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Family health 101: What newcomers should know

6 Mins read

Here, we will share with you family health basics, such as the process for finding a family doctor, tips to help you choose between a pediatrician and a family doctor for your kids, and recommendations for getting immunized and tracking your vaccinations in Canada.

Canada has a universal healthcare system that is paid for through taxes. In other words, basic healthcare services are free for Canadians, and permanent residents as those costs are covered by the taxes paid. Each province and territory has its own provincial or territorial insurance plans to facilitate these healthcare services.

1 – Apply for a provincial health insurance card

In Canada, to get access to medical services, you need a health insurance card. Each province or territory issues these cards to its residents. As a newcomer, you must apply to the provincial government to get the card, and you can walk in at the closest location. All applications need to be submitted in person.

The documents required as part of your application may vary by province, but normally all provinces require proof of residency, government-issued ID, and documents proving immigration status.

Once your application is verified, the care card is mailed to your residence. You must show this card whenever you visit a hospital or a doctor.


Angry millennial couple complaining having claims about bad contract terms disputing at meeting with lawyer, deceived dissatisfied customers demanding compensation, legal fight and fraud concept

2 – Free medical services

Every province and territory offers free health advice or information via phone. Registered nurses operate the phone lines 24 hours a day, seven days a week and to be connected with a healthcare professional, you can dial 811. Each province/territory calls it a different name: Manitoba has Links, and in Ontario, this system is known as TeleHealth. These care lines aim not to diagnose illness or hand out prescriptions and know if they should seek medical advice from a doctor.

If you need care without insurance and a line suggests seeing a doctor, you can seek out community health centres (CHC) across the country. While most CHCs accept provincial insurance, they are also an option for those who need it and are waiting for provincial coverage.

If you have an emergency situation and need urgent medical help, you can go to the nearest hospital or call 911.


Close-up Of A Doctor’s Hand Protecting Family Cut Out With Red Heart Shape

3 – Healthcare in Canada by province

All provincial insurance plans have the same basic healthcare standards and share common features. However, some differences may be important to note regarding how long it takes for coverage to take effect and what exactly is covered:

  • Alberta

  • Provincial insurance name: Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP)

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Coverage begins from the date residency is established (typically, the date of arrival).

  • Coverage: Includes full coverage for medically necessary physician services, dental and oral surgical services, and hospital visits and stays. Partial coverage for podiatry and optometry services.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access Link.

  • British Columbia

  • Provincial insurance name: Medical Services Plan (MSP)

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Coverage may start three months after your arrival date.

  • Coverage: Includes services by physicians and midwives, dental and oral surgery performed in a hospital, necessary eye exams, x-rays, and some orthodontic services. Other services may include supplementary benefits such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, naturopathy, physical therapy and non-surgical podiatry.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access HealthLinkBC.

  • Manitoba

  • Provincial insurance name: Manitoba Health and Seniors Care

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Coverage begins on the first day of the third month after arrival.

  • Coverage: Includes physicians’ services, surgeries, and x-ray and laboratory services when a physician orders.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 204-788-8200 / 1-888-315-9257 or access Health Links-Info Santé

  • New Brunswick

  • Provincial insurance name: New Brunswick Medicare and Drug Plans

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Once a completed application form is received and eligibility is established, a letter indicating the actual start date of the New Brunswick Medicare coverage is issued and followed by a New Brunswick Medicare card.

  • Coverage: Includes physician’s services, specified surgical dental procedures, and most hospital services.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access Tele-Care.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Provincial insurance name: Medical Care Plan (MCP)

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Coverage begins from the arrival date.

  • Coverage: Includes physician’s services, hospital visits, surgical, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, pre-and post-operative care, complete maternity care, radiology interpretive services, and specific surgical-dental procedures.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access 811 HealthLine.

  • Northwest Territories

  • Territorial insurance name: NWT Care Plan

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: When your application has been approved, you will receive an NWT Care Card. Considering processing and mailing time, it takes about six weeks from the time of application for your care card to reach you.

  • Coverage: Includes basic hospital and medical treatment.

  • Free health advice by phone: Access Tele-Care NWT at 90 sites across the territory.

  • Nova Scotia

  • Provincial insurance name: Medical Services Insurance (MSI) Program

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Coverage begins from the arrival date.

  • Coverage: Includes physician’s services, hospital services, medical, dental, prostheses, and some optometry services.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access 811.Novascotia.Ca.

  • Nunavut

  • Territorial insurance name: Nunavut Health Care Plan

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: coverage may become effective on the first day of the third month, provided you meet all eligibility requirements.

  • Coverage: Includes the cost of physician and hospital services.

  • Free health advice by phone: Services not available.

  • Ontario

  • Provincial insurance name: Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Newcomers were previously required to wait up to three months for OHIP coverage unless they qualified for immediate coverage. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this waiting period has been waived.

  • Coverage: Doctor visits, hospital visits and stays, medical or surgical abortions, eligible dental surgery and optometry, podiatry, ambulance services, and travel for health services if you live in northern Ontario.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 1-866-797-0000 / 1-866-797-0007 or access Telehealth Ontario.

  • Prince Edward Island

  • Provincial insurance name: PEI Health Card

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Coverage begins from the date of arrival.

  • Coverage: Includes childhood immunizations, primary care such as diagnosis, treatment, education, disease prevention and screening, and in-patient or out-patient hospital services.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access 811 Telehealth.

  • Québec

  • Provincial insurance name: Québec Health Insurance Plan

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Waiting for up to three months from arrival date.

  • Coverage: Includes medical procedures, anesthetics, examinations, eye drops, diagnostic mammograms, urine and glycemia tests, and vasectomy.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access Info-Santé 811.

  • Saskatchewan

  • Provincial insurance name: Saskatchewan Health Cards

  • Eligibility for permanent residents: Card applications are usually processed within six to eight weeks after the application is received — not including mailing time.

  • Coverage: Includes all medically necessary services provided by physicians (inpatient and outpatient services), physiotherapy or occupational therapy, screening mammography, immunization services, sexually transmitted infections (STI) treatment, HIV testing, services for treating alcohol and drug abuse problems, mental health services, problem gambling services, and some supplementary  services.

  • Free health advice by phone: Dial 811 or access HealthLine 8-1-1.

4 – Understand the health coverage provided

Depending on your immigration status, the government of Canada provides free emergency medical services, even if you don’t have a government card. If you have an emergency, you should visit the nearest hospital. A walk-in clinic may charge fees if you’re not a resident of that province or territory.

Typically, provincial insurance only covers basic medical services. The government may not cover items such as prescription medicines, dental care, physiotherapy, ambulance services, and prescription eyeglasses.

You will have to pay out-of-pocket if you don’t have any other private insurance plan. Many employers offer extended insurance benefits to their employees to cover scenarios or situations that provincial insurance does not. So, it’s a good idea to check with your employer about these benefits and be well-informed about your options before signing the offer letter.


Family insurance concept. A young happy family comes to insure. Attractive characters buy a family health insurance plan. Family protection. Professional medical consultation

5 –  Find a family doctor close to where you live

Many Canadians rely on a family doctor when they need medical care or need to do regular checkups. Also known as a General Practitioner (GP), a family doctor addresses medical needs for you and your family and will also be the one to provide a referral if you need to see a specialist.

-> Asking a friend, colleague, relative or acquaintance

-> Contacting an immigrant-serving organization

-> Contacting a community health centre in your area

-> Checking the provincial websites for finding a family doctor

-> Use Lumino (by Sun Life) to find a family doctor, dentist, optometrist, or another healthcare provider near you.

6 – Getting immunized and tracking your vaccination records

During your first appointment, your family doctor will inquire about and document your medical history and assess your needs. They may also prescribe vaccinations deemed essential for yourself and your family



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