Applying to a Canadian University? Join the Throng, But Plan Your Health Insurance Well

As Canadian universities step up recruitment of foreign students—whose tuition may range up to two or three times that of domestic students, depending on the province—some questions are being raised about the perception that domestic applicants may be losing out, even when they have higher grade point averages.

In a contentious research report, University of British Columbia economist and associate professor Peter Wylie observes that some BC high school graduates are being denied entry to campuses of their choice or even forced to go out of province, while international students with the same or lesser grade point averages are being accepted.

In response to Professor Wylie’s comments, UBC Vice-Provost Pamela Ratner, who oversees enrollments, charges that “it is a myth that international students displaced domestic students.” She adds that “international and domestic students do not compete with each other when UBC is reviewing student applications; they are adjudicated in separate pools.”


Among the world’s top-tier institutions

Despite such concerns, the reality is that Canadian universities are seeing a robust surge of international student applications as many of these schools continue to be ranked within the top tier of the world’s institutions of higher learning.

According to a survey by Maclean’s magazine: 31 per cent of UBC’s first-year undergraduates in 2016 were from foreign countries, as were 31 per cent at McGill, 25.7 per cent at University of Toronto, and 20.2 per cent at Dalhousie (in Halifax, Nova Scotia)—an upward trend reflected at virtually all colleges and universities across Canada.

There is no question that Canada welcomes international students, but for many of them, the application and entry process requires planning and preparation as the educational requirements and choices, fees, living arrangements, and securing of appropriate health insurance depend on their school of choice and the province in which it is located.


Health insurance is province-based

Given that medical and hospital care in Canada is very expensive (among the top six or seven costliest countries in the world), health insurance is an absolute necessity, and obtaining a student visa does not also grant you health insurance.

In Manitoba and provinces to the west (Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories), as well as in Newfoundland and Labrador on the east coast, international students may qualify for buy-in options to provincial health insurance—which provides comprehensive medical and hospital coverage. But even in some of these provinces, students might need private insurance to cover initial residency requirements before their provincial coverage kicks in—generally periods of around 90 days.

In most of the eastern provinces—Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island—provincial government plans do not cover foreign students, but there is ample choice of private insurance designed specifically for students, and many colleges offer (or require) enrollment in their own student plans. In Ontario, for example, most universities require students to enroll in the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP).

As the province of Quebec has reciprocal social services agreements with many other countries, students from these countries might receive public healthcare while studying. See the RAMQ website for more detail.

Whatever the province or school, international students have a broad range of choice in selecting health insurance to fit their educational and social needs. But it takes planning at the earliest stages and possibly with the assistance of Canada’s health insurance vendors to make sure they get it right. The securing of health insurance should not be considered a last-minute item or add-on.


Do you want to be an international student? Let us help you feel at home while you study abroad. We cover all your health insurance needs, give you easily accessible resources for navigating the healthcare systems, provide physical and mental wellness support through the Stay Healthy at School program, 24/7 claim services should you need assistance, and much more. For more information, visit, call us at 1-855-649-4182 or email us at

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