Understand how health care works in Canada

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Canada’s universal health-care system

If you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, you may apply for public health insurance. With it, you don’t have to pay for most health-care services.

The universal health-care system is paid for through taxes. When you use public health-care services, you must show your health insurance card to the hospital or medical clinic.

Each province and territory has their own health insurance plan. Make sure you know what your plan covers.

All provinces and territories will provide free emergency medical services, even if you don’t have a government health card. There may be restrictions depending on your immigration status.

If you have an emergency, go to the nearest hospital. A walk-in clinic might charge fees if you don’t live in that province or territory.

Waiting period to get public health insurance

In some provinces you must wait, sometimes up to three months, before you can get government health insurance. Contact the ministry of health in your province or territory to know how long you’ll need to wait. Make sure you have private health insurance to cover your health-care needs during this waiting period.

Getting a health card

You need a health insurance card from the province or territory where you live to get health care in Canada. You must show this card each time you get medical services.

Provincial and territorial ministries of health:

Extra health insurance

Government health insurance plans give you access to basic medical services. You may also need private insurance to pay for things that government plans don’t fully cover.

The most common types of plans are extended health plans. These cover costs for:

  • prescription medications
  • dental care
  • physiotherapy
  • ambulance services
  • prescription eyeglasses

If you work, you may get extra coverage from the company or organization you work for.

Health coverage for protected persons or refugee claimants

In some cases, the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) provides temporary health insurance to

  • refugees
  • protected persons
  • refugee claimants

The temporary care covers you and your dependants until you are eligible for health plan coverage through your province, territory or private plan.

Get information during national health emergencies

During national health emergencies, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) provides information and guidance in multiple languages. This includes the COVID-19 pandemic.

Get the latest PHAC guidance on COVID-19


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