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Student Health Insurance

While Canada is famous for its free Canadian health care, the majority of these services are only available to Canadian citizens and permanent residents. For this reason, all international students attending school in Canada must arrange for health insurance for the duration of their study program. 

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Canada’s health care system varies from province to province, so foreign nationals planning to study in the country should familiarize themselves with the Canadian health care offered by their province of study. Some provinces do cover international students under provincial health insurance plans, but the majority of provinces require students to register for private health insurance plans.

In many provinces requiring international students to obtain private health insurance, the educational institutions themselves offer health insurance packages to international students. In some cases, schools will require students to register for their health insurance packages, while other schools will allow students to opt out of their student health insurance packages provided that the student can prove they are receiving private health insurance from another source. No matter the situation, all educational institutions will be familiar with the health insurance requirements for international students.

Canadian Health Care

All Canadian citizens and permanent residents have reasonable access to medically necessary hospital services without needing to pay out-of-pocket. While the universal healthcare is mandated at the federal level, healthcare programs are operated by the individual provinces and territories, so exact details of coverage vary depending on where a person is living.

The universal Canadian health care provided to all Canadians only covers medically necessary services, this is considered basic health care coverage. Many Canadians choose to purchase extended health insurance plans to cover costs for additional medical expenses such as prescription medications and dental care.

Those in Canada without permanent resident or citizen status should expect to pay out-of-pocket for medical services unless they have private health insurance. In fact, many immigration programs require temporary residents to secure private health insurance for the duration of their stay in Canada. Temporary residents have a number of options for this:

  • They can purchase private insurance from an insurance company.
  • If they are working in Canada, they may receive health insurance from their employer.
  • If they are studying in Canada, they may register for insurance through their school.

In the event of an emergency, all provinces and territories will provide free services, even if a patient does not possess a government health card. However, there may be significant restrictions on the services that can be provided depending on a person’s immigration status.

Health Care Services for Students by Province

Alberta

Public Health Insurance Available: Yes

International students in Alberta studying for a period of at least six months are usually eligible for provincial health insurance coverage through the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP). Note that Alberta Health Care only covers basic health expenses, and does not cover dental care or prescription drugs.

If an international student is ineligible to obtain coverage under AHCIP they must purchase a private plan through an insurance company or agent.

British Columbia

Public Health Insurance Available: Yes

International students studying in British Columbia for a period of at least six months are usually eligible for BC’s Medical Services Plan (MSP). However, it takes about 3 months for MSP to process applications, and students may only apply once they arrive in Canada. Most schools will therefore automatically enrol students in a private health care package for this period.

International students may purchase extended health coverage to supplement the basic coverage offered by MSP. Many schools offer extended health insurance packages to their students, and some institutions even require students to purchase these packages.

If a student is not eligible for MSP, then they must purchase private health care coverage for the duration of their stay.

Manitoba

Public Health Insurance Available: No

As of September 1st, 2018, international students in Manitoba are no longer eligible for public health insurance. International students in Manitoba will be required to purchase basic medical insurance for the duration of their stay in Canada. Students will have the option to purchase extended medical insurance from either their educational institution or another private health insurance company.

New Brunswick

Public Health Insurance Available: Yes

In 2017, New Brunswick announced that most international students would be eligible to receive free basic health coverage through New Brunswick Medicare. To be eligible, a student must be enrolled in full-time studies at a New Brunswick educational institution period for at least one full academic year.

New Brunswick Medicare provides only basic medical coverage, so international students are encouraged to explore extended health coverage either through their educational institution or another private insurance provider.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Public Health Insurance Available: Yes

International students are eligible for free basic health coverage through the province’s Medical Care Plan (MCP) provided that they are enrolled in full-time studies for a period of at least 12 months. International students who are not eligible for this program must purchase private health coverage for the duration of their stay in Canada.

MCP provides only basic health coverage, so students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the benefits of extended health insurance plans.

Northwest Territories

Public Health Insurance Available: Yes

International students may apply for health insurance through Northwest Territories Health Care (NWTHC) provided they are studying in the program for a period of longer than 12 months. NWTHC provides free basic health care for residents of the Northwest Territories. As this coverage is only basic, international students are encouraged to explore extended health care coverage through private providers.

Nova Scotia

Public Health Insurance Available: No

International students in Nova Scotia must purchase health coverage, since they are not eligible for the provincial health care program. Many of Nova Scotia’s education institutions offer health care plans, and some require that international students opt in.

While Nova Scotia does not offer public health insurance to international students, it is available to anyone who has legally resided in the province for at least 12 months. After this first year, students may become eligible to apply for a Nova Scotia Health Card, which grants access to free basic health coverage through Medical Services Insurance (MSI). After obtaining a provincial health card, international students may be eligible to opt out of any health care packages offered by their educational institution.

Nunavut

Public Health Insurance Available: Not Applicable

Please note that as the territory of Nunavut does not host any designated learning institutions (DLIs) for international students, the issuance of international student health insurance is not applicable.

Ontario

Public Health Insurance Available: No

International students in Ontario are not eligible for the provincial Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). For this reason, all higher education institutions in Ontario offer health insurance plans that are available to international students. Public universities generally offer health insurance through the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP), while colleges and other private institutions may present options from other providers.

Health insurance plans offered to international students through education institutions are not free. The costs are usually added to a student’s university fees.

Prince Edward Island

Public Health Insurance Available: Yes

International students in Prince Edward Island (PEI) are eligible for public health insurance if they will be living in PEI for at least six months. However, a person can only apply for a PEI Health Card after residing in the province for at least three months. For this reason, international students must purchase health coverage either from their institution or a private health insurance provider for the beginning of their study period.

If an international student becomes eligible for a PEI Health Card, they may be able to opt out of their purchased health insurance.

Quebec

Public Health Insurance Available: Sometimes

The province of Quebec has reciprocity agreements with ten different countries which sometimes enables residents of these countries to register for free basic health insurance through Quebec’s Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ). If an international student is from a country which is not covered by a reciprocity agreement, then the student will be automatically enrolled to purchase the group health insurance plan offered by their educational institution.

If, for any reason, a student is not eligible for RAMQ or their school’s group health insurance plan, they must purchase private health insurance for the duration of their time in Canada.

Saskatchewan

Public Health Insurance Available: Yes

International students in Saskatchewan studying for a period for at least six months may be eligible to register for free basic health coverage through the province by obtaining a Saskatchewan Health Card.

Some Saskatchewan educational institutions will automatically enrol international students to purchase private health insurance plans. A student may be able to opt out of such a plan if they are able to demonstrate they have health coverage from another source, either the Saskatchewan Health Card or a private insurance provider.

Yukon

Public Health Insurance Available: No

The territory of the Yukon is host to only one designated learning institution (DLI), Yukon College. This institution automatically enrols all international students to purchase a mandatory group health insurance plan to provide coverage during studies.

Out-of-Province Medical Insurance

Provincial health care coverage, whether provided through a free government program or purchased through a private plan, may only cover health care related expenses which occur within that specific province.

International students wishing to travel outside of their province of study, either to another province within Canada or to a country outside of Canada, should consult with their health insurance provider to determine if they will be covered during their travels. If an international student’s health insurance does not extend to periods of travel, they may purchase private health insurance in order to cover medical expenses incurred during travel.

Healthcare Options

There are a number of tools and resources available for international students wishing to explore private insurance options offered within Canada:

  1. Find Insurance: This tool, operated by the OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance, is a public service tool listing 99% of insurance programs offered by Canadian life and health insurance companies.
  2. OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance (OLHI): Canada’s independent information service for consumers of Canadian life and health insurance. This organization also acts as an independent complaint resolution services for insurance consumers.

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