Canadian immigration: What newcomers can expect and need to know about Canada’s health care system

Cigna Healthcare
Published: August 18, 2023

Canada operates a publicly funded health care system, using tax income to provide free essential medical provision, which includes primary and secondary care, emergency hospital treatment and maternity services.

It’s no secret why Canada attracts people from around the world – it’s a great place to visit and an even better place to live and work.

Canada is a feast for the eyes and offers a great quality of life, which is why it’s become a firm favourite with expats. It also boasts an enviable health care system. We know that access to care is an important consideration when weighing up the pros and cons of an overseas assignment. In this category, Canada sets the bar high.

However, to get the most from the system, you’ve got to understand it first and know how everything works. And that’s what this article is all about. Here, we’ve distilled this down to the essentials to help you make sense of it all.

Diverse and multicultural, expats will immediately feel at home in a country that’s genuinely welcoming and inclusive. With over 200 nationalities and two official languages, Canada’s diversity is integral to its economic strength and status as a G7 powerhouse. So, if you’re planning a career move to Canada, you’ll have the support and company of other expats who have made the transition with no regrets. Of course, the expat experience will be all the more enjoyable and rewarding if you stay fit and healthy and that means getting to know the system as quickly as possible.

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Health care in Canada

First up, Canada operates a publicly funded health care system, using tax income to provide free essential medical provision, which includes primary and secondary care, emergency hospital treatment and maternity services. The system is called Medicare. It’s good, but not perfect, with some services and treatments, such as prescription medicine, dental and eye care, ambulance services and physiotherapy, that are not covered. There’s another thing to remember: hospitals are private, not state run.

Expats should also be aware that the health care system in Canada is not centralised. This is where things can get a bit complicated for new expats. Instead, it is administered and delivered at a provisional level. The country consists of ten provinces and three territories and they all operate differently. Standards of care can vary too and, crucially, each region has the authority to determine what ‘medically necessary’ means. This, of course, impacts on patients. So, when your destination has been confirmed, it’s important to check out the health system in the area before you fly out.

When you arrive, don’t even think about seeing a doctor or attending a hospital without getting a health card first. This is number one on your to-do list. While the application process differs from region to region, it’s pretty simple and just requires you to supply supporting documents such as proof of residency and government-issued ID. Once your card is issued, you are eligible to access the system.

Next up, you’ll need to find a family doctor (or GP) and you can do this by registering with the provincial health system. It’s a good idea to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations and you can also contact local settlement organisations and community health centres in your area if you need advice. You will discover that Canada is well served with walk-in medical clinics, where it’s possible to see a doctor or health professional often without an appointment (remember to take your health card).

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Why private health insurance is necessary

Moving to Canada means that you’ll benefit from a well-established and efficient health care system. However, be prepared to wait – things don’t happen overnight. It can take around three months to receive your health card and register with a local doctor. Factor in the services that are not covered by Medicare and the regional differences in delivering services, it’s advisable to arrange additional insurance cover for the duration of your assignment. You won’t be alone – about two-thirds of Canadians have some form of private or company cover.

Cigna Healthcare global health plans

Cigna Healthcare is a world leader in the international health insurance market. It is part of a global business that is responsible for the health and well-being of around 180 million customers and patients worldwide. The company specialises in designing health plans for the expat community and provides solutions that protect the health and well-being of globally mobile employees as they travel and work abroad. Expats can enjoy access to an unrivalled network of medical professionals, hospitals and clinics, globally-compliant insurance cover and digital tools to help them manage their health and find the care they need when work takes them overseas.

With flexibility, choice and portability built-in, global professionals can create a health plan that’s on budget, specific to their needs and one that moves with them across 200 countries and jurisdictions.

Whether you’re planning a move to Canada or have recently settled there, global plans from Cigna Healthcare will give you complete protection and peace of mind.

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