Is Healthcare Free in Canada? Here Is The Answer

Is heathcare free in canada?

When relocating to a new nation, many people place a high priority on access to quality medical care. It could determine whether or not you even want to move there. You may have heard that healthcare in Canada is free, making you ask the question – “Why doesn’t everyone move to Canada?”

Healthcare in Canada isn’t free, even though Canadians don’t receive bills for most medical and hospital services.

Canadians pay for its decentralized and universal healthcare through taxes, which vary based on income. The majority of Canadians pay for additional private insurance to supplement public insurance. 

There are many positives to Canada’s decentralized and universal healthcare. However, the cost and the benefits are not cut and dry and can vary significantly depending on where you reside in Canada.

Expats in Canada may not receive the same privileges as Canadian citizens, but they can still get high-quality healthcare for free or cheap.

How much does a medical treatment cost in Canada? Learn in this article.

How much does healthcare cost in Canada?

pills of various sizes and shapes with a thermometer placed on top

Healthcare in Canada is not free. Canadians don’t pay directly for medical services, but they spend a significant amount on healthcare through taxes every year.

In 2014, this number was around $11,786 for a family of four; for a single individual, it was $4,381.

Furthermore, according to Fraser Institute, Canadians spend an average of $5,789 annually on taxes for healthcare coverage. 

Canada has no “Medicare tax”. Instead, a part of sales, property, income, and other taxes fund decentralized, universal healthcare.

Canada has a publicly funded healthcare system. Consequently, it is free only theoretically because you don’t need to pay a bill after visiting the doctor. This is possible thanks to a Canadian insurance card, which you receive in exchange for paying taxes.

The government healthcare system in Canada is called Medicare. With Medicare, every Canadian citizen has access to a wide range of medical services. Instead of paying yourself for medical services, the Canadian government uses taxes from residents to fund medical care.

How much of your taxes contribute to healthcare in Canada?

how much does tax help with healthcare in canada?

In 2021, employees and employers paid 5.45% of the gross employee’s wage for social security contributions, including public health insurance. The maximum amount you can ever pay for healthcare is $44,800 annually.

A typical Canadian family with two kids paid up to $11,786 for public healthcare in 2014. 

Canadians pay higher taxes on higher incomes. A person earning over one million Canadian dollars per year will hypothetically spend astronomically more for healthcare than minimum wage.

While most medical services are covered by public insurance, nearly 30% of all medical bills are paid by private insurance in Canada.

Moreover, almost 70% of its citizens have supplemental medical coverage. Hence, many residents prefer to pay for additional insurance besides public ones.

Furthermore, many Canadians also pay out of pocket for healthcare on top of it.

Healthcare system in Canada

woman after labor in a hospital

Canada’s healthcare system is decentralized, universal, and funded by the government, mainly using money from taxes. This money is given to the individual provinces to help support their healthcare system.

Canada’s Medicare system allows all residents who qualify to benefit from the most basic medical services. 

These services vary from province to province, but some of the core benefits throughout Canada include:

  • Emergency medical services
  • Primary care services
  • Surgical services
  • Maternity and prenatal services
  • Some prescription drug services (this varies significantly based on province)
With a public healthcare plan, everyone has equal access to medical facilities, practitioners, and procedures at no additional cost. 

You should consider your location when trying to grasp Canada’s healthcare system. Your location, especially the province, will greatly affect your healthcare expenses, scope, and quality.

Living or preparing to live in Canada is important for several reasons. First, taxes vary by jurisdiction, so you must pay health insurance monthly.

Rural Canadian healthcare facilities are less established and accessible. Thus, a small Quebec villager may receive different benefits than a Toronto resident.

Medicare in canada

Many Canadian services, especially medical ones, have high wait times. Rural areas have even longer days. Some sections of the country lack access to some medical services.

The third reason geography matters: healthcare structures and availability vary across Canada’s 13 provinces.

Medicare is a national healthcare system, yet each province manages its requirements and issues. They establish their own eligibility criteria for applicants.

Therefore, you must research both Canada’s Medicare system and your province’s coverage.

After proving your eligibility for Canada’s “free” healthcare, you’ll receive a provincial health insurance card. Some medical services should be covered if you travel abroad.

Still, you should know what medical services and treatments are covered before believing you’ll have the same advantages as home. This is another reason many Canadians get private insurance in addition to Medicare.

Why do so many Canadians pay for private healthcare?

why do canadians pay for private healthcare?

Generally, the majority of Canadians (67%) also have private health insurance in addition to the free public one. There are several reasons for this. However, the main one is that although Medicare covers many necessities, it lacks many essential healthcare categories.

You simply won’t get all the desired services with standard public health insurance.

Private health insurance can also significantly cut down on the long waiting times that many Canadians experience when using Medicare.

Besides that, in Canada, people can receive supplemental insurance through their jobs, while others pay out of pocket for the added private healthcare benefits.

Some benefits of supplemental private health insurance are:
  • Psychology services. While most provinces allow for visits to psychiatrists, most therapy is not covered by Canada’s “free” healthcare.
  • Dental care. Dental Care in Canada is very limited through the Medicare system. 
  • Prescription medications vary from province to province, but the coverage is normally very limited.
  • Vision care
  • Ambulance services are often not covered by Medicare.
  • Other special services

Is healthcare free in Canada for foreigners?

doctor holding patient's arm

Are foreigners in Canada eligible for free healthcare? Medicare is available to all Canadians and foreigners with Canadian residency permits. Non-Canadians eligible for government-funded healthcare in Canada include:

  • Permanent Canadian residents
  • Foreign workers with valid work visas
  • Foreign exchange participants (students and Working Holiday)

Furthermore, you should check particularly with your province whether you qualify for free medical services or not.

Generally, Canadian healthcare is available for all residents within the province where they live. However, Canadian Medicare defines residents as:

“a person lawfully entitled to be or to remain in Canada who makes his home and is ordinarily present in the province, but doesn’t include a tourist, a transient or a visitor to the province.”

A residence in a province or territory is the main requirement for public health insurance coverage in Canada. However, each province and territory determines its own residence requirements for a non-Canadian individual.

Generally, you must have resided within one province for at least three months, but in some regions, you can receive your medical card immediately. So it’s up to the province.

Nonetheless, most of them also require residents to be physically present for 183 days annually in one province to qualify and keep the healthcare benefits.

1. Permanent residents of Canada are among those non-Canadians who qualify for the Medicare program.

In order to become a resident, you must:

  • Live in Canada legally
  • Reside in your province permanently (not only the country but the specific province) for at least six months in the year
  • Have all the necessary documents to apply for citizenship
  • Apply for residency with the Canadian government and be accepted.

Dependents of permanent residents are also eligible for coverage if they fulfill the criteria above.

If you are a permanent resident, be sure to apply for healthcare in your province as soon as possible. While some provinces allow residents to receive healthcare benefits right away, others require a several-month waiting period after applying.

However, suppose you are staying in Canada as a Temporary Resident, e.g., on a visitor, student, or work visa. In that case, you don’t have Medicare, and you are responsible for taking care of your health insurance on your own.

Canadian healthcare website
2. Foreigners on work/study/working holiday permits can also qualify for Canada’s healthcare in some cases if they have a valid residence permit for six or more months.

Hence, if you are currently working/studying or plan to relocate to Canada for work or studies, you may qualify for Canada’s free Medicare services.

To be qualified for free healthcare as a foreign worker or student, you usually need to:

  • Have a valid visa or permit for a period of six or more months
  • Live in Canada for a certain number of months (i.e. 3-6 months)
  • Reside in the particular province for that time
  • Work or study full-time

If you plan to work in Canada for some time, it’s wise to contact your prospective employer. They can help guide you through the application process for Canada’s government-funded care.

Employers also often offer supplemental insurance to entice qualified foreign workers. Students could contact their university in this regard.

How long do you have to live in Canada to get free healthcare?

canada with the canadian flag

Generally, you must live within one province for at least three months to qualify for free medical services in Canada, but some provinces let you enroll in Medicare immediately.

Consequently, to qualify for the country’s healthcare, you must become a resident in one of Canada’s provinces. Each province has its own rules regarding when this residency is established and you become eligible for medical benefits.

Some provinces, like Alberta, allow your benefits to begin when you arrive and start establishing residency.

Others, like British Columbia, have a three-month waiting period before you can receive benefits within its borders. Find out the new resident waiting period for healthcare in each province and what is covered here.

You can speed your residency and medical benefits with Express Entry in Canada. Express Entry is for skilled and interested people who want to become Canadians rapidly.

Express Entry is ideal for US people seeking Canadian residency quickly.

You must establish and maintain Canadian permanent residency. To domicile in most provinces, you must live there most of the year. Another name: “the 183-day rule.”

Can a US citizen get free healthcare in Canada?

US passport with flag

If you are a US citizen and wonder if it’s possible to get Canada’s government-funded healthcare, the answer is – maybe. If you don’t have an established residency within Canada, you will not qualify for Canada’s “free” healthcare. What does it mean?

US citizens without Canadian residency can’t receive free public healthcare. However, US citizens living in Canada, working, studying, or in an exchange program may qualify for Canadian healthcare.

Expatriates visiting Canada without settling there may have to pay for private medical insurance. While Canadian medical insurance may seem expensive, there are affordable solutions. They include Cigna.

Even after qualifying for “free” Canadian healthcare, US citizens may have to wait to receive medical services. During the wait, consider private insurance.

Some of the more popular health insurance providers for American expats on extended visits in Canada include Cigna global, Aetna International, and GeoBlue Xplorer. 

Health insurance for expats in Canada

As an expats, you need a health insurance solution when moving to Canada. As you have learned, not everyone is qualified for free public healthcare. And even so, Canadians prefer private coverage as an additional policy to be on the safe side.

For private coverage in Canada, we recommend Cigna Global. Because Cigna insurance is international, you can use your policy within Canada and almost anywhere in the world. Cigna is one of the popular private insurance providers in Canada among locals and foreigners.

With 74,000 employees, 200 years of experience, and more than 100 million customers globally, Cigna is one of the largest international insurance providers.

With that insurance, you can enjoy instant and easy access to healthcare facilities and professionals around the globe.

Visit their website to learn more and choose the optimal coverage for your situation.

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