Protect Your International Visitors: Canada’s “Free” Health Care Isn’t Free

If you’re one of the many Canadians who considers your health care “free,” it is so only in that you don’t have to pay for medical or hospital services at the time when you are treated.

But pay for it you certainly do, every time you buy a car or a pair of socks, go to a ballgame, or pay for virtually any transaction that is taxable. In fact, about 40 per cent of most provincial budgets are eaten up by health costs, and according to the most recent data available from the Canadian Institute for Healthcare Information, total health costs in Canada are expected to reach $7,068 per person in 2019 once all the data are tallied.

That’s one of the highest costs for health care in the world—except for the US.

And that is something to consider, seriously, when inviting relatives or friends from other nations to visit you for a few days, or weeks—or even longer, as you are allowed to under the terms of Canada’s parents and grandparents Super Visa program. It’s equally true for friends and family south of the border just coming over for a celebratory family dinner. One slip on the ice, or attack of angina, is all it takes.

Canada does not require visitors to have health insurance as a condition of entry—as some European countries now do. So visitors need to be warned that they must have appropriate insurance in place to protect them against any unexpected illness or accident requiring medical care, as this could cost them hundreds or more likely thousands of dollars—especially if they get entangled in any of Canada’s overcrowded emergency rooms.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canadians nationwide spent a median of 3.2 hours in the ER per visit in 2018-2019, but for 90 per cent of those visits, patients were there for 10.9 hours or less. In 2017-2018 the median time was 2.8 hours per visit, while for 90 per cent of visits it was 7.9 hours or less. And according to an international survey by the US-based Commonwealth Fund, Canada’s performance in ER waiting times was the worst of any nation when compared to Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. And as we all know, the more time spent, the greater the cost.

How your visitors can prepare for their trip to Canada

Because Canadian travel insurance companies who offer Visitors to Canada plans have coverage and reimbursement arrangements with domestic hospitals, these are the most convenient sources for your guests to deal with. But be sure your guests are covered from the time they leave home. If they wait to buy insurance until after they arrive in Canada, they may be subject to a one- to two-day waiting period before their coverage kicks in. And during that period, they will be uncovered and vulnerable.

And if your guests are from the US, they should know that US Medicare (for the elderly) does not cover services outside the US except in certain circumstance where the beneficiaries are travelling through Canada or Mexico to get to another point in the US, or are close to the Canadian or Mexican border. If they have private medical insurance, say from their employer, they may be covered in Canada, but not necessarily; they should verify that in advance. But if they are relying on travel insurance bought in the US for protection, they should make sure their medical coverage limits are adequate, as most American travel insurance plans are designed more for trip cancellation and baggage loss than for medical coverage—although there are plans available with higher reimbursement levels for medical care. They may best be referred to a Canadian vendor who sells Visitors to Canada insurance who can assess what they have and what they need. Certainly, they should have a minimum of $100,000 in medical coverage in place.

We hear a great deal about exorbitant fees charges by American hospitals. But charges levied by Canadian hospitals can easily run to more than $5,000 a day just for routine care. Add emergency room fees, and the ICU if necessary, and the bills can mount dramatically.

It is no different in any developed country. Medical care, of the quality demanded by travellers in our advanced societies, is expensive—everywhere. You need to be prepared for that reality.

Canada is the second largest country in the world. Explore this diverse and cultural country with no worries. Whether hiking the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, or experiencing the world’s highest hands-free external walk on the CN Tower in Toronto—we have you covered.  Easily get a quote now, or for more information, call us at 1-800-360-3234 or email us at

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