Expats moving to Calgary will be delighted to know that, by virtue of being legal permanent residents of Alberta, they are entitled to free healthcare for the duration of their stay in the country.

It is fair to say that Canada prides itself on the quality, universality and accessibility of its healthcare system. Expats moving to Calgary from countries that operate on private healthcare systems, particularly the US, will soon find themselves amazed by the level of coverage they are entitled to receive at the government's expense.

Public healthcare in Calgary

As a foreigner moving to Alberta from outside of Canada, the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) coverage will start from the date of one's arrival in the province. However, it's important to note the following:

  • In order to qualify for AHCIP coverage, a person must be a legal permanent resident of Alberta. As an expat, this means that one must possess a valid residence or work visa and must be physically present in Alberta for at least 183 days of the year.

  • Although coverage technically begins from an expat's first day of arrival in Alberta, they will not be officially covered (i.e. they will not receive the all-important AHCIP card) until certain documents have been submitted, and the application has been processed and approved. This can take up to a month. However, if expats are forced to pay for any medical expenses themselves during this waiting period, they will be reimbursed as soon as their coverage is approved. It is still a good idea to have some private medical insurance for the first few months of a stay in Calgary. 

  • Note that, even if someone decides to opt out of AHCIP coverage at a later point, as a permanent resident of Alberta it is compulsory that expats living in Calgary apply for it.

  • If expats do not apply for AHCIP coverage within 90 days of arriving in the country, the Alberta Health and Wellness department will determine the effective dates of the coverage. This could mean that new arrivals might be ineligible for reimbursements, which can cause a problem for those faced with a medical emergency or urgent hospital care during the early part of their stay in Calgary. 

How to apply for healthcare in Calgary

Applying for AHCIP coverage is easy. Simply download an application form from the Alberta Health and Wellness department's website, complete it, sign it, and mail it off with the following supporting documents:

  • Proof of Alberta residency (such as a rental agreement, or utility bill)

  • Government-issued photo ID (such as a copy of a passport)

  • Proof of legal entitlement to reside in Canada (such as a copy of a working visa)

Coverage and types of care

The coverage offered by the AHCIP is extensive, and includes the following services: doctor visits, tests that a doctor orders (x-rays, blood tests, etc.), hospital stay in a public ward (usually consisting of four beds per ward), recommended surgery, drugs administered during a hospital stay, standard children's immunisations, palliative care drugs for people receiving treatment at home, drugs for the treatment of cancer (regardless of where they are administered), limited community-based rehabilitation services (such as physiotherapy), eye exams for children under the age of 18, and eye exams and prescription drugs for seniors over the age of 65.

The following services are not covered by the AHCIP: prescription drugs administered outside of a hospital setting (i.e. a doctor's prescription that is filled at a pharmacy – notably for diabetics, this includes insulin), dental care, routine eye exams for adults between 19 and 64 years of age, eyeglasses, ambulance transport, private hospital rooms, psychological counselling, acupuncture, massage therapy, midwifery, homeopathy, cosmetic surgery and sex change surgery.

If an expat feels they may need access to treatments not covered by the AHCIP, they should purchase additional private insurance to cover these requirements.

Expats should note that another great feature of Calgary's healthcare system is the existence of what are known as 'walk-in clinics'. There are many of these establishments in the greater Calgary area, most of which are open in the evenings and on weekends. Staffed by committed professionals, these clinics can supply patients with basic drugs and treatments.

Problems with Calgary's public healthcare system

Although the standard of healthcare in Calgary is excellent, there remain some lingering concerns over its practical implementation. Most of these concerns stem from the simple fact that, as Calgary's economy has boomed and the ensuing suburban development has seen migrant labourers flood into the city, there is now a real shortage of healthcare professionals in the city. This means that it can be difficult for expats – at least initially – to find a family doctor, as most of them have too many patients on their books already, and can't take any more on. It can also prove difficult to make hospital or specialist appointments, due to long waiting lists.

Private health insurance in Calgary

Expats who do have permanent residency in Alberta and reside in the province for less than 183 days per year will need to invest in private cover.

Leading reputable private healthcare companies selling medical insurance to supplement AHCIP coverage include Manulife, Sunlife and Great-West Life. It might be necessary to engage the services of one of these companies to help pay for dental care, psychological counselling, physiotherapy and the like.

Hospitals in Calgary

Below are some of the most reputable hospitals in Calgary:

Alberta Children's Hospital

Address: 2888 Shaganappi Trail NW

Foothills Medical Centre

Address: 1403 29 Street NW

Sheldon M Chumir Health Centre

Address: 1213 4 Street SW