Is Healthcare Free in Canada? Here Is The Answer

For many people, healthcare is an essential aspect when moving to a new country. It may even dictate your choice whether you want to live there or not. You may have heard that Canadians have free healthcare, 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.

If you are an expat living in Canada, you may not receive the same benefits as a Canadian citizen, but there are still ways to receive high-quality healthcare for free or at a minimal cost.

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

How much does healthcare cost in Canada?

Healthcare in Canada is not free. Canadians don’t pay directly for medical services, but they spend a significant amount of money 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. 

However, there is no “Medicare tax” in Canada. Instead, this decentralized, universal healthcare is funded by taking a portion of other collected taxes like sales tax, property tax, income tax, and others.

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 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? 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 limited to $44,800 annually.

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

In Canada, the more you make, the higher percentage in taxes you pay. This means someone who earns over one million Canadian dollars per year will theoretically pay astronomically more for healthcare than someone who earns 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 some form of supplemental medical coverage. Hence, many residents prefer to pay for additional insurance besides public one.

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

Healthcare system in Canada

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 fund 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. 

When you try to understand how Canada’s healthcare system works, one thing to consider is your location within Canada. Your location or the province, in particular, will significantly influence the costs you pay, the scope, and the quality of healthcare services you will receive. 

Where you live or are planning to live in Canada is essential for several reasons. Firstly, from a tax standpoint, each province has different numbers you need to pay, hence contributing to health insurance every month.

Secondly, from an accessibility standpoint: healthcare facilities are less developed and available in rural areas of Canada. Therefore, someone in a small village in Quebec may receive different benefits than someone living in a metropolitan area of Toronto.

Canada is known to have long wait times for many of its services, including medical ones. It tends to be even longer when you live in more rural areas. Access to specific types of medical care is also simply not available in some parts of the country.

The third reason why location matters – the structure and availability of healthcare are different in all of Canada’s 13 provinces.

Even though Medicare is a country-wide healthcare system, it’s left up to the individual provinces to manage its stipulations and operational challenges. They also set their own eligibility parameters for applicants.

Hence, it’s important that you research not only Canada’s Medicare system but the specific coverage in the province you live in.

Once you are able to prove your eligibility for Canada’s “free” healthcare, you will receive a health insurance card that is specific to the province you reside in. If you are traveling to a region other than your own and require medical help, some services should still be covered. 

Still, it’s essential to make yourself aware of what medical services and treatments will be covered before assuming you will have the same benefits as back home. This is another reason many Canadians have a private insurance on top of their state-funded Medicare.

Why do so many 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’s lacking in many important healthcare categories.

You simply won’t get all 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 are able to 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?

Will you receive free healthcare as a foreigner in Canada? All Canadian citizens are entitled to Canada’s universal healthcare, and foreign citizens with Canadian resident permits are also eligible for Medicare. These non-Canadians who qualify for Canada’s government-funded healthcare 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 3 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 that 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 6 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, if you are staying in Canada as a Temporary Resident, e.g., on a visitor, student, or work visa, you don’t have Medicare, and you are responsible for taking care of your health insurance on your own.

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 a period of 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.

In order 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 a period of 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?

Generally, you must live within one province for at least 3 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 need to become a resident in one of Canada’s provinces. Each province has its own rules as far as when this residency is established, and you become eligible for medical benefits.

Some provinces, like Alberta, allow your benefits to begin at the time 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.

One way to speed up the residency and medical benefits process is if you qualify for Express Entry in Canada. Express Entry is available to those who possess certain skills and interests and desire to become Canadian residents quickly.

Express Entry is a great option for US citizens looking to expedite the process of Canadian Residency. 

Just as you must establish permanent residency in Canada, you also must maintain it. In most provinces, in order to maintain a residence, you must live within its borders for the majority of the year. It’s also called “the 183-day rule.” 

Can a US citizen get free healthcare in Canada?

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 residency in Canada aren’t eligible for free public medical care. If, however, you are a US citizen who resides in Canada, is working in Canada, studying, or is part of an exchange program – then you may qualify for Canada’s healthcare benefits.

If you are an expat only visiting Canada and don’t intend to establish residency, you will likely have to pay for private medical insurance. Although it may be a bit disheartening to pay for medical insurance in Canada, there are several affordable options. Cigna is one of them.

Even a qualified for “free” Canadian healthcare US citizen needs to keep in mind that there may be a waiting period before you can access the medical services. It’s wise to look into private insurance during this waiting period.

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 not only within Canada but almost anywhere in the world. Cigna is one of the popular private insurance providers in Canada among locals and foreigners alike.

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

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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