Navigating the Canadian health care system

The Canadian health care system may be different from what you are used to in your home country. Here are a few basics to help direct you to where to get medical assistance when you need it.

During your time in Canada as an international student, you may become familiar with two main types of medical providers: walk-in clinics and hospitals.

Walk-in clinics allow you to see a nurse or doctor with or without an appointment. They will be able to examine you, and provide advice and treatment on most minor illnesses and injuries. Therefore, this will be your first point of contact in case you need medical assistance.

Hospitals provide a wide range of health services (from diagnostic tests to surgeries) by medical and professional staff. They also offer emergency medical services that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you require urgent medical care, you may find yourself in a hospital emergency room.

Clinic vs Hospital - Which do I need?


  • Non-urgent situation
  • Shorter wait time
  • Infections and rashes
  • Cuts and bruises 
  • Cold or flu
  • Stomach upset


  • Longer wait times: could be waiting for many hours if your situation is not urgent!
  • Broken bones
  • High fever
  • Bleeding that you cannot stop
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sudden and severe pain

In an Emergency, call 9-1-1!

When you are in an emergency situation where there is risk to people or property, call 911 for emergency police, fire or ambulance. Trained emergency call takers will provide you with the information and assistance you need.