Canada: Health and education

Medicare state health insurance covers most medical services, while the school system is also well regarded

Canada is renowned all over the world for its free healthcare system, and each of its 10 provinces and three territories finances and runs a state-wide health insurance programme, Medicare, which covers most basic medical services, such as doctor visits, diagnostic tests, hospital stays and most surgeries.
You may find the system is not as comprehensive as you would like, however, as it is up to each province to decide whether or not to cover supplementary services, such as dental or drug cover, or even maternity services. As a result, many Canadians face additional expense.
For example, a survey from the Commonwealth Fund in 2013 showed that 13 per cent of Canadians had experienced a cost-related access problem, such as not getting a prescription filled, while 14 per cent were out of pocket by C$1,000 (€690) or more, compared with just 3 per cent for the UK. And 23 per cent skipped dental care because of the cost, while 29 per cent of respondents had to wait two months or more for a specialist appointment.
You may also find that you don’t qualify for your province’s health system. For example, Ontario imposes a three-month wait on health cover (from the date you establish residency there), and to be eligible for the cover you must be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or among one of the newcomer to Canada groups who are eligible for insurance as set out in Ontario’s Health Insurance Act.
Given the time-lag, and the possibility that you may not qualify – as well as the shortfall on expenses they might face – new arrivals are encouraged to take out private health insurance cover when they land.
If you are going to travel regularly across the country, remember that your health benefits may not travel with you. While most of your Ontario health coverage benefits can be used across Canada, for example, not all provinces operate on the same principle.
Before you travel you might also want to get insurance cover. One option is VHI International, which is aimed at people who intend to return to Ireland to live at a future date, as it helps you to avoid waiting periods for cover when you return to Ireland and covers you when you come home on holidays. Unlike VHI Healthcare’s domestic plans, this policy is risk-rated; therefore the price differs according to age band. For 22- to 24-year-olds, the premium on VHI International Level 1 Area2 (which is the area of cover that would be needed to provide cover to a customer travelling to Canada) is about €870 annually. This provides cover for up to €3 million in medical expenses each year, including cover for pre and post-hospitalisation costs, cancer care etc.
A cheaper option is VHI’s Canada Cover, a product which is designed specifically to suit the needs of people taking the two-year IEC visa and covers emergency medical treatment and repatriation and travel insurance cover. The standard product is €340 and add-ons range from €31 (to include one home return visit) up to €330 for certain hazardous activities.
Much like the health regime, there is no federal department of education and no national system of education in Canada. Instead, each province and territory has its own system of education, although they are similar.
Education is generally free for residents at both primary and post-primary level, and children must start school at the age of five or six until they are between 16 and 18, depending on the province or territory. As Canada is a bilingual country, French language schools are available across the country, so even if you are not living in Quebec, this is an option. Private schools are also available at varying costs. While many Canadian public schools accept non-resident international students, you may have to pay fees.
Unlike in Ireland, where many students will benefit from free fees (with a sizeable contribution nonetheless), Canadian residents will have to pay tuition fees for third-level education.
If you are non-resident, fees start at about C$14,000 a year, but if you are resident, fees can drop to about C$6,000, depending on what course you study and where. The University of Toronto for example, charges fees in the range of C$6,220 to C$13,620, although the fees are higher for those studying such courses as medicine and pharmacy, while fees are just C$2,550 at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Internationally, Canadian universities have a good reputation, with three in the world’s top 50, according to the QS World University Rankings 2016/2017. Those universities are McGill University (30th) in Montreal and the University of Toronto (32nd) and University of British Columbia (45th).
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