A Complete Guide to Health Insurance for International Students Studying in Canada

Posted on January 30, 2021

Are you an International student studying in Canada?

If so, welcome and bienvenue! You'll love our spectacular fall foliage, mouthwatering poutine, and friendly Canadian culture. 

But we won't blame you if you find our health care system confusing. After all, many lifelong Canadians need a little help in figuring it out. Our "universal health care system" may be world-famous, but that doesn't mean it's easy to navigate, especially when it comes to insurance.

If you have questions about how health insurance for international students studying in Canada works, you're not alone. That's why we wrote this guide: to demystify the international student health insurance you need while you're studying abroad in Canada.

In this guide, We'll break down exactly how the system works. We'll help you figure out whether you are covered by Canada's health care system, and how private insurance can help. Most importantly, we'll teach you how you, as an international student can get all the health coverage you need.

What About Free Universal Health Care?

As an international student looking for health care coverage in Canada, the first step is understanding how the Canadian health care model works. 

Canada is famous for its free universal health care. But what does that mean? And who's eligible for it?

To put it briefly, Canada has a single-payer universal health care system. That means that each of its citizens pays into the health system through taxes, which funds the system. Then, when a Canadian needs a health service, it's free to them — they've already paid their share.

In Canada, this system is called Medicare. Confusingly, the United States also calls its supplementary health system Medicare, even though they're two completely different systems. All you need to remember is that in Canada, "Medicare" means that basic health, emergency and specialty (by referral) medical coverage is something that every citizen and resident is entitled to - without question.

What's Covered Under Universal Health Care?

When non-Canadians hear the word "universal," they might take it to mean that every single health service is covered under Canada's Healthcare system. But that's not the case. Canadians still pay significant out-of-pocket costs for their health coverage.

In Canada, "universal" healthcare means that the system applies to everyone who pays into it through taxes. This includes all Canadian citizens. But it doesn't mean that Medicare covers every health service.

Medicare covers most of the big health care costs that many people wouldn't be able to afford on their own. For instance, it covers inpatient hospital care and other institutional care like appointments with a doctor. 

What Isn't Covered?

Medicare takes care of the big costs like hospital stays. However, there are lots of health care costs that Canadians (and permanent residents) still have to pay out of pocket. These include:

  • Dental and eye care (in most provinces)
  • Prescription medications when given outside of a hospital (like when you get a prescription filled at a pharmacy)
  • Wheelchairs and crutches
  • Counseling and other psychological health services
  • Ambulance rides that are deemed unnecessary
  • Chiropractic and physiotherapy services

Even in the universal health care system, Canadians still need to pay for many essential health services. In fact, rising health service costs mean that Canadians pay almost $7,000 per person for health care every year.

So how do they do it? They bridge the gap by purchasing private insurance to cover these medical costs.

As an international student looking for health insurance in Canada, you may be eligible for Canada's health care. Even if you are, you will still need to do what other Canadian residents do: supplement your provincial benefits with private insurance.

Am I Eligible for Universal Health Care?

As an international student studying in Canada, you might be eligible for Canada's universal health coverage. But it all depends on which province you will be studying in.

For instance, Alberta's health plan covers international students who will be residing in the province of Alberta for at least 12 months. Make sure you bring your 12-month study permit or other proof of intent to live in Alberta for at least a year. If you do, you'll be eligible for the same universal health care that Canadian citizens get.

Other provinces, like Ontario, don't offer universal health coverage to international students until you've already lived there legally for an extended period of time.

So are you, as an international student in Canada, eligible for universal health insurance?

If you're studying in one of the provinces that offer healthcare coverage to international students, and you're planning to stay for 12 or more months, then yes! You'll be able to benefit from Canada's healthcare plan, per respective province obviously.

But if you'll be studying in a province that doesn't offer Medicare to incoming international students, or your stay will be less than 12 months, you won't be eligible. In this case, you'll need to choose another option.

I'm Not Eligible, Now What?

Canadian universities and colleges have made it mandatory for all students to have health coverage. If you're an international student coming to Canada, you need to have some form of health insurance. 

If you're not eligible for universal health care, you have several coverage options. We'll look at the pros and cons of each of them so you can make your best choice.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a short-term solution that insures you while you travel outside your home country. It covers your basic needs for a short visit to Canada. 

One of the top benefits of travel insurance: it keeps you covered no matter where you go in Canada. For instance, if you're studying in Québec and you take a weekend trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario, your travel insurance will keep you covered. If you take that same out-of-province trip with provincial insurance, it might not cover you.

Travel insurance can also cover non-health travel incidents, like misplaced luggage. However, travel plans are often more expensive than other options, so they're not the best choice for a longer stay.

As a student, if you're spending a short amount of time in Canada (for instance, if you're only staying in Canada for one semester) travel insurance could work for you. However, if you're staying longer, or want more comprehensive coverage, check out other options.

Insurance Through Your University

For international students who are staying long-term — for instance, if you're doing your whole degree in Canada — your university will offer a student insurance plan. 

Like healthcare, university insurance usually covers major expenses but may not meet all your needs. And university health insurance premiums can be higher than private insurance. 

Canadian universities require you to show proof that you have other insurance coverage before they let you opt-out of the student plan. If you want to opt-out, make sure you meet your university's opt-out deadline. Otherwise, the university will still charge you for their insurance coverage, even if you purchase your own private plan.

Private Insurance

What's the benefit of private insurance? It's flexible. It can be anything and everything you need it to be.

With tons of options and benefits, you'll likely find a plan that's tailored to your unique needs. That way, you don't pay extra for benefits you won't use.

Even if you qualify for Medicare or your university's insurance plan, you may want to supplement with private insurance to fill in the gaps. We explain private insurance more below.

Private Insurance For International Students

As an international student studying abroad in Canada, there are two reasons you might choose to purchase private insurance:

  1. You have a primary insurance plan through Medicare or your university, and you need additional insurance to cover the gaps; or,
  2. Your university's insurance plan doesn't fit your needs, and you want a comprehensive plan that works better for you.

In the first case, you're looking for a small private plan to cover the services that Medicare doesn't cover, such as prescription medications. In the second case, you're looking for a comprehensive plan to cover all your medical needs, from hospital stays to dental care.

Choosing a Supplemental Plan

Most Canadian residents use private insurance as a supplement to their primary plan. International students can do the same. The most popular services that supplemental plans cover are:

  • Prescription medications
  • Ambulance and paramedicine costs
  • Dental services
  • Eye care
  • Psychological help, such as counseling sessions

Watch out for private insurance plans that say they cover these services, but in the fine print reveal that they only cover part of them. Your insurance plan may mention psychological counseling, but actually only cover a small percentage of the sessions' costs. That leaves you with the nasty surprise of paying out of pocket. 

Choosing a Comprehensive Plan

With a comprehensive private plan, you'll purchase insurance that covers all your medical needs. 

In addition to all the benefits that supplemental plans offer, your comprehensive plan should include:

  • Inpatient hospital care
  • Medications and other treatment given in-hospital
  • Physician visits

The benefit of a great private insurance plan is that you'll be able to combine these basic medical needs with the "extras" listed above. That means you'll be paying one insurance premium instead of two.

Know Your Benefits

Here's a pro tip: as an international student, you'll find lots of plans that are geared to you. They should come with features that meet your needs while you're studying in Canada, and save you money. Here are some of the important benefits to look for in an insurance plan for international students in Canada.

Lower Insurance Premiums

An insurance plan tailored to international students should come with affordable premiums. Why? Because students are usually young and healthy, with low payout risk. 

Renewable Coverage

A plan for international students should have the option to renew. That way, if you decide to stay longer in Canada, you'll have continuous coverage.

No Family Coverage

As an international student, you'll likely be traveling on your own, not with a family. That's why insurance plans that target international students don't include family coverage.

This is an advantage because plans that have the option to include family members are usually more expensive. With a plan that focuses just on you, you'll save money.

Compare Quotes

Once you know which benefits you require, you'll need to shop around to find a provider with the best rates..

This step can be overwhelming. There are so many Canadian insurance providers offering so many different plans!

Fortunately, filling out our quote form will connect you with one of our highly trained advisors, who specialize in finding you the best possible rate on the market.

Apply to Canadian Health Insurance

Now that you know where you are studying, chosen your benefits, and compared insurance quotes, you're ready to apply for the insurance you need. 

 Don't forget to apply well before you expect to arrive in Canada so that you can present your private insurance documents to your college or university.

Health Insurance for International Students Studying in Canada

There you have it: your complete guide to health insurance for international students studying in Canada. With this guide, you can confidently navigate Canada's universal health system, compare and choose insurance plans, and apply for the insurance plan that works for you. 

No matter what your Canadian insurance needs are, Insurdinary has you covered. We take the guesswork out of shopping for insurance, by making finding, comparing, and applying for your options a breeze. Get started today to find the best price on the best plan for you. 

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