An Expat’s Guide to Healthcare in British Columbia

If you’re thinking about transferring to Canada for work, you may be happy to learn that Canada provides universal, government-funded healthcare for all its residents. Healthcare in Canada is implemented and managed on a provincial level, and each of the 13 provinces and territories have set up a slightly difference system. Here’s the scoop on Healthcare in British Columbia.

Eligibility for healthcare in British Columbia

In British Columbia, healthcare is called the Medical Services Plan – MSP for short. It is available for anyone who is considered a resident of the province, including Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and individuals holding Work Permits or Study Permits. Individuals also need to be living in the province, and physically present in British Columbia for at least six months out of the year.



MSP covers many, but not all of the medical services and procedures you may need while living in British Columbia. All the basics are included. This includes consultations with doctors, visits to specialists (when the person is referred by a general practitioner), and hospital fees. Your MSP will pay for medically required services from a physician enrolled with MSP, maternity care from either a physician or midwife, medically required eye exams, diagnostic services including e-rays and laboratory procedures, dental and oral surgery that is both medically required and performed in a hospital, and some orthodontic procedures.

On the other hand, MSP won’t foot the bill for any service that isn’t medically required (for instance, cosmetic surgery), most dental services (you’ll need separate private dental insurance), routine eye exams for most individuals, eye glasses and hearing aids, prescription drugs (you can sign up for public Pharmacare for that), acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy and other western medicine practices, counsellor or psychologists services and medical examinations or tests required for driving insurance, employment, school, etc.

How to enroll in Healthcare in British Columbia

As an expat, it’s in your best interest to apply for MSP as soon as you arrive! There’s a three-month waiting period from the time you apply to the time you are covered, so the sooner the better. While you’re waiting for your public health care coverage to kick in, we strongly suggest you enroll in temporary travel insurance like the insurance offered by Pacific Blue Cross, which has reasonable rates.  And don’t forget to ask your employer – it maybe be provided it in your employment contract. 

To apply for MSP, first, go to your employer. Employers will register anyone who has negotiated health insurance in their contract. However, if health care is not offered by your employer, it’s up to you to apply.

You can apply for a self-administered MSP account, by registering with the Ministry of Health by mail. Start by sending a filled-out application for enrollment to MSP, PO Box 9678 Stn Prov Govt, Victoria BC, V8W 9P7.  This form also gives you the opportunity to apply for  health insurance for a spouse and children ages 18 years or younger, or from age 18 years to 24 who are attending university. With your application, you also need to submit documents for you and anyone else listed on the application. 

Submit with your application photocopies of: proof of identity (passport or birth certificate); proof of status in British Columbia (Work Permit, Confirmation of Permanent Residence, or a letter that clearly states the beginning and ending dates of your assignment). You will also need to provide proof of residence (a gas or electric utilities statement, bank statement, or driver’s license).

Premiums for Healthcare in British Columbia


Every province and territory has a slightly different healthcare system. In British Columbia, while MSP pays directly for many services and procedures, individuals are still required to pay monthly premiums for health insurance. The fees are determined by each individual’s adjusted net income

  • $0.00 for an adjusted net income of from $0 to $22,000,
  • $12.80  for an adjusted net income of from $22,001 to  $24,000,
  • $25.60  for an adjusted net income of from $24,001  to $26,000,
  • $38.40 for an adjusted net income of from $26,001 to $28,000,
  • $51.20 for an adjusted net income of from $28,001 to $30,000, and
  • $72.00 for an adjusted net income of from more than $30,000.

To see a list of premium fees for families of two or three people, click here.

Medical wait times in British Columbia

Healthcare in Canada is often considered a shining example of public health. But every system has its strength and weaknesses. Here in Canada, authorities are committed to ensuring coverage for all its residents. But shortages in staff, as well as constant budget shortcomings means that when expats arrive here and need health treatments, they are often surprised to find long wait periods and difficulties finding a primary care network that is accepting new patients.

That is a frustrating reality, but being forewarned and prepared can help you. Make sure to take advantage of all your resources, including friends, family, neighbours and your employer, as well as local community centre employees. All of these people can help you understand your options and suggest doctors and specialists.


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Read more about public health in Canada!

(Photos: Kate Ter Salud via Flickr, cc)


About Jerry

Before my family and I relocated to Canada where I received a teaching opportunity at one of the country’s renowned universities, my wife and kids were naturally full of questions. What would the schools be like? How does healthcare work? Is Canadian French very different than European French? What about Canadian English verses European English? How cold are those frigid northern winters we’ve heard so much about? The only way to fully understand a new city or country is to experience it first-hand. My family and I decided to embrace our relocation as an adventure. Years after the move, we still consider “The Great White North” our home, and we couldn’t be more satisfied with our quality of life here. // Avant que ma famille et moi-même soyons relocalisés au Canada parce que j’ai eu l’opportunité d’aller enseigner dans l’une des universités assez réputée du pays, ma femme et mes enfants avaient naturellement beaucoup de questions. A quoi ressemblent les écoles ? Comment fonctionne le système de santé ? Le français canadien est-il vraiment différent de celui parlé en France ? L’anglais canadien est-il vraiment différent de celui parlé en Europe? Est-ce que les hivers sont vraiment très rigoureux? La meilleure façon de comprendre entièrement une nouvelle ville et un pays est d’en faire personnellement l’expérience. Ma famille et moi avons décidé de voir la relocalisation comme une aventure. Quelques années plus tard, nous considérons “Le Grand Nord Blanc” comme notre maison et nous ne pourrions pas être plus satisfaits.