Getting your prescription medication as a newcomer to Canada

Julia Hornstein
Published: September 22, 2023

If you take medication for your health, you should make sure you take the proper steps to get access to these medications upon your arrival in Canada.

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In Canada, there are two main classes of medications:

  • Over-the-counter drugs: these drugs can be purchased legally by any person without a prescription or written permission from a doctor
  • Prescription drugs: these drugs are only for the person to whom they are prescribed. To access these drugs, you need a prescription from a doctor, which you can then bring into a pharmacy to get the medication.

You can check if the medication you take requires a prescription in Canada on the Canadian government’s Prescription Drug List. This is a good way to make sure the medication you take is legal in Canada and if you will need a prescription to buy them.

In general, Health Canada lets you enter the country with medication required for a single-course treatment or a 90-day supply, whichever is less, of both over-the-counter medication and prescription medication. To avoid any problems when you arrive in Canada, it is recommended to bring these medications in retail or pharmacy dispensed packaging, or to have a label attached to the container to clearly indicate what it contains.

How can I fill my prescription in Canada?

You are not permitted to use a foreign prescription to get prescription medication in Canada. You must instead get a prescription from a Canadian doctor. There are a few ways to do this:

Walk-in clinic: a walk-in clinic allows any patient to walk in and see a doctor. This is fast and short-term way to get a prescription, so it is a great option for those in Canada on temporary visits or stays. However, wait times at walk-in clinics can be very long. Make sure to bring your foreign prescription with you.

Family doctor: if you plan to be in Canada long-term, you should get a family doctor. This is a slower, longer-term option, as you will regularly see your doctor so that they can monitor your health. Family doctors are regulated provincially, so you will have to contact your provincial health authority for information.

On-campus doctor: if you are an international student in Canada, your school will likely offer medical services available on and off campus. You can contact your school so they can help you get a prescription.

Canadian health insurance

Canada has a free universal health care system. As a newcomer to Canada, you can access Medicare, which is the publicly funded health service. Through Medicare, basic medical services like doctor visits, hospital stays and diagnostic tests are free or provided at a fraction of the cost. However, these services are primarily funded and delivered by each province, so the specifics of what is covered may vary from province to province. Unfortunately, Medicare does not always extend to prescription drugs.

If you are a permanent resident, you are entitled to Medicare. Any prescription drugs that are given to you while you are in the hospital are covered by the health care system, but any medication you get elsewhere, like from a pharmacy, will not be covered.

Some provinces have provincial prescription drug plans that you may be able to register for. In addition, many employers in Canada will offer health plans that will cover some costs related to prescription medication for their employees.

If you are a temporary resident, it is recommended that you get private health insurance. If you are going to need prescription drugs, make sure to consult with the insurance provider to see what costs are covered by insurance and what are not. Further, some provinces require that you live in that province for a certain amount of time before you can access the provincial health care plan, so you may want to consider buying insurance in the meantime.

National pharma care plan

Canada is the only country that has a universal healthcare system but does not have universal coverage for prescription drugs outside of hospital.

The Canadian government has committed to passing the Canada Pharmacare Act in 2023. The Act would establish universal public pharma care in Canada. This means that all residents of Canada would have access to prescription drugs, which would be publicly funded by the government and based on medical need, not the ability to pay.

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