Planning to Study Abroad in Canada? Here’s What You Need to Know about Health Coverage

Because I have a 15-year-old grandson who is intent on studying medicine, I have been paying very close attention to the growing tidal wave of international students applying to Canada’s universities.

I should explain that although Zachary lives in the United States, he is a dual Canadian/US citizen, and would therefore have a clearer road to enrollment at, say, the University of Toronto or McMaster than would a student with no Canadian connection who would have to navigate the various visa requirements.  I am also very aware that Canadian medical schools are a lot cheaper than comparable-quality US schools.

What my research has also turned up is that as of the last census taken by the Canadian Bureau for International Education, in 2015 there were more than 350,000 international full-time students enrolled in Canadian colleges—that is almost 100,000 more than five years earlier—and is getting very close to the 450,000 enrollment target for 2022 set by the Canadian government’s international student recruitment program back in 2012.

The reason for this is clear: Canada is producing high-quality upper-level education at tuition levels that are considerably lower than those in American universities.

But how do you measure quality?

According to the 2018 World University Rankings issued by the highly respected Times Higher Education supplement published annually in London, the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McGill, and McMaster all came within the top 100 universities worldwide, with U of T coming in at #22, UBC at #34, and McGill at #42. That’s pretty impressive when considering that they were matched up against Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which traditionally top these rankings. (Interestingly, in another highly respected world ranking service [QS], U of T and McGill are tied at #32.)

For international students (who now comprise 25 per cent of UBC’s full-time student body, and 28 per cent of McGill’s full-time students) from countries around the world, Canada is seen as a welcoming host.

But along with Canada’s reputation for security, safety and stability (we won’t talk about the weather), there are many bureaucratic hurdles that student-applicants migrating from another country must clear, such as dealing with visa requirements, finding suitable and affordable residential facilities, and selecting appropriate health insurance coverages—required by all colleges and government agencies.

As international students to Canada soon realize (more than 50 per cent of whom currently come from China, India, and South Korea), Canada is not one simple monolithic universe where all rules and requirements are uniform. It is the provinces and territories that run their own health systems and what is expected or accepted in BC or Alberta may not work in Nova Scotia or Quebec.

For example, students applying to schools in the western provinces will be eligible for the publicly funded provincial insurance plans such as MSP in BC and AHS in Alberta—although they will have to pay into them directly.  But they might also be subject to varying waiting periods—such as three months—and would therefore have to seek out private short-term plans to tide them over. That will vary from province to province.

On the other hand, if they plan on studying in Newfoundland and Labrador, their coverage under the provincial plan would begin immediately.

In Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Yukon, students will not be eligible for the public provincial plans, but will have to buy private insurance designed with students in mind. Or they might be required to enroll in programs offered only by their colleges. In Ontario, a University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) is available at virtually all universities.

In Quebec, which has social security agreements with several European countries, students from those countries may be eligible for coverage in the Régie (Quebec’s health insurance plan). But others may have to buy private insurance. The McGill International Health Insurance Plan is mandatory for international students at that university.

For foreign students, some of whom might initially have difficulty distinguishing between the landscapes of British Columbia or New Brunswick, the requirements for a selection of health insurance might be somewhat baffling. But as all Canadian universities and government websites (provincial and federal) generously emphasize, health insurance is a requirement and needs to be seriously considered and navigated as an integral part of the school selection and application processes.

Generally, private health insurance plans for students are easily available throughout Canada, but they should not be confused with short-term travel insurance, and they need to be purchased with the assistance of agents knowledgeable about school entry requirements in their respective provinces.

It’s an important part of the educational process, and it needs to be built into the early planning of every student’s commitment to their higher education.


Are you 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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