As a foreign national, am I eligible for a health card in Canada?

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: April 7, 2024

As a foreign national in Canada, whether you arrive here as a temporary resident (TR) or a permanent resident (PR), it is important to obtain public healthcare coverage in your destination province/territory.

Failing to register for healthcare can leave you having to pay thousands of dollars for healthcare when needed.

Note: The Government of Canada recommends that all residents of every province/territory obtain private health insurance to supplement public healthcare coverage provided by their home province/territory.

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To access public healthcare services in your destination province, you will need a health card. Broken down by province, the following will outline the eligibility criteria for a health card in Canada’s top four newcomer provinces – Ontario, British Columbia (B.C.), Alberta and Quebec.

Ontario

To be eligible for a health card in Ontario, foreign nationals must meet at least one of the following “additional requirements” outlined by the Government of Ontario.

Note: Ontario does not require newcomers to wait to be eligible for provincial (public) healthcare coverage.

Specifically, the applicant must be a resident of Ontario who is also:

  • A Canadian citizen, indigenous person (registered under the federal Indian Act) or a PR
  • Applying for permanent residence in Canada*
  • In possession of a valid work permit**, working full-time for an Ontario employer (for at least 6 months)
  • A convention refugee or other protected person (as defined by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada)
  • In possession of a Temporary Resident Permit (exceptions apply)
  • A clergy member who can legally stay in Canada and will be ministering full-time in Ontario for at least 6 months

*According to the Ontario government, this applies to foreign nationals who “have submitted a PR application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). To qualify for a health card, IRCC must have confirmed they have reviewed the application and that you meet the eligibility requirements to apply. In addition, your PR application must have not yet been denied.

**This condition also applies to foreign nationals with a valid work permit under the federal Live-in Caregiver Program or the federal Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

Note: Certain applicants who obtain maintained status after their work permit expires can contact ServiceOntario to see if they may still be eligible for a health card.

In addition to the above, applicants must meet all of the following minimum requirements to obtain a health card in Ontario:

  • Be physically in Ontario for 153 days in any 12‑month period
  • Be physically in Ontario for at least 153 days of the first 183 days immediately after you begin living in the province
  • Make Ontario your primary residence

Click here for more information about healthcare in Ontario, including how to apply for a health card, what documents are required to apply and what medical services are covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

British Columbia

To be eligible for public medical coverage (including a health card) through British Columbia’s Medical Services Plan (MSP), newcomers must be established as B.C. residents.

“Resident” is defined by the provincial government as someone who meets the following three conditions:

  • A citizen of Canada or lawfully admitted to Canada for permanent residence
  • Makes their home in B.C.
  • Physically present in B.C. at least six months in a calendar year*

*Eligible Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are outside the province for vacation purposes only are allowed up to seven months of absence in a calendar year

Am I eligible for a health card in B.C. as a temporary resident?

Although the above criteria are specific to permanent residents in B.C., the provincial government also notes that “some holders of study and/or work permits, [including] work permits on Working Holiday Programs (issued under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, … valid for a period of six or more months), may be deemed residents” for the purposes of MSP eligibility.

Conditional eligibility also applies to temporary residents with maintained status. More information is available here.

It is important to note that the provincial government in British Columbia requires newcomers to wait “the balance of the month in which residence is established, plus two months” before they can become eligible for provincial (public) healthcare coverage.

Visit this dedicated webpage for more information about healthcare in British Columbia, including the three different public healthcare programs available in the province.

Alberta

To be eligible for a health card and corresponding healthcare coverage in Alberta, permanent residents must meet the following criteria:

  • Be legally entitled to be in (and remain in) Canada and make your permanent home in Alberta
  • Be committed to being physically present in Alberta for at least 183 days in any 12-month period
  • Not claiming residency or obtaining benefits under a claim of residency in another province, territory or country

Qualify as any other person deemed by the regulations to be a resident

In addition to the above, temporary residents in Alberta are also eligible for public healthcare coverage, although this eligibility varies depending on the purpose of an individual’s stay in Alberta. Eligibility for international students and temporary workers is detailed below.

Temporary workers

To qualify for public healthcare, temporary workers must establish residency and have the intention of remaining in Alberta for a minimum of 12 months. In addition, the minimum length of an individual’s work permit must be six months to be eligible for coverage.

International students

According to the provincial government, students with a valid 12-month study permit in Alberta will be eligible for public coverage if they will also be residing in Alberta for 12 months or more. In the case that a student’s permit is valid for less than 12 months, they may still be eligible for coverage if they obtain a letter from the school they are attending. This letter must confirm:

  • The student’s enrollment
  • The student’s intent to reside in Alberta for at least 12 months.

Note: Alberta requires newcomers to wait three months before they become eligible for public healthcare coverage

Those looking for more information about healthcare in Alberta, such as what is covered under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) and how to apply for a health card, can find details here.

Quebec

In Quebec, newcomers above the age of 18 are required* to wait up to three months before they are eligible for public healthcare coverage.

*This waiting period may not apply to newcomers from a country that has signed a social security agreement with Quebec

Eligibility for healthcare coverage as a foreign national in Quebec is divided into two groups – Person(s) settled in Quebec and Person(s) temporarily staying in Quebec.

Person(s) settled in Quebec

This group includes, among others, foreign nationals who are permanent residents, refugees, and protected persons.

People in this group qualify for coverage if they:

  • Have their main residence* in Quebec
  • Are present in Quebec for 183 days or more per calendar year

*Main residence is defined by the provincial government as “where you usually live on a permanent and stable basis.”

Person(s) temporarily staying in Quebec

This group includes, among others, foreign nationals who:

  • Hold an eligible work permit valid for more than 6 months
  • Hold a study or internship permit from a country that has signed a social security agreement with Québec
  • Are a spouse or dependant (age 18 to 25) who holds an authorization of stay of more than 6 months accompanying an adult falling into one of the above categories

People in this group qualify for coverage if they comply with the presence in Quebec rule, which dictates that they cannot be absent from Québec for more than 21 consecutive days.

To learn more about healthcare in Quebec, including how to apply for a health card, click this link.

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