Settlement Information for Newcomers

Settlement Information For Newcomers

Settling in BC: Questions and Answers

Immigrants have many questions about living, studying, and working in BC.

The NewToBC team has collected 100s of questions that are often asked by new immigrants before or after they arrive in BC. To answer these questions, the team researched and found the most up-to-date and credible sources of information. Look through the lists of categories and questions for information about immigration, employment, education, health, housing, banking, the BC legal system, and transportation. Use the search function to find answers to your questions.

Many newcomers have shared with the NewToBC team that they wished they had known about this resource sooner!

Health

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BC Health Insurance

The Government of British Columbia has a health insurance plan called the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). It is only available for residents who are Canadian citizens, Permanent Residents (PRs) or Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) and who have lived in British Columbia for three months. Post-secondary international students with study permits and people with work permits for six months or longer can also get MSP. Some refugee claimants may also qualify for MSP.

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The Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) pays for most health costs, such as doctors, most medical tests, and treatments. Some health costs are not covered by MSP, such as dentists and physiotherapists. MSP might cover some unexpected medical services while you are temporarily absent from BC. The cost of medical care outside BC or Canada can be higher than the amount covered by MSP. Visit the Ministry of Health’s website for more information about exclusions and limitations about medical benefits covered by MSP.

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The Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) is not free. You must pay a monthly fee (premium), depending on your income and the number of people in your family. If you have a job, MSP premiums may be paid by your employer. Ask your employer about this. If your income is low (an annual adjusted net income of $26,000 or less), you may be eligible for premium assistance, which means that you may be able to pay less or get free MSP coverage. To be eligible for premium assistance, you must have lived in Canada for the last 12 consecutive months (one year) as a Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident (PR).

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You should register for the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) as soon as you arrive in British Columbia. All residents must register for MSP. There is a waiting period, which means that you will not get MSP coverage for up to three months. When you apply for MSP, you will need to give your name exactly as it is on other official documents. If you are applying for a self-administered MSP account, you must complete and submit an Application for Enrolment form. If MSP is available through your employer, ask them for information about group applications. You may need to visit an Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) driver licensing office to complete enrolment in MSP. If this is the case, you will receive a written notice with next steps in the mail.

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The BC Services Card is a secure government-issued identification card that eligible residents of British Columbia can use to access provincially funded health services under the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). There are three versions of the card: BC Driver’s Licence and Services Card, Photo BC Services Card, and Non-Photo BC Services Card. BC Services Cards expire every five years and need to be renewed before the expiry date. You do not need to pay for the BC Services Card.

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PharmaCare and Fair PharmaCare help residents of British Columbia with the cost of eligible prescription drugs and certain medical supplies and pharmacy services. They provide assistance through several drug plans. To be eligible for PharmaCare, you must be enrolled in the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). Once you have PharmaCare coverage, any portion of your prescription covered by PharmaCare is calculated at the time of purchase. You pay only the costs not covered by PharmaCare. Assistance through the Fair PharmaCare plan is based on income from the last two years. The lower your income, the more help you receive. There is no cost to register and there are no premiums. If you are a new resident of British Columbia, you can register for Fair PharmaCare as soon as you receive your BC Services Card. All family members on the same MSP account will be registered together.

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The British Columbia Healthy Kids Program helps families who are partially or fully eligible for Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) premium assistance with the cost of basic dental care and prescription eyewear for their dependent children under the age of 19. Once your MSP premium assistance application has been approved, the BC Healthy Kids Program begins at the start of the next month. No separate application is necessary.

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The Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program is a program that pays for medical services for a short period of time for some refugees and refugee claimants. It is not designed to replace provincial health insurance and does not provide the same extent of coverage as the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). Refugees and refugee claimants may be eligible if they cannot afford to pay for medical services and are not covered under MSP or private health insurance. After receiving coverage under MSP, refugees and refugee claimants may still be eligible for partial benefits under the IFH program for up to 12 months after arrival in Canada.

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Some employers offer extended health care benefits to their employees. These benefits are designed to help promote the continued health and wellbeing of staff. Benefits include coverage for a wide range of services not included under the Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia, such as prescription drugs, vision care, emergency medical care while traveling, sessions with registered clinical psychologists and massage therapists, and medical equipment purchases.

The Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) does not cover all medical costs. If you do not have extended health care benefits through your job, you can buy extra insurance from a private company. MSP only provides coverage for emergency hospital care when traveling outside Canada, with a limit of $75.00 a day in Canadian funds. You should consider additional private health insurance when traveling abroad. There are three types of private health insurance agency: for-profit, not-for-profit and co-operatives. In B.C., Pacific Blue Cross is the dominant non-for-profit private insurer.

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The Provincial Health Services Authority provides free interpretation services in over 150 languages. The services include: onsite spoken language interpreting for immigrant and refugee populations, remote interpreting by phone or video conference for immigrant and refugee populations, and online booking, schedule changes and reporting. The services are provided to health-care professionals who work for any agency or service under the BC health authorities. Doctors and other health care professionals are not required to use the interpreting service and they might not even don’t know that these services exist. You should consider mentioning the interpreting services to your doctor or health care provider if you need this service.

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Medical Services

HealthLinkBC provides free non-emergency health information and referral services any time of the day or night, every day of the year. You can learn about health topics, check your symptoms, and find the health services that you need. You can also search the online directory to find health services in your community. To access HealthLinkBC, call 8-1-1 from anywhere in British Columbia to speak with a nurse. On weekdays, you can speak with a dietician about nutrition and healthy eating, and at night, you can speak with a pharmacist to answer medication questions. It also provides access the BC HealthGuide Handbook, which has information on common health topics, and HealthLinkBC files, which are easy-to-read factsheets on public health and safety topics.

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A Community Health Centre (CHC) is a non-profit, publicly funded health services centre. Family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, dieticians, dental hygienists, health promoters, community health workers and other care providers and health program staff all work as a team to deliver care and support.

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Many communities have Public Health Units. Public Health Units are medical offices where nurses and doctors give free health care information. They are experts in immunization, communicable disease control, maternal and pregnancy health, early childhood development, speech therapy, audiology, nutrition, dental health and other public health topics. You will need your BC Services Card to visit a Public Health Unit.

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If you do not have a family doctor, you can go to a walk-in clinic. You do not need an appointment. These clinics have nurses and doctors who see patients in the order that they arrive. Service hours vary and can change at any time. Some are open late and many are open seven days a week. Most large communities have walk-in clinics. You can find the walk-in clinic(s) in your community on the HealthLinkBC website.

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If you have a serious accident or suddenly get very sick, you should go to the emergency department of a hospital. Many emergency departments are open 24 hours a day. If you are taking prescription medicine, you should bring it with you. There is at least one hospital in every community. You can find the hospital(s) in your community on the HealthLinkBC website. You do not have to pay for hospital costs if you are covered under the Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia.

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You should only call for an ambulance if there is a health emergency and you need immediate medical assistance. If you need an ambulance, call 9-1-1 or the emergency phone number in your area. This number is usually at the front of the telephone book. Ask for an ambulance. The ambulance will take you to the emergency department of a hospital. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia will not pay for the ambulance. If you go in an ambulance, you do not have to pay right away. You will get a bill later. If you have a low income, you may receive financial assistance.

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You must have a doctor’s prescription (written permission) to buy prescription drugs (medicines). If you are prescribed medication from your medical doctor, you need to take it to a pharmacist to have it processed. Most medical clinics have a pharmacy located in the same building or nearby. You can also find pharmacies in large supermarkets or drug stores. You will need your BC Services Card the first time you fill your prescription. The pharmacist will explain how often and how long you must take the medicine. PharmaCare may pay for some of the cost for prescription drugs you buy in British Columbia.  Pharmacies also charge a dispensing fee for each prescription they dispense. PharmaCare covers up to $10.00 in dispensing fees. If a pharmacy charges higher than a $10.00 dispensing fee, you will need to pay the difference.

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You can buy some medicines without a prescription. These are called non-prescription (over-the-counter) drugs. They are usually for less serious problems, such as common colds or headaches. If you have a question about non-prescription drugs, you can ask the pharmacist.

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If you are traveling overseas with a prescription or even over-the-counter medications, you should plan ahead. Prior to your trip, you should consult with your physician to identify your healthcare needs. Usually you are permitted to bring a single course of treatment or a 90-day supply, whichever is less based on the directions for use. Your prescription medicines and even some over-the-counter medication might be illegal at your destination. You should consider visiting the government website of your destination to make sure your medication is legal in that country. Be mindful that being authorized to possess or produce marijuana under the Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations does not allow you to carry marijuana in or out of Canada.

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Find a Doctor or Medical Professional

There are two types of doctors in British Columbia: family doctors (general practitioners or GPs) and specialists. Your family doctor takes care of most medical problems and looks after your everyday health needs or concerns. Medical specialists are doctors in a specific area of medicine, such as cardiologists, ophthalmologists, hospitalists and surgeons. If you are sick, you will go to your family doctor first. Your family doctor will refer you to a specialist or a hospital when needed. However, you don’t need a referral from your family doctor to see a dentist or an optometrist. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia will pay for most expenses of your visits to family doctors. To find a family doctor, you should visit the website of the College of Physicians and Surgeons to check the list of doctors who are taking new patients. The waiting time can vary depending on the availability of doctors in your community. While waiting for a family doctor, you can visit a walk-in clinic if you feel sick. If you would like to have a doctor who speaks your home language, you can contact your local settlement agency; they may be able to assist you.

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There are different ways to find a dentist in British Columbia. You can ask family members, friends, neighbours, co-workers and other people if they can recommend a dentist who is accepting new patients. You can contact your local settlement agency – they may be able to tell you about a dentist who speaks your language. There are also some websites that provide information about dentists in different communities. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia will not pay for dental services, only medically required dental surgery performed in a hospital. The British Columbia Healthy Kids Program helps low-income families with the costs of basic dental care for their dependent children under the age of 19.  

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In most communities in BC, there are many optometry clinics that offer a wide range of optometry services including: regular eye exams for health and vision problems, diagnosis and treatment of eye disease, emergency treatment for eye accidents, prescription glasses or other devices for specialized vision needs, etc. You can contact your local settlement agency – they may be able to tell you about an optometrist who speaks your language. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia will not pay for optometry series except medically required eye examinations. However, the British Columbia Healthy Kids Program helps low-income families with the costs of prescription eyewear for their dependent children under the age of 19.

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Mental Health

Mental health involves how you feel, think, act and interact with the world around you. It is about recognizing your potential, coping with the normal stresses of life and making a contribution to your community. Good mental health isn’t about avoiding problems or trying to achieve a “perfect” life. It’s about living well and feeling capable despite the challenges.

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Mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. They can reduce your ability to cope with daily life. They can affect people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, occupations, levels of income, and levels of education. About 1 in 4 Canadians experience mental illness at some point in their life. Mental illness can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It can also be caused by environmental factors, such as stress and lack of support of family and friends. Examples of mental illnesses include: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis and schizophrenia. If you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms, talk to your doctor or contact the BC Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (do not add the area code before the number).

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People can have an addiction to many different types of legal and illegal substances, such as alcohol, caffeine, illegal drugs, over-the-counter medication, prescription drugs and tobacco. It can become a problem if it begins to affect any part of your life, such as relationships with family and friends, physical, social or mental health, employment, finances, safety or legal status. Addiction can affect anyone – people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, occupations, and levels of income and education. Many people develop an addiction to cope with life’s problems.

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Moving to a new country can be challenging – adjusting can be difficult. You may feel extremely sad or upset, or may even think about suicide. In British Columbia, many communities have crisis centres to help people in emotional crisis, such as depression, suicidal thoughts or family and marriage problems. If you are in a crisis, you should call the Distress Phone Services at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or visit their website.

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Disabilities

In Canada, the word “disability” includes many different types of physical, mental or intellectual conditions, such as mobility impairments, vision impairments, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and metal health (psychiatric) disabilities. In British Columbia, it is against the law for anyone to discriminate against you if you have a disability.

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The Government of British Columbia offers a variety of programs and services for people with disabilities. The Disability Alliance of British Columbia also provides one-to-one assistance, programs and advocacy for people with all disabilities.

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