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Health Cards: What they are and how to get them

By Amanda Owusu

Posted on March 29, 2021

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Here in Canada, the government offers free health care insurance to Canadian residents, which cover a wide range of medically necessary services. Each province and territory in Canada has their own health insurance plans that allow its residents to access health services such as hospital and doctor visits. In order to access these services, you need a health card. This article will explain how you can get a health card and what it covers.

What is a health card?

Universal health care is the term used to describe Canada’s health care system. This system gives everyone equal access to health care services and makes it possible for each province to have their own health insurance plan. These insurance plans are paid for by the government with tax money. To access these benefits, you need a health card. You can apply for one once you gain residency in Canada.

Health cards provide access to services that are covered by the government. However, there are different types of health insurance plans that you can also qualify or sign up for. If you’re a post-secondary student, you’ll typically be enrolled in a health plan through your school. If you’re an employee, you also usually receive health coverage through your job. Check with your school and/or job to see if they provide you with any insurance plans. You can also sign up for private plans offered by private insurance firms. You can select the type of coverage you want in exchange of a monthly or yearly fee. Some people use private insurance plans offered through private firms, their employer, or their school to supplement the health coverage offered by the government. It’s best to assess your needs to determine what type of plan will be best for you.

What’s Included? What’s Not?

Here is a list of some of the services that are covered by your health card.

Included: Not Included:
All medically necessary services (Check your province/territory’s website for more details on what this means.) Cosmetic surgery that is not medically necessary
Maternal Care Medical examinations that are required by a third party. (driver’s Licenses, workplace, etc.)
Prescriptions drugs while in the hospital Dental Care (Many provinces/territories have free dental programs for low-income people and families, children, and seniors.)
Doctor visits with your family doctor, walk in doctor, or any other General Physician Vision Care
Visits to the Emergency Room Wheelchairs
Medical tests and surgeries Limb Prostheses
Medically necessary surgeries Prescription Medication (Some provinces and territories offer free prescription drugs for its residents. For example, Ontario has free prescriptions for everyone under 25. Check more with your province to find out if there are any programs that cover prescriptions.)
Laboratory and other diagnostic services Podiatry and Chiropractic Services
In-hospital dental surgeries that are considered medically necessary Ambulance Services in Yukon

It’s important to note that some of these services may be partially covered. For example, in Ontario, $7–16 of each visit to the podiatrist is covered for a total of up to $135 per patient each year, although this is generally not covered in Canada. This is a general list to give you an idea of the types of services that are covered under these government health insurance plans. You should check with the province and territory you live in for a detailed list of what’s exactly covered.

When should I apply?

You should apply for these health care services as soon as you arrive in Canada. You cannot apply for these services before you arrive. In provinces such as Ontario, New Brunswick, and British Columbia, there may be a waiting period. This period could be up to three months. While you wait, you can purchase a private medical insurance plan through providers like Sunlife and Bluecross to protect yourself just in case.

What do I need to apply?

To apply for these services you will need the following:

  • A Complete Registration Form
  • Three separate and original documents that prove:
    • You’re a Canadian citizen or permanent resident
      Examples: birth certificate, passport, permanent resident card
    • You reside in the province or territory you’re applying in
      Examples: income tax assessment, driver’s license, photo card, mailed bank statements, property tax bills
    • Your identity (must include name and signature)
      Examples: credit card, photo card, driver’s license, employment ID card, student card

These are just some of the most commonly accepted forms of ID. For more information about what documents are accepted, please visit your province or territory website using the links at the end of this article.

How can I apply?

You need to complete a health card registration form in order to start your application process. You can get these forms at doctor’s offices, hospitals, settlement agencies, or your local government office. You can also get them online by using the links at the end of this article. Where you live will determine where you access these forms. The process is different for each province.

Usually, after completing your registration form, you then take this form and your identifying documents to your local government office or visit your local government website to apply. Some provinces such as British Colombia give you the opportunity to apply online while others like Ontario require you to visit a ServiceOntario Centre to apply in person. Other provinces like Nova Scotia require you to contact the government office to access the application form to begin the process. The process varies by province so double check what the process is for your location by using the links below.

Are there any costs?:

Applying for and renewing your health card is free. However, if you lose it, you may have to pay a fee for replacement. If it is stolen, you can contact your local government office to report it and request a replacement.

For more information:

You can visit these websites based on the province or territory you plan to live in to learn more about how to apply and replace your health card.

To learn more about the health care system in Canada, check this article by The Newcomer.


Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP)

British Columbia
Medical Services Plan (MSP)

Health, Seniors and Active Living

New Brunswick
New Brunswick Medicare

Newfoundland and Labrador
Medical Care Plan (MCP)

Nova Scotia
Medical Services Insurance (MSI)

Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP)

Prince Edward Island
Health PEI

Québec Health Insurance Plan

eHealth Saskatchewan


Northwest Territories
Health and Social Services

Nunavut Health Care Plan

Yukon Health Insurance Plan

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