Be careful not to buy unnecessary expatriate health insurance
Each Canadian province manages its own health insurance system. Medical services have high standards of quality, and access to health care is easy and relatively inexpensive for all those who have a long-stay visa for 6 months or more. In most cases, taking out global health insurance isn’t necessary.
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Health insurance is provided to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents, and to the holders of most types of temporary residence permits. The federal government provides most of the funding for health-related programs through taxes, but since the provinces are responsible for administering the health care system in Canada, rules vary from province to province.
The general policy for health care is to provide free, high-quality care for most medical procedures. In most provinces, the following services are free: hospitalization, consultations with a general practitioner, and exams and consultations with specialists when referred by a general practitioner.
In an effort to ensure ongoing treatment for all serious or long-term conditions, other types of care are only free when part of a care protocol recognized by the province. This applies to the pharmacy as well as to specialized health disciplines (physical therapists, speech therapists, etc.).
For example, if you have strep throat, your consultation with a general practitioner will be free of charge, but you will have to pay for any medication prescribed. The same is true if you sprain your ankle playing lacrosse: Your consultation will be free, but the physical therapy sessions will be at your expense.
A Canadian or expat resident will be covered by the health care system in their province of residence. For example:
- RAMQ in Québec
- Health BC in British Columbia
- OHIP in Ontario
- AHCIP in Alberta
Since each plan is managed by its individual province or territory, the list of covered medications and conditions varies slightly from one province to another.
The coverage you receive in your province of residence works in other provinces, but does not work outside Canada.
RAMQ has signed partnership agreements with the following countries: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. These agreements do not apply in other provinces. These agreements are particularly relevant for students: See our special guide. They also concern people with work visas, who are eligible for a renewal of their social security rights as soon as they arrive in the province. Regularly-updated information about this agreement can be found on the CLEISS website.
Most long-stay visas entitle the holder to coverage through the local system after a waiting period of at least 3 calendar months (which, in practice, can be up to 4 months). This is the case for temporary visas of 6 months or more for students, open and closed work visas, post-graduation work visas, francophone mobility visas and start-up visas.
Holders of SWAP, Young Professionals, International Co-op and VIE permits, on the other hand, are not eligible for provincial health insurance plans.
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Health conditions in Canada are excellent The government strives to maintain a policy that provides all citizens with access to health care.
Vaccination isn’t mandatory, and it is free for children. In some provinces, children must be systematically vaccinated prior to starting school. Almost all Canadians are vaccinated against serious illness. There are also other vaccines available. For more information, ask your physician.
Health care in the public sector is free, and the quality is excellent because the government’s ongoing goal is to improve patient services in order to maintain a healthy population. To do so, medical professionals work closely with Health Canada, the governmental department responsible for national health policy.
Physicians do not make house calls. In an emergency, you can either call the ambulance or fire department by dialing 911 or go to the emergency room at the hospital, which is open 24 hours a day but won’t necessarily provide high-quality reception services since the most urgent situations are given priority.
It can be difficult to find a family physician who is accepting new patients in some residential areas, which is one of the drawbacks of the Canadian health care system. If this is the case, you can always go to one of the many walk-in clinics. These are private facilities that accommodate both general practitioners and specialists.
The private sector provides a very high standard of care, and specialists in every domain. You will need a referral from a general practitioner in order to consult a specialist in order to be covered by provincial health insurance.
Some physicians in private practice choose to opt out of the public health care system altogether. Consultations with these physicians are not covered by the public health system. As an indication, a consultation with a general physician costs at least 100 CAD, and a specialist consultation costs at least 150 CAD.
These types of expenses are not covered by provincial plans. You will have to either pay them out of pocket or take out additional local or expatriate insurance for coverage.
In terms of vision services, you won't need to go to an ophthalmologist to get a prescription for glasses. An optometrist can evaluate your vision and prescribe the appropriate corrective lenses.
If you are a permanent resident, or have a temporary visa that entitles you to join the provincial health care system, sign up for provincial health insurance as soon as possible rather than subscribing to a one-year expat insurance plan.
You will be added to the provincial system within 3 to 4 months of your arrival. Subscribing to expatriate health insurance would be pointless and wasteful, because as soon as you are part of the provincial system, you’ll have absolutely no need for it.
We recommend taking out a temporary four-month health insurance policy that covers emergency medical expenses and possible repatriation.
Once you are part of the provincial system, take out local health care insurance. It will be much less expensive than international insurance. Temporary insurance may be required by the immigration authorities when you arrive. Don’t wait until the last minute to subscribe.
If you want to keep your repatriation coverage to help you return to France in case of a serious incident, you can do so with a specific and fairly inexpensive policy.
For visas such as these that can last two years, the most inexpensive solution is a temporary policy for the duration of the visa. It will meet all the requirements of your visa, and cover any urgent expenses that may arise on the spot and can otherwise be very expensive for people who are not part of the local health coverage system. However, it will provide little to no coverage for the following:
- Vision and dental care
- Pre-existing conditions
A long-term expatriate policy can cover these three types of expenses, but please note that such policies are three to four times more expensive, at least, than a temporary policy.
In most cases we do not recommend taking out this type of insurance for Canada, given the possibility of joining the provincial health plan.
However, these policies should be considered in the following cases:
- Because they provide international coverage, they are practical for people who travel a lot (local plans do not provide coverage outside Canada) or live in several countries.
- If you plan to stay in Canada only temporarily, and you already have this type of policy when you arrive after living elsewhere as an expat. The same policy can insure you during your stay in Canada, and in your next host country. Keeping the same policy will help you avoid waiting periods and additional health questionnaires.
Even if you are covered by a local health insurance plan, you may want to consider joining the CFE if you are an EU citizen. You can subscribe to a MondExpat plan, which provides worldwide coverage, or even a FrancExpat plan, which provides coverage in France only.
Since local plans don’t cover expenses outside of Canada, a CFE plan can be very helpful if you want to be able to receive medical treatment in your home country.
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