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Health and travel insurance for international students

June 9, 2023
7 mins
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Between applying to schools and sorting out travel visas and accommodations, moving to Canada as an international student can be quite daunting — especially once you start considering medical and travel insurance. While Canada prides itself on its publicly funded healthcare, it's not always available right away for newcomers and international students. And the costs can mount for people who are not covered, as well as the stress of falling ill far away from your home country.

Thankfully, most international students enrolled in a full-time program in Canada have some level of health insurance, either through their provincial health coverage or through their university health program. In most provinces, all students need are a study permit and proof of full-time registration at a school in order to receive a health card. In Ontario, most universities participate in the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP), which is mandatory for international students enrolled at those schools.

However, international students who are not enrolled full-time, or who have medical needs that go beyond what’s offered in the basic provincial or university insurance may find themselves lost in a confusing system with too many options.

This article will break down how travel health insurance works for international students in Canada — and what happens to your coverage if you leave your province or the country.

How does health insurance work for international students in Canada? 

Canada is known for our publicly funded healthcare program, which affords residents free checkups, some specialized treatments, and emergency services, depending on the province. In most provinces, international students can apply for a health card or qualify for basic health insurance through their school once they meet certain requirements, like show proof of enrollment and a student permit.

However, each province and university-sponsored health program have unique requirements. For example, international students are not eligible for provincial health care in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Manitoba. In Nova Scotia, students must purchase health insurance before arrival.

Provinces differ in what they offer, as well. Most provinces cover visits to a family doctor or physician and some hospital treatments and stays.  A handful of provinces offer ambulance services; only Alberta offers psychiatric care, and none offer eye exams or prescription drugs for patients between the ages of 20 and 64.

Each provincial health program will cover their insurance-holders if they leave the province, but the exact coverage varies by program. A few provincial health programs even offer some out-of-country emergency medical — it’s best to check your province’s health insurance coverage guidelines before leaving home.

Read more: Insurance considerations when travelling with friends

Medical insurance for international students

Beyond basic provincial and university-sponsored health plans, international students have options when it comes to getting covered in Canada.

International student insurance

International students may opt to pay for private health insurance tailored to their needs.

International student travel insurance is ideal for students who must wait several months for provincial care to kick in, or simply looking for more than the basic coverage offered by provincial healthcare. Generally, international student travel insurance can cover up to $2 million in eligible emergency medical expenses, plus a range of different services like ambulatory care, prescription drugs, specialist’s fees, mental health, and emergency dental, depending on the policy. Many plans also include extended coverage for side trips to and from Canada.

To qualify for international student insurance, the applicant must be in good health, not covered or eligible for provincial health insurance, and enrolled for at least 60% of a program at a Canadian post-secondary school.

Visitors to Canada Insurance

Another option for international students is Visitors to Canada insurance. This is a type of travel medical insurance catered towards, well, travellers to Canada. People who opt for this insurance can be covered for any term length of their choosing, from seven days to a year. This includes tourists, international students, seasonal workers, or new immigrants who are waiting for provincial or workplace-sponsored health insurance to kick in.

Visitors to Canada insurance offers emergency medical coverage, emergency dental work, ambulance services, prescription drugs, hospital stays, and up to $1 million in coverage of eligible emergency medical expenses. In addition, visitors to Canada insurance may include trip cancellation and interruption insurance, as well as medical emergencies that occur on trips outside of Canada. It can be purchased as a policy for single travellers, couples, or families.

Make sure you’re covered in Canada 

Moving to Canada can be complicated, and so can figuring out what type of insurance you need while you’re here. The last thing you want is to be injured or fall ill and not be covered by insurance when you’re away from home. When looking for the right plan, consider all options and make sure your needs can be met if things go south. You should also compare travel insurance plans to make sure that you’re paying the best price for the coverage you need.

Keep reading: COVID-19 travel insurance coverage: what’s changed in the last two years?

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Jessica Wei ,
Senior Editor

Jessica Wei is the senior editor of RATESDOTCA. She has over ten years of experience in journalism and writing content focused on personal finance, real estate and investment. She is the recipient of a National Magazine Award.

Prior to joining RATESDOTCA, she was the lead editor of Young and Thrifty (now and as a senior news editor of Post City Magazines in Toronto, as well as a freelancer journalist.

  • Mortgage
  • Home Insurance
  • Car Insurance
  • Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Concordia University
Featured in
  • The Walrus
  • The Guardian
  • Post City Magazines
  • ELLE Canada

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