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Free Healthcare? The Canadian Healthcare System

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

You can go to the doctor and pay $0 CAD for your visit… whaaaaaaaat?

For this scenario to come true, you will have to live in Canada a little over 6 months, otherwise this scenario won’t be for you. That being said, you can access healthcare as an international student and it’s almost FREE! How? Tag along for the next 3 mins.


Insurance as an international student


If you are coming to study, your school will ask you to have some sort of private insurance and it is part of your requirements to come into the country. The most popular one is guard.me (they don’t pay us to say this), but there are many other insurance plans for international students.

These kinds of plans are good, BUT you normally have to pay upfront. This means that if you feel sick and go to the doctor, you will have to pay $[insert dollar amount here] for your visit, ask for a receipt, submit it to your insurance company and finally get reimbursed.

When you are a student, you cannot afford to spend that kind of money soooo… why not try the provincial healthcare, MSP.


What is MSP


MSP stands for Medical Services Plan and it is the healthcare services plan from the province of British Columbia. If your study permit is for 6 months or more, you are eligible and should apply as soon as you land in the province. Why? First of all because it takes time. Second, because you don’t want to be spending your money on doctors.


MSP has a monthly cost of $75 for international students. The registration can be done online or by phone, and you will receive a card with your name and Personal Health Number (PHN) in the mail.


Why change to MSP if it costs?


The answer is simple! Once you have your MSP card, you can go to any walk-in clinic to see a doctor and you will spend $0 CAD. Better than the other insurance, right?

You will still have to pay for your medication and we will talk about getting help from the government to pay for your medicine in another issue.


There are walk-in clinics all over the Greater Vancouver Area. Just google “medical clinic near me” and see if they have walk-ins. Walk-in is being able to go in without an appointment. COVID-19 has changed this and most clinics require you to book in advance, but you may still be able to find some clinics that do.


The “bad” part of Canadian Healthcare


Even though the Canadian Healthcare system is free or almost free and even though the people from the United States are super jealous of it, it does have things that are not so good.

If you want more than a doctor that will help you whenever you get the flu, the first thing you need to find yourself is a family doctor. This doctor will be the one you always see and will keep your medical records.


The family doctor will be able to refer you to specialists if you need them. For example, you suffer from ulcers and you go see your family doctor about it. They will try to give you medicine to help you, but if it’s something a little more complex, they will refer you to a gastroenterologist.

A referral is a recommendation. Your doctor recommends you with a specialist and the specialist’s office calls you to book you an appointment.

If you’ve already guessed it, this means you have to have more patience than the Dalai Lama to get appointments. It can take months for you to see a specialist in Canada.


Unless it’s something urgent, in which case, you’d better run to the Emergency Room of your nearest hospital, ALSO FOR FREE.





Final thoughts


Canada’s healthcare system is not perfect, but it is very good. Getting your MSP will help remove the stress of wondering what to do next time you feel sick and it will definitely provide you some financial relief!


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