I Used Canada's Free Healthcare System For The First Time As A Newcomer & Here's How It Went

All the answers you might be too afraid to ask for.👇🇨🇦

A hospital in Canada. Right: A person at a pharmacy.
Associate Editor

A hospital in Canada. Right: A person at a pharmacy.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

Seeing a doctor isn't an experience most people look forward to, but it is one of those necessities that come with daily life.

After moving to Canada as a newcomer last year, I was faced with that inevitable issue: I needed to visit a doctor. It wasn't an urgent issue, thankfully, but a lingering health concern that I've had for a while.

I'd never been to a doctor in Canada before, which meant that I didn’t have a family doctor. As a permanent resident, I did have a health card, though, and I'm based in Toronto.

So, if you're like me, you might have a similar experience. And of course, there is definitely more than one way to navigate Canada's medical system, this is just how I went about it.

Finding a doctor

One of the first things people told me to do is find a family doctor.

In Ontario, there are two ways to find a family doctor. The first is to register with Health Care Connect and have a doctor or healthcare practitioner assigned to you.

The second way is to contact physicians and ask if they are accepting new patients.

However, getting a family doctor can take a bit of time and a lot of clinics are at full capacity at the moment, depending on where you live.

Since I wanted to visit the doctor sooner rather than later, I decided to opt for a walk-in clinic instead.

Walk-in clinics

It is possible to walk into some clinics in Canada without an appointment, although it's usually on weekdays and during certain hours (so I'd recommend doing your research or calling them beforehand).

Of course, it's better if you do manage to make an appointment, but when I tried to do so, many locations didn't have a slot within the next two days.

So, I decided to wing it a bit.

After checking which clinics accepted walk-ins, I visited one near me only to be told they were absolutely swamped for the day.

According to their website, they only took walk-ins until 2 p.m. and I visited around 1 p.m., but it was flu season and they had so many patients, there was a backlog.

They apologized for being unable to see me and asked if I could come back the next day.

My advice to anyone planning to do a walk-in is to go earlier, rather than later.

What to bring

Luckily for me, another nearby clinic was also accepting walk-ins, and they were doing so until 5 p.m. the same day, so I decided to try my luck there.

I was told by the receptionist that there was a bit of a wait time for walk-ins (over an hour), which I had anticipated.

I was asked to fill out a form, which included details about my health, emergency contacts, and more.

I was also told that I could only address one specific health concern at a time which is worth remembering if you have multiple issues.

As a permanent resident, I had to show my health card. Other things I'd recommend bringing are a face mask — which was a requirement at the clinic — and something to keep you occupied (like a book).

The receptionist was happy to hand out disposable face masks to people who didn't have them.

The wait time

Since I had visited without an appointment, I had anticipated a lengthy wait time — and wasn't wrong about that.

It took roughly two hours for me to see the doctor, which I was okay with. Having a book and my mobile phone helped to pass the time.

The experience

The doctor I saw was friendly and professional, and that always helps when you're a bit nervous.

Regarding my situation, he recommended I have a blood test and I was able to do that immediately in the same space, no wait time required.

The lab results took about three days to come back. After that, I was asked to return to the clinic for further consultations, which could not be completed virtually.

The subsequent visits to the doctor, which were also walk-ins, took considerably less time but that could have just been because they were at a less-busy hour.

The verdict

I'll admit, I've been hearing horror stories about Canada's medical system right now, so I was a little nervous about it all.

But, apart from the fact that there was some waiting around, it wasn't bad at all.

Of course, I was lucky as I was dealing with a non-urgent issue, but I did think the process was smooth, and easy to navigate, even though I didn't have a family doctor.

Add to the fact that it was free, and I've got to say, it was better than I expected.

Janice Rodrigues
Associate Editor
Janice Rodrigues was an Associate Editor for Narcity Media focused on Canadian immigration and passports, and is based in Scarborough, Ontario.