Refugees living overseas often have little access to health care, making it all the more important for those who are resettled to Canada to access health services once they arrive. This includes registering for provincial health care, the Interim Federal Health Program, and being aware of mental health supports in the community. 

Topics covered

Health care in Canada

Registration for health care if your province or territory

Interim Federal Health Program

Mental health


Health care in Canada

In Canada, each province and territory has their own health insurance plan. Citizens and permanent residents can apply for coverage in the province or territory where they are living. Once a person is approved, they get a health insurance card which they will have to show at the hospital or medical clinic to receive free services. Every person, including children, will have to get their own card.

Usually when newcomers arrive in Canada they have to wait three months to get their health card, but people who arrive through a refugee sponsorship program are eligible to get one right away and should apply as soon as possible after they arrive. As permanent residents, they receive the same care that any permanent resident or citizen would receive.

Most services are available for free, but some are not (ex. some medications, physiotherapy, and dental services for adults). Be sure to ask a health care professional about what is available for free or not. During the first year a sponsored person is in Canada, they can get an additional insurance called the Interim Federal Health Program (see below).

Some provinces offer special health assessments for people who have been resettled to Canada. These health assessments are very useful because they look at a person’s overall health needs and can offer connections with a family doctor or other professional more quickly. Check in your province or territory to see if one is offered.


Registration for health care in your province or territory

Every province and territory has its own registration process for their health insurance plan.

For Québec

Register for Assurance maladie

Quebec offers a special health assessment for sponsored persons known as the Bilan de santé. This assessment includes a visit with a nurse and social worker to look at the overall physical and mental well being of the refugee. It can be organized by contacting the CLSC Côte-des-Neiges’ Regional Program for the Settlement and Integration of Asylum Seekers (PRAIDA) for a referral.

To reach a social worker or a nurse 24 hours per day, 7 days per week dial 811. 

For the rest of Canada

Links to registration in all other provinces and territories (excluding Quebec)

Many provinces have organized health assessments available to sponsored persons. As health care is the responsibility of the provincial government, ask your local health professional about what is available in your area.

Moving to another province

If a sponsored person decides to move to another province, it is their responsibility to inform the provincial government that they are leaving, the location they are moving to, and to register with the health insurance plan of their new province. They may be subject to the three month waiting period before they are eligible for a health card in their new province (see the section Secondary migration and sponsorship breakdown)

Useful information

FAQs about the Canada Health Act


Interim Federal Health Program

On April 1st 2016, the federal government restored the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) for all persons brought to Canada through a refugee sponsorship program (either by the government or privately sponsored).

This health coverage is offered in addition to any provincial or territorial health care services already available for sponsored persons. The coverage includes many services not normally covered by health care such as:

  • limited dental and vision care
  • clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, speech language therapists, physiotherapists
  • orthopedic and prosthetic equipment
  • prescription drug coverage

For more information about what is covered see here

The coverage lasts for the duration of the sponsorship undertaking, which is normally one year.

It is possible that the IFHP certificate was provided to the sponsored person on arrival. If it was not provided, then the sponsored person must apply to get a certificate before they can access resources. Each family member must have their own certificate. Once a person has a certificate, they can access services.

A person can only get services covered under the IFHP by registered health-care providers. To find out which health care providers are in your area go to this list. Providers are listed by province. Once you open the document for your province or territory, the providers are listed by city, then by provider type.

Example of an IFHP claim

A sponsored person has settled in Brossard, Quebec and has a dental emergency. He opens the list of health-care providers for Quebec, scrolls to the section for Brossard, then takes note of the providers who offer dental services. He selects one nearby his apartment, phones the office and explains his problem, and that he has an IFHP certificate. The receptionist gives him an appointment. He goes for the appointment and brings his IFHP certificate with him. He receives treatment. He does not pay any money to the provider. The service is billed by the provider back to Médavie Blue Cross (IFHP implementing partner).


If a person seeks treatment for a service covered by IFHP from a provider who is not registered, the person will be asked to pay and will not be reimbursed for their expense. To receive an eligible service for free, a person must go to a registered provider.

Useful information

IFHP certificate, including how to replace it if you lose it.

RSTP factsheet about IFHP


Mental health

People who have lived a refugee experience have often faced war, traumatic events, violence or torture. In addition to these past stressors, trying to begin a new life in Canada is also a challenging experience. Most sponsored persons will adapt well and quickly become integrated members of society.

However, this integration might be delayed if a person is experiencing mental health problems. While not all people develop mental health problems, knowing some of the common risk factors and symptoms can help ensure that the situation does not result in a crisis.

It is possible to contact a local settlement agency to get a referral for an organization in your area which offers mental health supports specifically for newcomers (see the section Finding help with settlement).

Sessions with a clinical psychologist are covered under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP). For more information about IFHP see above.

Useful information

RSTP factsheet on PTSD

RSTP video on mental health and sponsored refugees

CCR position paper on mental health