Can International Students Enroll in Canada’s Free Healthcare Program?

Ambulance, Healthcare

It is known to all of us that one of the most coveted benefits for people who move to Canada is its government-sponsored Healthcare program. Healthcare programs are offered by many countries to their citizens; however, the extent of coverage varies from place to place. Canada provides free healthcare to its citizens and residents. This means that your doctor visits, most of the diagnosis and medication expenses are covered by the government. This could be a very helpful service to the citizens of a country.

World designed with pills
World Designed with pills

Healthcare standards perceived by different regions of the world

The concept of good health could be different for different people. For some, it is just the absence of sickness wherein for others it is the ability of a system that helps citizens to be at their best health. For some, it could be just Physical health while for others it could be mental wellbeing. The World Health Organization thinks that health is good when there is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.

The concept of ‘FreeHealthcare

As we know, it is impossible to provide a product or service for free for a lifetime especially when it is for a large group of people. Countries like Canada, use their tax funds to run these programs for their citizens. So, when you pay taxes in Canada, you are indirectly crowdfunding the healthcare program. There could be additional insurances that one may purchase beyond the standard healthcare to cover what is not covered. Dental coverage, Critical Health additional coverage etc. are some of the examples. To put the program in the right perspective, one may need to call it a ‘Government Sponsored Healthcare Program’ instead of calling it ‘Free’.

Levels of care in the Healthcare System

When someone has a health issue, they first turn to a doctor or medical service available in the area, which is called Primary Health Care Service. Once the diagnosis and treatment are taken care of, if there is a need for further diagnosis or advanced care, that is when the Secondary Care Services kick in. Services like Long-term care or Chronic care also fall into this category.

Provinces may provide additional coverage in their jurisdiction for low-income or senior care segments. This can be considered as Supplementary Service.

How are Healthcare programs executed across large countries?

Canada is the second-largest country on earth by landmass. Although the country is not highly populated, making sure that the services reach everywhere is a massive task. The healthcare programs are responsibly run by respective provincial governments. Provincial Government is the equivalent of State Government in a country like India.

The type of services provided under the Healthcare program could vary from province to province. While most of the basic services like a doctor visit, visit a clinic and primary care are free in many provinces, there are differences in secondary and ancillary service coverages in these places. For example, Ontario may cover the Ambulance expense of its residents to an extent but not fully while Manitoba covers ambulance costs fully. While an Ontario resident has fixed coverage amounts when they are out of Canada, someone from New Brunswick may not get coverage at all outside the country. Many other services like X-Ray, Physiotherapy, are covered in some provinces while partially covered in some others.

Although Canada gives Healthcare to its residents and citizens, International Students are usually not covered for free. Let’s look at how International Students could get Healthcare coverage in Canada.


International Students can get healthcare coverage in Alberta if they are doing a course with a minimum duration of 12 months. Students with a course duration of 3 months to 12 months may get covered too if they prove they intend to stay in the province for 12 months.

British Columbia

International students will qualify to apply for the provincial healthcare program if they are enrolled for a course that is at least 6 months long. There is a 3-month waiting period for all international students after they land in the province to start the coverage. It is a usual practice for students to purchase private insurance for the first three months to cover emergencies.

Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Northwest Territories

These provinces need their international students to have a minimum 12-month study permit to qualify for their provincial healthcare coverage. A proof demonstrating that the student has been enrolled in a full-time course is also required to enroll in the health care program.

Nova Scotia

Like the above provinces, Nova Scotia wants its international students to be enrolled for a 12-month program to qualify for the provincial healthcare program. There is an additional one-year waiting period to qualify too. In other words, the residents of this province qualify for provincial healthcare once they live in the province for 12 months by default. Some of the educational institutions may provide certain coverages based on student premiums and students are allowed to opt-out of some coverages from the provincial healthcare based on such facilities provided by universities.


Ontario which is home to a large number of immigrants and international students does not cover its international students under the provincial healthcare program. Universities generally provide insurance coverage and the majority of the institutions provide coverage under the University Health Insurance Plan. However, for those students who may find a full-time job under a work permit post their studies, they will be able to enroll themselves in the Ontario provincial healthcare plan.

Prince Edward Island

International Students in Prince Edward Island qualify to participate in the provincial healthcare program if they are enrolled in a course that lasts at least for 6 months. There is a 3-month waiting period to commence these services too. This means that students will need to purchase private insurance to cover medical emergencies during their first three months in the province.


Quebec has reciprocal health coverage agreements with some countries, which are European. International Students from these countries will be automatically enrolled in the provincial healthcare plan once they initiate the process after arrival. Students from other countries will be guided to enroll in insurance programs coordinated by their universities once they land in the province.


International students who are enrolled in courses that are at least six months long will be inducted into the provincial health care program.


Yukon does not provide provincial health service coverage to international students. Students can subscribe to a Group Insurance Plan provided by the university to stay covered during their stay in the province.


Prevention is better than cure! Although emergencies are not in our control, when it comes to good health, it boils down to health rituals and food habits. If you are an aspiring international student, it will be a great investment to have a healthy balanced diet and a non-sedentary lifestyle which will keep you away from doctors while you enjoy the new country and studies. So, buckle up, get your running shoes, and get out there!! We wish you a healthy academic life in Canada!!!


Alberta: https://www.alberta.ca/ahcip-students.aspx

BC: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/accessing-health-care/health-fee-international-students

Manitoba: https://mishp.ca/

New Brunswick: https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/post-secondary_education_training_and_labour/news/news_release.2017.10.1297.html

Newfoundland and Labrador: https://www.gov.nl.ca/hcs/mcp/international/

Northwest Territories: https://www.hss.gov.nt.ca/en/services/applying-health-care

Nova Scotia: https://international.nscc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/International-Student-Insurance-info-for-2014-2015.pdf

Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/apply-ohip-and-get-health-card,

Prince Edward Island: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/service/apply-for-pei-health-card-new-residents

Quebec: https://www.immigration-quebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/immigrate-settle/students/temporary-settlement/health-insurance.html

Saskatchewan: https://www.ehealthsask.ca/residents/health-cards/Pages/Apply-for-a-Health-Card.aspx,

Yukon: https://yukon.ca/en/health-care-card#eligibility

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