Private Health Care for Expats Living in Canada

Canada’s health service is very well rated throughout the country. Similarly to Britain, Canada began instituting a system of universal and publicly-funded health care back in the 1940s but, in both countries, the waiting time for surgery and specialist consultations can be quite long. As a result of this, Canada has encouraged growth in its private healthcare sector through the use of private insurance cover. The providers of Canada’s health care are often private and salary levels, for health workers, is not determined on a standard countrywide basis.


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Where the British National Health Service is uniformly administered from Whitehall, though recent reforms have started to decentralise, Canada’s provinces and territories exercise administrative autonomy and instead of using central funding, Canada’s government only provides a proportion of the budget. Thereafter, additional money is raised either directly, from the individual, or through the individual’s employer.

Cost of Healthcare in Canada

Canadians tend to approve of their Medicare system as from a value-for-money perspective, it is very reasonable. Canada spent 10.4% of its GDP in 2014 and obtained better health outcomes than the USA which spent a GDP percentage of 17.1.

New Arrivals

British nationals immigrating to Canada are not required to show evidence of health insurance. However, it is important that temporary private insurance is bought within five days of arriving in any province or territory that they are staying in. If private insurance is sought after this time, it can be harder to obtain, as some companies may refuse to cover you.

It is recommended that any temporary cover is taken for out for at least three months and you should apply for a medical card on arrival, to obtain access to Medicare.

There are many private insurance companies where expats can obtain cover, including ETFS. Private insurance companies can be found in the telephone book or online.

Health Insurance Card

Those that are having any type of Medicare treatment must show their health insurance card (HIC) at hospitals or clinics and this applies to themselves and any other family members.
Each family member should have their own HIC card along with a health identification number however, in Manitoba, only adults will require the insurance card as it lists each of the family members, with their own identification number.

To apply for an HIC, you will need to get an application form from a pharmacy, hospital or from a GP, although an application can also be done online.

When applying for the HIC, you must be able to show some sort of identification, such as passport, permanent resident card or birth certificate,

Losing your HIC

If you lose your Health insurance card, you may need to pay an extra fee to get a replacement.

It is important that your health insurance card is not shared with anyone else. If you do this, you will lose any benefits that it provides and criminal charges could be applied and you could be asked to leave the country.

Health Costs & benefits in Canad’s Territories and Provinces

Insurance rates and benefits differ for each province and territory, and are often dependent on the politics and wealth of the area. It is therefore recommended that research is done before moving to a province/territory, to find out what insurance you can get and how much you will pay for it.

Information can be found from the following provincial and territorial ministries of health:

  • British Columbia Northwest Territories
  • Alberta Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Manitoba Yukon
  • Ontario Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec Nova Scotia
  • New Brunswick Nunavut

You must be aware that the health cover that is offered from your current province or territory may not be valid in others. Therefore when travelling, it may be necessary to get private cover

Private Health Insurance

Due to many health care services that are not available under a Province’s or Territory’s insurance plan, many people opt to get private health insurance and this is highly recommended. Private health insurance gives the individual many benefits through additional services, help with dental costs, private rooms in hospitals, prescribed glasses and prescription drugs, as well as an ambulance service.
These services may be limited when viewed alongside the range for GP care, however prescription drugs are an important part of the non-Medicare provision. Around 30% of the expenditure for health is private, with it being paid either from an individual’s own pocket, or from private health insurance.


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Hospital and GP services

A large number of health care providers in Canada are private, but are subsidised by provisional government budgets. Many of the hospitals are private, non-profit organisations, who have their own governance structures and are managed by trustees or community boards. Budgets are reviewed annually by each province.

It is common for doctors in Canada to be in private practises and salaried on a fee-for service basis but payments are capped, to stop abuse to the system. Those who choose to work outside of the system will not be eligible for any public funding but will be unable to charge above the rate of which doctors working in the Medicare services follow. So for example, a physician working outside the system would be unable to bill above the fee schedule for Medicare physicians. Long waits for health procedures have strengthened the demand for private services.

Healthcare concerns

Canadians respect their health care system in the same way as do the British. However the importance of the value of their health care system is more acute in Canada as they are being continually reminded that, only a few miles away, there is a country which has the most expensive health care services in the world. That country also has the world’s most prominent units in brain surgery and cardiology but whether this is affordable, is another story.

The health care act of 1984 is still followed in Canada, which has helped define the values of the Medicare services:
Accessibility: Patients should be given access to the Medicare services , being unhindered by extra charges
Comprehensiveness: The provinces in Canada must ensure that hospital care is given to a good standard.
Universality: This is one of the Medicare services which is open to all citizens
Portability: The safety of Canadians who are travelling outside of their own province

Doctors who are working outside the organisation and are charging above the provinces Medicare rates, are derived from the health care act

Waiting times

Unfortunately, like the NHS in the UK, waiting times for hospitals appointments can be long and patients may have to wait for up to six months to get an appointment for something like hip surgery. Waiting times are monitored and controlled by provinces and may be different from national waiting times. The OECD ratings showed that Canada appears to be low, due to the time for access to healthcare and the figures for waiting times being unclear.


International private health insurance may prove beneficial for any Canadians but premium rates can reflect the high costs of medicine across the country, which can often be twice that found in parts of Europe.


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Future Plans

Canada is thriving and by keeping health costs at a minimum, compared to its southern neighbour, reducing the waiting times for patients, should continue to provide good quality healthcare services for its people.