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Health Insurance Waiting Period

Updated: June 9th, 2023

Welcome to the complex world of healthcare in Canada! You might find the healthcare system overwhelming as a Canadian resident or an immigrant. But worry not; you're not alone, and this article is here to help you navigate the intricacies of healthcare in Canada. By providing a comprehensive understanding of the health insurance waiting period, factors affecting healthcare wait times, and answering frequently asked questions, you'll have a more informed approach to managing your health in this great country.

Although Canada is known for its excellent public healthcare system, it's not without its challenges. The system is funded through a combination of taxes and private insurance, and it's designed to provide coverage for all Canadian citizens and permanent residents. However, the system's complexity and increasing demand for healthcare services have led to some issues, including the dreaded waiting period for certain services.

In this article, you'll learn about the healthcare system in Canada, the health insurance waiting period, and how to navigate the world of healthcare wait times in Canada. So, let's dive in and explore this fascinating topic.

How Does Healthcare in Canada Work?

How Does Healthcare in Canada Work?

Healthcare in Canada is a publicly funded system, meaning it's financed through taxes collected by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. The system operates under the Canada Health Act, a federal legislation that sets the standards for health insurance plans nationwide. The primary goal of the Act is to ensure that all Canadian citizens and permanent residents have reasonable access to medically necessary services without facing financial barriers.

In Canada, healthcare is decentralized, meaning each province and territory is responsible for managing and delivering healthcare services to its residents. This decentralization allows each jurisdiction to develop programs and policies that best meet the unique needs of its population. As a result, slight differences exist in the services covered and how they are administered nationwide.

Despite these differences, Canadians generally enjoy a high standard of healthcare. However, some challenges persist, such as long waiting periods for certain services, which can frustrate patients and their families. The next section will shed light on the health insurance waiting period and how it affects healthcare in Canada.

What is the Health Insurance Waiting Period?

What is the Health Insurance Waiting Period?

The health insurance waiting period refers to the time you must wait before accessing certain healthcare services after enrolling in a health insurance plan. This wait time can vary depending on the type of service, the province or territory you reside in, and the specific plan you're enrolled in.

In Canada, the waiting period typically applies to new immigrants, returning expatriates, and those who recently moved from one province or territory to another. Depending on the situation, the waiting period can range from a few weeks to several months. Each province's waiting period is as follows: 


Ontario has a three-month waiting period before newcomers can be covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). This waiting period applies to new immigrants to Ontario, temporary foreign workers, and Canadian citizens who have been out of the country for more than 212 days in the previous year. During this waiting period, individuals must pay out-of-pocket or purchase private health insurance to receive health coverage. The waiting period was originally implemented as a cost-saving measure in 1994 by the Ontario government. Still, many organizations, such as the Ontario Medical Association and Access Alliance, have called for the end of the three-month wait, so this may change soon.

British Columbia

The health insurance waiting period in British Columbia is generally two months, in addition to the remainder of the month in which your residency in British Columbia is established. However, international students have a three-month waiting period before MSP coverage begins. Registering for the Medical Services Plan (MSP) as soon as you arrive in British Columbia is recommended, but it may take up to three months for your application to be processed. You should consider buying private medical insurance if you do not have MSP during the waiting period.


The Manitoba Health Services Insurance Plan (MHSIP) has a mandatory waiting period, which can delay access to Manitoba health care for up to 3 months following your arrival in the province. For example, if you arrive on April 29, April will be the first month, with May and June as the following two. Therefore, in this case, your coverage would begin on July 1.


In Quebec, there is a three-month waiting period for healthcare insurance coverage. This waiting period starts from the date of application for registration. It is important to contact the Régie de l'Assurance Maladie du Québec (RAMQ) within 15 days of arrival in Quebec to avoid delaying health insurance coverage. The Quebec Health Insurance Act stipulates that persons taking up residence in Quebec generally become eligible for healthcare insurance after a waiting period pending eligibility. 

Moving to Quebec from outside Canada means you must wait three months, even as a Canadian citizen. However, there have been reports of processing delays for Quebec health coverage, which have forced people to take out private insurance while waiting for coverage.


If you are a newcomer to Alberta, your Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) coverage begins on the first day of the third month following the date you established residency in Alberta. This means there is a waiting period of approximately three months after you arrive in Alberta before you are eligible for AHCIP coverage. However, some individuals may be eligible for reimbursement if they paid for an insured health service during this period.

Nova Scotia

The waiting time for health insurance in Nova Scotia depends on the specific situation:

For Permanent Residents:

Your public healthcare coverage does not begin as soon as you gain permanent residence in Ontario. The Provincial government imposes a waiting period of 3 months before you can access public health insurance.

For Students: 

Suppose you're a resident of Nova Scotia going to study outside of the province. In that case, you must provide proof of full-time enrollment from your university or college to ensure you continue getting health coverage. There is no information about a waiting period for students returning to Nova Scotia.

For New Immigrants: 

Unlike many other provinces, Nova Scotia MSI has no waiting period preventing new immigrants from obtaining health care during their first months in Canada. However, the application process can still take some time, so it's wise to have private health insurance for the first days and weeks that you are in Canada.

New Brunswick

One of the key benefits of living in Canada is access to its healthcare system. New Brunswick, a province on Canada’s east coast, offers new permanent residents and Canadian citizens the opportunity to receive Medicare coverage from their first day of arrival, provided they meet specific eligibility requirements. However, newcomers not permanent residents of Canada have a 3-month waiting period before accessing covered medical services immediately following their arrival into the province.

To qualify for Medicare coverage in New Brunswick, the Director must deem applicants to have established permanent residence in the province. This means that only after an applicant has physically moved to New Brunswick can they apply for registration. However, it is important to note that all applications are assessed case-by-case and may require additional information or documentation upon review. 

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador's Medical Care Plan (MCP) has no imposed waiting time. However, getting all the necessary documentation together can still take a few weeks, plus at least two weeks of processing time. 

Prince Edward Island

According to the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Provincial Government imposes a three-month waiting period after arrival in Ontario before being eligible for health insurance coverage. Once eligible, the PEI Health Card is valid for five years from the date it is issued.

Northwest Territories

The waiting time for health insurance in the Northwest Territories (NWT) depends on the individual's situation. According to the NWT Government, The NWT Health Care Plan application processing and mailing takes about six weeks from the time of application for your health care card to reach you.


In Saskatchewan, if you are moving to the province, you must register for a health card to receive health benefits. You must apply for your Saskatchewan health card soon after you arrive because you may have a waiting period of up to three months before you receive coverage. Usually, your health coverage begins on, or before, the first day of the third month after you arrive in Saskatchewan. If you and your family are moving to Saskatchewan together, you will have Saskatchewan health coverage beginning on the first day of the third month following the date you established residency in Saskatchewan.


The waiting time for health insurance coverage in Yukon is three months from the approval date. It is important to note that international students are not eligible for coverage and must purchase their private insurance if not included in their school fees. Temporary workers need a valid work permit of at least 12 months to be eligible for coverage.


Like many other provinces, new residents in Nunavut may have to wait up to three months after their arrival to become eligible for health care coverage, so applying for coverage as soon as possible after arrival in the province or territory is recommended.

Factors Affecting Healthcare Wait Times in Canada

Factors Affecting Healthcare Wait Times in Canada

Several factors can influence healthcare wait times in Canada. Understanding these factors can help you better anticipate and manage your healthcare needs. Some of the key factors affecting healthcare wait times in Canada include:

Demand for Services 

The demand for healthcare services continues to grow in Canada, partly due to an aging population and advances in medical technology. This increased demand can pressure the system and contribute to longer wait times for certain services.

Availability of Providers

Healthcare providers, such as doctors and specialists, can significantly impact wait times. In some parts of Canada, there may be a shortage of providers, which can lead to longer waiting periods for appointments and treatments.

Geographical Location

Your location can also affect healthcare wait times. Individuals living in rural or remote areas may experience longer wait times due to limited healthcare providers and facility availability.

Type of Treatment 

The type of treatment or service you require can also influence wait times. Some services, such as elective surgeries or specialist consultations, may have longer wait times compared to more urgent or emergency care.

Healthcare Funding

The funding allocated to healthcare can impact wait times. Insufficient funding can result in inadequate resources to meet service demand, leading to longer healthcare wait times in Canada.

Getting Private Health Insurance in Canada

Buying private insurance while you wait for your public coverage to begin is a good idea. Private health insurance plans in Canada are typically for-profit programs administered by private companies. You will pay out of pocket for these plans, which can become expensive. However, one of the benefits of private insurance in Canada is that you will get greater access to a wider range of Canadian hospitals and doctors. Waiting periods are often shorter, especially for more minor illnesses or procedures. Canada's major private health insurance companies are as follows:

Cigna Global Medical

This provider offers private health insurance plans in Canada for non-residents, ex-pats, and foreign citizens currently living in the country. The GeoBlue Xplorer plan is an excellent option for US citizens living in Canada.

Sun Life

Sun Life offers three personal health insurance plans in Canada. The lowest-cost plan can help cover basic medical and dental expenses.

Blue Cross

Blue Cross is a trusted insurance provider in Canada that offers health benefits for those exploring Canada or traveling around the world. Members can save on medical care, vision care, and other products and services offered by participating providers across Canada.

Pacific Prime

Pacific Prime offers locally compliant international medical insurance for those living or working in Canada. Customized Canada health insurance plans and quotes are available.


SureHealth offers private health insurance plans that can be purchased through several health benefits providers. Each plan offers an “extension” of medical services.

You can apply for private health insurance via any of these companies. However, many application processes differ, so researching your company before applying is vital. 


What Services are Subject to the Waiting Period?

The services subject to the waiting period include doctor appointments, specialist consultations, elective surgeries, diagnostic tests, and more. However, emergency care is generally not subject to the waiting period.

How Can I Minimize Healthcare Wait Times in Canada?

While it may be difficult to avoid healthcare wait times in Canada completely, there are some steps you can take to minimize them. These include staying informed about the healthcare system, being proactive about your health, seeking care from alternative providers (such as walk-in clinics), and considering private insurance options to supplement your public coverage.

Get Your Start in Canada the Right Way

Navigating healthcare in Canada can be challenging, particularly when faced with long wait times for certain services. However, by understanding the factors that contribute to these wait times and being proactive about your healthcare needs, you can better manage your health and minimize the impact of these wait times on your life.

Remember that healthcare in Canada is a complex system, and staying informed about your coverage, rights, and responsibilities is essential. Doing so, you'll be better equipped to make informed decisions about your healthcare and ensure you receive the care you need when needed. One of the best ways to do so is to work with a certified immigration professional like a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC).

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