Getting prescriptions as a newcomer to Canada

One of the major reasons why newcomers choose Canada as their choice destination for a new home is access to the publicly-funded universal healthcare system.

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In every Canadian province, a part of the taxes paid by citizens and residents is set aside to be utilized by the provincial government to administer health-related services.

This allows eligible people to receive health and medical assistance for free or for a fraction of the normal cost. 

There are 13 distinct provincial and territorial health insurance plans in Canada, and since we have been getting series of questions on our social forums regarding healthcare and prescriptions, in particular, we would be looking at prescription drugs and how to get your prescription in Canada as a newcomer.

There are two main classes of medications in Canada, and they are: 

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs

Over-the-counter drugs are also known as OTC or nonprescription medicine, and all those terms simply refer to medicine/drugs that you can legally purchase without a formal written prescription from a doctor.

They are usually safe and effective when you follow the instructions on the label and as directed by your personal physician.

Prescription drugs

On the flip side, prescription drugs are very strong and potentially harmful medications, and for this reason, a formal written prescription from a qualified health professional is required.

There are three types of prescription drugs commonly misused and they are:

  • Opioids — it is largely used to relieve pain.
  • Depressants — These kind of drugs are used to relieve anxiety or help people sleep.
  • Stimulants— This type of drugs are used for treating (ADHD) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The misuse of prescription drugs has become a large public health problem globally because misuse may lead to addiction and even overdose deaths.

Let’s deep-dive into Canada’s riveting prescription drug industry, shall we?

Are your prescription drugs legal in Canada? Do they require a prescription?

Firstly, you have to know how your drugs are classified in Canada? To do that you need to check the status of the drugs in Canada’s Prescription Drug List to ascertain if your medication requires a prescription in Canada or not.

This way you are also making sure that the drugs found in your medications are legal in Canada, as being caught trying to cross illegal drugs into the country wouldn’t be a good way to start off your Canadian adventure.

Can I bring my prescription medication into Canada with me?

Generally, Health Canada permits individuals to enter Canada with the medications required for a single course of treatment or a maximum of a 90-day supply, whichever is less.

This covers both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication, and this can be done for both yourself and for anyone travelling with you under your care. 

Of course, you first need to follow the steps outlined above to be sure that your drugs are legal in Canada.

To avoid issues while bringing these medications into Canada, it is important for the drug to be in a hospital or pharmacy-dispensed packaging, the original retail packaging or the original label adequately attached to it to show clearly exactly what the health product is and what it contains.

What if I need to fill my prescription in Canada?

So, let’s say you’ve been in Canada for a while and you’ve used up almost all the medication you brought in with you? Well, that is as greatest time to experience the rollercoaster ride that we call the Canadian health care system!

You would need a prescription from a Canada based doctor.

The very first thing to keep in mind is that you are not permitted to use a foreign prescription to get prescription medication in Canada.

You would need to get a new prescription from a Canada-based doctor, otherwise, the pharmacist will not give you the prescription drugs. 

We know what you’re thinking, and yes we would be telling you how to go about getting a prescription from a Canadian doctor next. Well, there are few possible routes you could take to achieve this fit:

  1. Walk-in clinic (usually faster, short-term): Walk-in clinics are those that allows patients to simply walk in as the name implies and wait to see a doctor. If you need those prescription as soon as possible, your best bet is to go to a walk-in clinic. You could use the Medimap app or website to locate a walk-in clinic close to you. However, it is important to state here that walk-in clinics usually have very long wait times. Ensure to carry along your foreign prescription so you can explain your needs and situation to the doctor. Walk-in clinics are an excellent option for those in Canada on a temporary stays, temporary workers and tourists inclusive. And also permanent residents who need care urgently can use walk-in clinics.
  2. Family doctor (usually slower, long-term): If you are going to be settling in Canada for good, it is best to try to find a family doctor. This is a physician who can frequently see yourself and your family members and monitor your health on the longer term basis. Once you have found a family doctor, they can help to manage your prescriptions.

    Family doctors are usually organized at the provincial level, so you will need to seek advice from your provincial health authority to get information on how to get one in your province.

    Pro-tip: Most provinces permits you to sign up for a waitlist for a family doctor, but this usually take months or in some cases years. So, It is often quicker when you directly contact clinics and enquire about if they are accepting new patients or to ask contacts within your network if their doctors are taking on new patients at the moment.
  3. On-campus doctor (international students): If you fall into the category of an international student in Canada, your school might have doctors available on-campus, or they could have an existing understanding with a nearby clinic. You need to consult with your school to check if they can guide you in respect to where to go to get a prescription.

Note: If you ever experience any sort of medical emergency or require immediate care, you ought to call 9-1-1 or go to the Emergency Room at the hospital nearest to you.

You should research the cost before you buy. 

While Canada is globally known for its free universal health care system as earlier mentioned, unfortunately, this doesn’t always cover prescription drugs. 

For temporary residents in Canada such as visitors, workers, students…, our recommendation is that you have some sort of insurance.

In lots of cases, it is compulsory, like with participants in International Experience Canada (IEC) and also international students.

If you think that you would need prescription drugs for any reason in Canada, make sure that you confer with your insurance provider prior to the time so as to determine which costs are covered and those that are not. 

If you happen to be a permanent resident in Canada, congratulations by the way!⁠, although you can access Canada’s publicly-funded health care system, unfortunately for you, you would still have to bear the cost of prescription drugs costs.

Every prescription drug that is administered to you while you’re in the hospital would naturally be covered by the publicly-funded health care system, but any other drugs you have to get outside of the hospital premises will not be covered, like those prescription drugs purchased at a pharmacy.

It is also important to state that some provinces have their own provincial prescription drug plans, so make sure you conduct a proper check with your provincial health authority to get the necessary information on how to register for the plan and what it covers.

Also, lots of employers in Canada provide health plans to their employees which covers some specific costs related to prescription drugs.

Lastly, in some cases, you would need to have lived in the province for a certain number of months before you can have access to the provincial health care plan, during this period you may need to purchase private health insurance to cover for that short time.

It is essential for you to understand what and how much of the cost of your prescription drugs are covered for you because here in Canada, prescription medications can be costly, and as such you should be ready so you can properly manage your health.

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