Health Services in British Columbia
It is worth understanding how medical services are provided for in B.C. as it is different from other countries.
If you have become a Permanent Resident after being on a work permit, then see our warning.
The Medical Services Plan (MSP), run by the Province, is mandatory and is the only medical cover available. This is the equivalent of the UK’s National Health Service. Unlike the UK there is no private alternative. There are only public hospitals.
Employers, unions and pension plans often have medical benefits packages that “top up” the Medical Services Plan, by adding things not covered, such as dental work, prescriptions, eyeglasses. If you are self-employed or not employed, you can purchase your own “top up” plans from insurance companies, though these can be expensive.
Enrolling in the Medical Services Plan
The MSP covers all residents of B.C. who are:
- Canadian citizens;
- Permanent residents;
- In B.C. on a work or study permit (for over a year).
- live and are physically present in B.C. for 6 months a year at least.
When you arrive in B.C. as a landed immigrant or on as work/study permit, you must enroll in MSP. It is a legal requirement that all B.C. residents enroll in MSP.
You can get the necessary enrollment forms online at:
or alternatively telephone an MSP office to find out how.
- Vancouver: 604 683-7151
- Victoria: 250 386-7171 or 250 382-8406
- Elsewhere in B.C.: 1-800-663-7100.
Start of coverage
It is important to note that you will not have any medical coverage until you have been in B.C. for three months. Until then you are responsible for all your medical costs. As medical costs can be expensive you are strongly advised to arrange for private medical coverage for this initial period. You can arrange this from outside Canada, and a number of companies offer special policies for this purpose. See our links at the bottom of this page.
When your medical coverage starts you will be issued with a CareCard. Look after this as you will need to present it when visiting your doctor, walk-in clinics and when collecting prescriptions from the pharmacy.
What does the Medical Services Plan cover?
The MSP covers:
- treatment from a doctor;
- maternity care if provided by a doctor or midwife;
- diagnostic services (e.g. x-rays, blood tests), if ordered by a registered medical practitioner;
- dental and oral surgery, only if it has to be done in hospital;
- orthodontic services where it relates to severe congenital facial abnormalities.
What is not covered by the Medical Services Plan?
The Medical Services Plan does not cover:
- prescription drugs;
- anything that is not medically necessary, such as cosmetic surgery;
- most dental services;
- routine eye tests if you are between 19 and 64;
- eyeglasses, hearing aids, and other equipment or appliances;
- chiropractic, massage therapy, naturopathy, physical therapy and non-surgical podiatry services;
- annual or routine examinations where there is no medical requirement;
- services of counsellors or psychologists;
- medical examinations, certificates or tests required for:
- driving a motor vehicle
- life insurance
- school or university
- recreational and sporting activities
- immigration purpose
- ambulances are not covered.
Fees for an ambulance start at $80 and go up. This includes air ambulances and is based on you being covered by MSP. If not it can be very expensive (eg a helicopter will be over $2,700 per hour).
Ref: BC Ambulance Service Fees
In B.C., premiums are payable for MSP coverage and are based on family size and income. The monthly rates as of January 1, 2012 are:
- $64 for one person
- $116 for a family of two
- $128 for a family of three or more
Premiums are billed quarterly.
When you get a prescription filled you will probably have to pay the full cost, unless:
- you are covered by “top up” insurance
- you are eligible for the Fair PharmaCare service
The Fair PharmaCare is a means tested service that pays some of your prescription charges based on your income. You will only be eligible for this once you have filed a tax return in Canada as this is how your income is assessed.
More details are at the PharmaCare web site or from pharmacists.
Registering with a Doctor
You can find walk-in clinics in many places, but you will want to register with a family doctor.
Before you leave your doctor in your originating country you can ask for a copy of your medical records, or a summary of them. You may be charged for this, but if you want your Canadian doctor to have details of your medical history then this will be useful.
You can find doctors in the Yellow Pages under “Physicians and Surgeons”. If you can get a recommendation from a friend or neighbour that will help you find a suitable doctor.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons also has an online search that you can use.
Warning, if you arrived on a work permit and then get Permanent Resident (PR) status you must inform the MSP of your change of status. This is because when you are on a work permit, your care card has an expiry date, and the number begins with a 9.
Once you obtain your PR status the Medical Services will cancel your card and they likely will not tell you. This is done retroactively, meaning that you are not covered and you may not even know it.
So as soon as you have your PR status you must send them copies of your proof of permanent residency. If you are on a group plan you can get your employer to do this.
- Canada Sure (UK)
- Expat Financial (Canada)
- Health Quotes (Canada)
- MediBroker (UK)
- David Cummings Insurance Services (Vancouver)
- Ray Battiston - Ontario