Healthcare & Life in Canada


Jogging by Gary J Wood

No, we’re not talking about facebook. Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world. Our life expectancy, according to a United Nation

s report covering 2005-2010, was #11 out of 194 countries; the U.S. came in at #36. We share many of the same cultural influences and leanings as Americans do, yet there is one significant difference: our highly regarded national health care system, seen by many as one of the major benefits of living in Canada.

Canada’s national health insurance system is known as Medicare (OHIP, in the province of Ontario). Unlike the U.S. system called Medicare, our Medicare is a publicly funded program that provides health insurance for all Canadian citizens and permanent residents, regardless of employment or ability to pay. In most cases, Medicare will also cover you if you’re living in Canada with a work or study permit.

Jogging by Gary J. Wood

In the May 2010 issue of Men’s Health magazine, an article rips the U.S. private system to shreds, citing huge expenditures for high-tech procedures and pills rather than an emphasis on far more effective prevention and education; duplications of effort resulting in waste; profiteering; and the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance who must pay for medical care, even if it bankrupts them. The article, which lauds the French health care system, makes a very interesting observation: the French expect the government to protect them (hence the government-run health care) while Americans traditionally want to be protected from government. You want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (a.k.a. rugged individualism); our national slogan in Canada is peace, order and good government. Did we mention French is the second language here?

When relocating to Canada, it’s essential that you learn to navigate the ins and outs of the health care system. It’s far less bureaucratic than it’s cracked up to be – you get one plastic card that covers unlimited doctor visits, ER care, visits to specialists and the like, for the rest of your life. You can, by and large, pick whatever doctors and hospitals you want, and there’s no significant waiting unless you live in an extremely under-populated or remote area. Amazing! But it doesn’t cover things like prescription drugs and some assistive devices, so you’ll have to check what supplementary health care plan is offered by your employer – or purchase private top-up coverage.

If you’re coming to Canada with a job, your employer will normally arrange for your health coverage for you. If you’re self-employed or not yet working, you will need to apply for your health insurance through your provincial health agency.

You can find out more about OHIP eligibility for non-residents here.

Of course, beyond health coverage, Canada has an extensive social safety net that you can depend on in hard times. Many programs, such as social assistance (known in Ontario as Ontario Works) disability, community services, subsidized childcare and the like, are run by the provinces and municipalities. Unemployment (known as EI), maternity benefits, pensions and so forth are federally administered. A full list of Federal assistance programs for newcomers to Canada can be found here.

Igloo by US Mission Canada
Igloo by US Mission Canada

Life in Canada

The igloo having lost its popularity in recent years, 70 percent of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the U.S. border – mainly for the warmth factor!

Other things you should know…

  • Canada is generally more liberal than the United States in its social policies. Our law permits and acknowledges same-sex marriage, treats abortion as a medical procedure, prohibits the death penalty and has stricter gun controls than you are used to. Read this primer for United States citizens moving to Canada for more detailed information on these topics.
  • In Ontario, you can’t buy beer, wine or spirits except at special government-run stores. If that sounds insane to you, just know that it isn’t actually a big hardship; the stores are conveniently located all over the place, carry a superb selection, and are staffed by knowledgeable people.
  • We take the 3 Rs seriously – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, that is. If food/organic waste bins (known in Toronto as Green Bins) haven’t hit your neck of the woods yet, they might when you move to Canada.
  • Thanksgiving just isn’t a really big deal here. We use it as an excuse to eat turkey rather than to hold a full-on celebration of how our ancestors conquered the country by brute force several hundred years ago. The day after Thanksgiving, we stay home and recover from eating too much turkey; December 26th is our day to buy discount goods at low, low prices.

Though we may keep a wary eye on your country, and try to keep American media influences at bay with such things as our Canadian content laws, that’s just because we want to avoid total assimilation. Canadians love individual Americans, even if their relationship to America is a little more complicated than that.

As Canadians, we’ve become used to “sleeping next to an elephant” as former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once put it. But immigration to Canada is easy for Americans, so feel free to come on up. We’re happy to share the bed.

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