If you are taking medication for your health, you should make sure you take the right steps to get access to that medication when you arrive in Canada.
There are two main classes of drugs in Canada:
- Over-the-counter drugs: these drugs can be legally purchased by any person without a prescription or written consent from a doctor
- Prescription drugs: these medicines are only for the person they are prescribed for. In order to get these medicines, you need a doctor’s prescription, which you can then bring to the pharmacy where you can buy the medicines.
You can check if the drugs you are taking require a prescription in Canada on the Canadian Government Prescription Drug List. This is a good way to make sure the drugs you are taking are legal in Canada and whether you will need a prescription to buy them.
Generally, Health Canada allows you to enter the country with medications required for a one-time treatment or a 90-day supply, whichever is less, of both over-the-counter and prescription medications. To avoid any problems when you arrive in Canada, it is recommended that you bring these medications in retail or pharmacy packaging or have a label affixed to the container that clearly states what it contains.
How do I fill my prescription in Canada?
It is not permitted to use a foreign prescription to obtain prescription drugs in Canada. Instead, you must obtain a prescription from a Canadian doctor. There are several ways to do this:
Walk-in Clinic: A walk-in clinic allows any patient to walk in and see a doctor. This is a quick and short-term way to get a prescription, so it’s a great option for those who are visiting or staying in Canada temporarily. However, waiting times at ambulances can be very long. Don’t forget to take the foreign prescription with you.
Family doctor: if you plan to be in Canada long-term, you should find a family doctor. This is a slower and longer term option as you will see your doctor regularly to monitor your health. Family doctors are regulated by provincial regulations, so you’ll need to contact your provincial health authority for information.
On-campus doctor: if you are an international student in Canada, your school will likely offer medical services available on and off campus. You can contact your school to help you get a prescription.
Canadian Health Insurance
Canada has a free universal health care system. As a newcomer to Canada, you have access to Medicare, which is a publicly funded health service. Through Medicare, essential medical services such as doctor visits, hospital stays, and diagnostic tests are free or provided at a fraction of the cost. However, these services are primarily funded and provided by each province, so the specifics of what is covered may vary from province to province. Unfortunately, Medicare does not always cover prescription drugs.
If you are a permanent resident, you are eligible for Medicare. Any prescription medicines given to you while you are in hospital are covered by the health care system, but medicines you get elsewhere, such as from a pharmacy, will not be covered.
Some provinces have provincial prescription drug plans that you may be able to enroll in. In addition, many employers in Canada will offer health plans that will cover some of the costs associated with prescription drugs for their employees.
If you are a temporary resident, it is recommended that you take out private health insurance. If you need prescription drugs, be sure to check with your insurance provider to find out what costs are and aren’t covered by insurance. Additionally, some provinces require you to live in that province for a certain amount of time before you can access a provincial health care plan, so you may want to consider purchasing insurance in the meantime.
National Pharmaceutical Care Plan
Canada is the only country that has a universal health care system, but does not have universal prescription drug coverage outside of hospitals.
The Government of Canada is committed to passing the Canada Pharmacy Act in 2023. The Act would establish universal public pharmacy care in Canada. This means that all Canadians would have access to prescription drugs that would be publicly funded by the government and based on medical need, not ability to pay.
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