Health and safety

British Columbia is a safe study destination for international students and has a great health care system with hospitals, walk-in clinics, general practitioner doctor’s offices, and various specialists for specific health problems.

Photo: Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Health insurance

If you will be living in BC for six months or longer you must enrol in basic health insurance through the provincial Medical Services Plan (MSP) and pay any applicable premiums.

What does MSP cover?

  • MSP covers
  • Basic medical care within Canada
  • Most doctors visits
  • Most hospital visits
  • Travel
  • MSP does not cover
  • Dental care
  • Prescription drugs
  • Eye exams and corrective lenses
  • Travel

How do I apply for MSP?

Register for MSP as soon as you arrive in BC. It will take three months for your coverage to start (the month in which you arrive in BC plus two full calendar months). If your family is with you in Canada, they will also need health insurance.

You will receive a membership card called a CareCard with a Personal Health Number. Take this card with you to all medical visits.

I need medical care but I don’t have MSP yet

If you need to see a doctor and your CareCard has not arrived you might have to pay at the time you receive your health care. Keep your receipts and request reimbursement from MSP once your CareCard has arrived.

If you need urgent care, inpatient services (lab, radiology, or other procedures), or a visit to the emergency department in a hospital, please show a copy of your study permit to receive a reduced rate on services.

PharmaCare

If you will be living in BC for six months or longer you may be eligible for PharmaCare to cover some prescription drugs and designated medical supplies. Register for PharmaCare as soon as you get your CareCard.

Extended health-care coverage

Extended health-care coverage generally covers some of the costs of dental work, prescription drugs, eye care, and other treatments. Most post-secondary institutions recommend that you have extended health coverage.

You may prefer to pay for these health-care costs if and when needed, obtain these services in your home country, or choose a private insurance company with an extended coverage plan that meets your needs.

Contact your institution’s international education office for more information about your extended health-care coverage options.

Note: If you will be studying in BC for less than six months you are not eligible for MSP and must make sure you have private health-care insurance for your full stay.

Doctors and clinics

When you arrive in BC you should try to find a family doctor or a general practitioner (GP) who will take you on as a regular patient. This will ensure that your doctor becomes familiar with your medical history and can provide you with the best care.

If you don’t have a family doctor or can’t find one and you require non-emergency medical care outside of your doctor’s hours, there are walk-in clinics that you can visit by calling ahead to them, especially during COVID.

Self-service health information

With HealthLink BC, you have trusted health information at your fingertips by phone or web. Find health information, walk-in clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms, immunization locations, and after-hours pharmacies.

Call 8-1-1 from anywhere in BC to speak with a nurse any time of the day or night.

Safety

BC is generally a very safe place to live. It is still important to be aware of your surroundings and follow some general safety tips:

  • Never open your door to strangers.
  • Make sure that doors and windows are securely locked at night or when you leave.
  • Travel with a friend whenever you can and always plan ahead and get directions to where you are going before you leave.
  • Make sure to keep all valuables such as passport, credit cards, and wallet in a safe and secure place. Never leave them unattended. It is also a good idea to write down all of your credit card and passport contact numbers. Keep your list in a safe place so that if they do get lost or stolen you can quickly call them in to cancel and replace them.
  • If you plan on going to parties on or off campus please party safely and avoid excessive use of alcohol or taking drugs. Always make sure that one person in your group stays sober to help get everyone home safely.
  • Keep a list of local taxis, ride hailing, and non-emergency numbers such as campus security with you.
  • If you travel by bus a lot make sure to always have a current bus schedule with you so that you can safely plan your route.

Many institutions have security and “Safewalk” programs to help make sure you stay safe on campus. These services are often available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visit your campus security or the international education office at your institutions for more information.

Emergencies

Call 9-1-1 anywhere in BC. if you need an ambulance, police services, or in case of a fire. For non-emergencies please make yourself aware of your local fire, health and police, and campus security numbers in your area.