International Students: Securing Health Insurance in Canada

CIC News
Published: March 2, 2014

Many international students find that their ‘homework’ begins long before arriving in Canada. Before setting foot in the country, they must obtain a study permit, coordinate travel plans, and prepare for their upcoming studies. One of the most important steps that an international student must complete is making sure that they will have health insurance coverage during their time in Canada.

The province in which a student will be studying will play a big role in the type of health coverage he or she must obtain. In Canada, each province determines its own healthcare rules, and because of this the eligibility requirements and types of services offered to residents can vary greatly from province to province. Students should be aware of their health coverage options before coming to Canada, so they can take steps to ensure they will have insurance during their studies.

The Importance of Canadian Healthcare

Canada has operated a public healthcare system for many years. Under this system, all Canadian citizens and permanent residents are eligible to receive government health services. The decision to extend health services to temporary residents, such as temporary workers and international students, is at the discretion of each province.

At its most basic, the Canadian public health system provides:

  • Medically necessary hospital services; and
  • Medically necessary physician services

Canadian Provinces and Territories may offer additional health benefits to their residents. These benefits may target specific groups, such as children or the elderly. They may also provide full or partial coverage for things such as prescription drugs, dental care, optometric care, etc.

“Canada’s commitment to providing health coverage is held in high esteem by many Canadians,” said Attorney David Cohen. “The fact that many provinces extend health services to temporary residents underscores our country’s desire to care for those living within its borders.”

Healthcare for International Students

Students in Canada are usually required to opt into some sort of health insurance plan, be it public or private.

The following provinces and territories offer health coverage to international students:

  • Alberta;
  • British Columbia;
  • Manitoba;
  • Newfoundland and Labrador;
  • Northwest Territories; and
  • Saskatchewan

The eligibility requirements, as well as the types of health services offered, will vary from province to province. For instance, students may be eligible for coverage in Manitoba if they hold a study permit valid for a period of at least six months. On the other hand, students in Alberta are not eligible unless their study permit is valid for a minimum of twelve months.

Some provinces, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, begin health coverage for international students immediately upon arrival. In others, health coverage does not take effect until after a period of residency, usually 90 days.

The following provinces and territories do not currently offer health coverage to international students:

  • New Brunswick;
  • Nova Scotia;
  • Ontario;
  • Quebec;
  • Prince Edward Island; and
  • Yukon

Students in these provinces often must purchase private health insurance. However, certain exceptions may apply that allow specific students to apply for provincial healthcare. For instance, Quebec has signed bilateral social services agreements with nine European countries. Students from these countries may be eligible to receive public healthcare while studying in the province. Also, while Ontario does not offer health insurance to students under its public program, a program called the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) has been adopted by most universities in the province.

To view a chart outlining the eligibility requirements for each provincial healthcare program, please click here.

Usually, Canadian educational institutions mandate that students obtain private health insurance if no public option is available. Most schools, especially colleges and universities, have their own plans that students can choose to opt into. Students who are already covered under their own health insurance plans, or their parents’ plans, may be able to continue using their own plans.

“Obtaining proper health coverage should be one of the most important components of any student’s plan for studying in Canada,” said Attorney David Cohen. “Students should be ready to do research, reach out to their schools for help, and budget for health insurance payments if necessary. Though the process may seem daunting, I encourage students not to worry too much. When it comes to health, Canada has their best interests at heart.”

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