If you use medication related to your health care, make sure you take the proper steps to get access to these drugs in Canada. 

In this article we are looking at prescription drugs in Canada. In Canada, there are two main classes of medications: 

  1. Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs: These drugs can be legally purchased by any consumer without written permission from a doctor.
  2. Prescription drugs: These are drugs that are only meant for use by the individual to whom they are prescribed. To access these drugs, first you need a prescription from a doctor which you can bring to a pharmacy in Canada to have filled.

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?

First things first, how are your drugs classified in Canada? You can check the status of the drugs in Canada’s Prescription Drug List to determine if your medication requires a prescription in Canada. This way you can also ensure that the drugs found in your medications are legal in Canada, as trying to bring illegal drugs into the country would be a bad way to start off your Canadian adventure (unless you’re looking to do a tour of Canada’s criminal justice system).

Can I bring my prescription medication into Canada with me?

In general, Health Canada will permit you to enter Canada with the medication required for a single-course of treatment or a 90-day supply, whichever is less, of both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication. You can do this for yourself and for anyone travelling with you who is under your care, including dependent children. 

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

To avoid problems bringing these medications into Canada, the drug must be in hospital or pharmacy-dispensed packaging, the original retail packaging, or have the original label attached to it clearly indicating what the health product is and what it contains.

What if I need to fill my prescription in Canada?

So, you’ve come to Canada and you’ve almost used up all the medication you brought with you? Well, now is as good a time as any to experience the rollercoaster ride that is the Canadian health care system!

You need a prescription from a Canadian doctor.

The first thing to understand is that you cannot use a foreign prescription to get prescription medication in Canada. You need to get a prescription from a Canadian doctor, otherwise the pharmacist will not give you the prescription drugs. 

How, you ask, should you go about getting a prescription from a Canadian doctor? Well, you have a few possible routes:

  1. Walk-in clinic (usually faster, short-term): A walk-in clinic allows patients to simply walk in and wait to see a doctor. If you need your prescription and you need it soon, you may want to go to a walk-in clinic. You can use Medimap to locate the walk-in clinic closest to you. However, walk-in clinics can have very long wait times. Be sure to take your foreign prescription so you can explain your needs to the doctor. Walk-in clinics are a great option for those in the country on a temporary stays, including temporary workers and tourists. As well, permanent residents who require care quickly can use walk-in clinics.
  2. Family doctor (usually slower, long-term): If you are settling in Canada long-term, you should try to find a family doctor. This is a physician who can regularly see yourself and your family members and monitor your health longer term. Once you have a family doctor, they will be able to help you manage your prescriptions.

    Family doctors are organized at the provincial level, so you will have to consult with your provincial health authority to find out how to get one in your province. Our general overview of health care in Canada contains links to the relevant provincial health authorities. Pro-tip: Most provinces allow you to sign up for a waitlist for a family doctor, but this can take months or even years. It is often faster to contact clinics directly and ask if they are accepting new patients or to ask friends if their doctors are taking on new patients.
  3. On-campus doctor (international students): If you are an international student in Canada, your school may have doctors available on-campus, or they may have an existing relationship with a clinic nearby. You should consult with your school to see if they can guide you as to where to go to get a prescription.

Please note that if ever you are experiencing a medical emergency or require immediate care, you should call 9-1-1 or go to the Emergency Room at your nearest hospital.

You should research the cost before you buy. 

While Canada is known for its free universal health care system, unfortunately this does not always extend to prescription drugs

If you are a temporary resident in Canada (visitor, worker, student) it is recommended that you have some kind of insurance. In many cases it is mandatory, as with participants in International Experience Canada (IEC) and international students. If you anticipate that you will require prescription drugs in Canada, be sure that you consult with your insurance provider in advance to determine which costs are covered and which costs are not. 

If you are a permanent resident in Canada—congratulations!⁠—you have access to Canada’s publicly-funded health care system. Unfortunately, you still have to navigate the maze of prescription drug costs. Any prescription drugs that are administered while you’re in the hospital will be covered by the health care system, but any drugs that you get outside of the hospital setting — for example, prescription drugs you purchase at a pharmacy — will not be covered.

Some provinces have their own provincial prescription drug plans, so be sure you check with your provincial health authority to find out how to register for the plan and what is covered. As well, many employers in Canada offer health plans to their employees that cover some costs related to prescription drugs. Finally, sometimes you need to be living in a province for a certain number of months before you can access the provincial health care plan, during this time you may want to consider purchasing private health insurance.

It is important that you understand what and how much of the cost of prescription drugs is covered for you, because prescription medications can be costly and you should to be prepared so you can manage your health properly.

For tons more information about the ins and outs of the Canadian healthcare system, check out our guide. Plus, for help with purchasing travel insurance for your time in Canada, take a look at our guide on travel insurance companies.