How to get health insurance in Canada (with useful French and English vocabulary)

by Andrea Byaruhanga
January 18, 2021

Free universal healthcare and insurance? Sign me up! Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Canada is a country that has a single-pay healthcare system: health services are paid with taxpayer money. So when you require medically necessary services, you don’t have to pay a huge bill afterwards. 

People with Canadian health insurance can see a doctor, visit a hospital, get prescription drugs and get x-rays or blood tests for free; other things such as cosmetic surgery are usually not paid for. 

Because each province and territory has its own healthcare plan, certain provinces may offer coverage that others don’t. That means that, for example, if you have health insurance in British Columbia and you visit Ontario, you’ll be covered for essential medical care, but you may have to pay extra for services that aren’t covered by your British Columbia insurance. 

In some regions, health insurance approval can take up to three months. In those cases, it’s a good idea to get private insurance to cover you until your Canadian insurance goes into effect.

Canada’s top cities

How to get health insurance in Canada

If you’re not already a Canadian citizen, you have to meet certain requirements to get health insurance; they may differ slightly depending on your location in Canada. 

Here are some details on how to get health insurance in Canada by province or territory.

Alberta

What it’s called: Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP)

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents who live in Alberta for at least 183 days every year
  • Holders of a work permit valid for a minimum of six months
  • Holders of a student visa valid for at least 12 months 

How to apply: Download and fill out the form on this page or request one here, then submit it with supporting documents in person or by mail.

British Columbia

What it’s called: British Columbia Medical Services Plan (MSP)

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents present in BC for longer than six months per year
  • Certain types work or study permit holders (more about that here)

How to apply: You can submit your application and supporting documents directly through the government website or by filling out a paper application form and sending it by mail (address on form).   

Manitoba

What it’s called: Manitoba Health, Seniors, and Active Living

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents 
  • Work or study visa holders (minimum length of stay may apply)

How to apply: Fill out and print the application form, then submit it with supporting documents by email, fax, or mail. You can find the details here.  

New Brunswick

What it’s called: New Brunswick Medicare

Who can apply: 

How to apply: Fill out this application form, then submit it with supporting documents by mail or in person. 

Newfoundland and Labrador

What it’s called: Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Plan (MCP)

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents 
  • Holders of a work visa valid for at least 12 months (or six months if part of the NLPNP program or the AIPP program)
  • Holders of a student visa valid for minimum 12 months

How to apply: Complete this form and submit it with supporting documents by mail, fax or in person (address on form).

Northwest Territories

What it’s called: NWT Healthcare Plan

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents present in the territory at least 153 days per year
  • Holders of a work or student visa

How to apply: Fill out this application form and send it with supporting documents by fax, email or mail (contact information on form).

Nova Scotia

What it’s called: Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance Program (MSI)

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents in Nova Scotia more than 183 days per year
  • Holders of a student visa who have already been in Nova Scotia for 12 months
  • Holders of a work visa valid for at least 12 months

How to apply: Contact MSI directly.

Nunavut

What it’s called: Nunavut Health Care Plan (NHCP)

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents
  • Holders of a work or study visa valid for longer than one year 

How to apply: Fill out this application form and submit it by mail along with any supporting documents.   

Ontario

What it’s called: Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents who are in Ontario at least 153 days per year 
  • Holders of a work visa valid for at least six months 
  • Clergy who are ministering in Ontario for at least six months 
  • A convention refugee or other protected person 
  • Certain temporary resident permit holders 

How to apply: Download and complete this registration form on this page. Submit it in person along with supporting documents.  

Prince Edward Island

What it’s called: PEI Health Card

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents who stay in PEI longer than six months plus one day every year
  • Holders of a student visa who have been living in PEI for at least three months and will stay at least six 
  • Holders of a work visa valid for longer than six months (who plan on staying at least 12 months)

How to apply: Apply online or fill out this form and submit it, along with supporting documents, in person. 

Québec

What it’s called: Quebec Health Insurance Plan

Who can apply: 

How to apply: Visit this page to get started, then contact a government office directly to request a personalized form and further instructions. 

Saskatchewan

What it’s called: Saskatchewan Health Card

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents 
  • Holders of a student or work visa

How to apply: Apply online or print an application form and mail, fax or email it, along with supporting documents (contact info on form). 

Yukon

What it’s called: Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan (YHCIP)

Who can apply: 

  • Permanent residents present in the Yukon for more than six months per year (new residents can apply after three months) 
  • Holders of a work visa valid for longer than one year

How to apply: Register in person. More information is available here

Want to apply for a job in Canada? Here’s how!

Common health insurance terms

Now that you know how to get health insurance in Canada, here are some terms (in English and French) that you might come across:

  • Covered expenses/Frais couverts (fr.): The medical treatments and medications that are paid for by insurance
    Medically necessary/Services médicaux essentiels (fr.): Health care services or supplies that are needed to diagnose or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease. 
  • Excluded services/Services exclus (fr.): Medical treatments and medications that are not paid for by insurance (typically not medically necessary, such as lip enhancements)
  • Healthcare provider/Prestataire de soins (fr.): Any person (like a doctor or nurse) or place (such as a hospital) that provides medical care
  • Out-of-pocket costs/Dépenses personnelles (fr.): Costs that you have to pay for with your own money (“out of your pocket”)
  • Primary care physician/Médecin traitant (fr.): Your family doctor
  • Referral/Renvoi (fr.): A written request from your primary care physician for you to see a specialist—this is usually required in order for insurance to cover the cost of the specialist visit 
  • Specialist/Spécialiste (fr.): A healthcare provider that focuses on a specific type of medical care, such as a podiatrist (foot doctor)