insurance plan (GHIP). This includes things like vision and dental care, prescription drugs, private hospital rooms, medical devices, or ambulance rides - which are not covered by GHIP.

Compass pointing to healthcare in Canada for non-residents

Who Qualifies for Free Healthcare in Canada?

Canadian citizens and permanent residents can qualify for provincial GHIP regardless of their finances or medical histories. Additionally, if you’re planning to study or work in Canada for more than six months, you may also qualify for GHIP coverage. Just ensure you have the right permits (and proof of school enrollment or a letter of employment) before applying.

If you’re a visa holder or new resident, you are also eligible. However, there may be a required three-month waiting period before your coverage begins, depending on the province/territory. It’s important to invest in private emergency health insurance during this time before your GHIP health card is activated.

But what about healthcare for other visitors to Canada? In short, Canada does not pay for hospital or medical services for visitors. This is very clearly stated on the official Government of Canada website. The government also advises visitors to purchase health insurance to cover any emergency medical expenses before they enter the country. 

Ultimately, medical treatment in Canada for foreigners is done at the expense of the visitor – unless, of course, the visitor has travel insurance that covers it.

Options for Healthcare in Canada for Non-Residents

Do tourists get free healthcare in Canada? No. 

However, it is possible for non-residents to get emergency healthcare coverage while in Canada (but it won’t cover non-emergency expenses). This is highly recommended no matter whether you’re visiting the country for one week or multiple months. Having the peace of mind that your well-being and wallet will be protected from unexpected medical expenses during your stay is well worth the small expense. As the Canadian federal government says, ‘if you can’t afford emergency travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel’. 

With BestQuote, we do the hard work finding and comparing the best travel insurance coverage for your trip to Canada. We host the country’s largest resource of Visitors to Canada insurance policies and can provide guidance on which will work best for your situation – including if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

Learn about Super Visa Insurance today!