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Canada is well known for having universal public (free) healthcare. But this doesn’t mean that healthcare is universally free for everyone. There are waiting periods, exclusions, work hours, and residency requirements you need to know about. To muddy the waters even further, there are a host of travel and health insurance myths in Canada that have been a stumbling block for many visitors and newcomers.

We’re going to highlight some of the most pernicious myths to help you successfully navigate Canada’s healthcare system, should you need it.

Myth: All Healthcare in Canada is Free

While you can access a range of healthcare resources for free in Canada, not all services are free. Some services and resources that are not typically available for free include prescription medications, dental and vision care, physiotherapy and other allied health services.

Myth: If You Live Legally In A Province, You’re Covered

Many newcomers think that they will automatically be covered if they access provincial health services. While permanent residents are eligible for provincial healthcare, there is often a waiting period. In fact, most of Canada’s provinces have a three month waiting period. This means that you will not have access to free healthcare at all in the first three months after you arrive as a permanent resident. It’s strongly advisable that you get health insurance to cover your first few months in Canada.

Myth: Travel Insurance And Health Insurance Are The Same Thing For Newcomers

Travel insurance and health insurance are very different types of policies.

Travel insurance typically covers emergency medical access, but it won’t usually cover routine medical care or ongoing treatment for existing conditions. Plus (and this is a big one), travel insurance policies typically aim to ‘repatriate’ you to your home country in the event of a medical emergency. That is, your travel insurer may pay for your flight back to your previous country of residence or country of birth in the event that medical care will be cheaper there. This is not an ideal outcome for newcomers looking to live long-term in Canada.

Health insurance, on the other hand, covers routine and emergency medical services in Canada. It would cover a doctor’s visit for an earache, or an emergency appendix removal surgery. It could even cover preventative health services, like your annual checkup. But, it can cover a lot more than that too.

Depending on your policy, you can opt for extra coverage for allied health services, such as physiotherapy, dieticians, and massage therapy. You could also get access to personalized digital tools, health coaches, and more, depending on the coverage you choose. You can .

Myth: Canada Has Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements

Newcomers from European countries, Australia, and the UK (amongst others) might be used to getting relatively easy access to healthcare in foreign countries. This is courtesy of ‘reciprocal healthcare agreements’ – and they’re actually pretty common, outside of Canada.

Canada has inter-provincial healthcare agreements, so that people traveling or moving between provinces are generally able to access healthcare. But it does not have the same extensive reciprocal healthcare agreements many other countries enjoy.

Myth: You Don’t Need Health Insurance If You’re Young and Healthy

We see this myth prevail in many IEC-related forums due to IEC-specific health insurance policies being mandatory for participation. There are regularly sly suggestions from users about how you can get around the IEC insurance requirement to ‘save some money’.

The thing is, your attempts to save a thousand or so dollars when you start your IEC work permit will backfire if you need access to medical services at all during your stay. It is reckless to try to get around the IEC health insurance requirements, no matter how young and healthy you are. It’s especially risky if you plan to take advantage of any outdoor recreation opportunities in Canada.

Trust us: facing bankruptcy and the stress of uncertain medical access in a foreign country is not worth it.

Myth: Provincial Health Coverage Means You Don’t Need Additional Health Insurance

Getting access to provincial or territorial health coverage is certainly a weight off your shoulders, but it’s not a solution to all of your health insurance problems. As we outlined above, there are a range of services that may not be available through provincial and territorial plans.

One major exclusion is dental. Oral hygiene and care is so important to your overall health and comfort. And routine check ups and cleans aren’t typically covered by provincial or territorial healthcare. So many newcomers opt to get additional private coverage for these types of medical services.

Private health insurance is often provided by employers in Canada. Some employers will ask employees to pay for a portion of their coverage, or to cover their employee’s spouses. Others will pay for the coverage in its entirety. So, it’s worth noting that health insurance is something you can ask for in your salary package from a Canadian employer.

If your employer does not offer health insurance as part of your employment package or if the coverage you get through your employer does not suit your needs, you can purchase a policy independently. Our partner, Cigna Global, offers comprehensive health insurance in Canada so you can access the healthcare you need in Canada. You can .

About the author

Stephanie Ford profile picture

Stephanie Ford

She/Her
Finance, Law and Immigration Writer
Stephanie is a content marketer who has written for law firms (with a focus on immigration and privacy), legal tech companies, and finance professionals for more than 9 years. She earned a Bachelor of Laws and a Graduate Diploma in Financial Planning in Australia. Stephanie is now a permanent resident of Canada and a full-time writer at 鶹ӳý.
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