Health Care Planning for Refugees – FAQs

What kind of health coverage do refugees coming to Canada get?

Refugees are being issued with the Interim Federal Health Plan (IFHP) upon arrival in Canada. Government Assisted Refugees (GAR) and Blended Visa Office Referred Refugees (BVOR) qualify for a Provincial or Territorial Health Insurance Plan.

At the Provincial/Territorial Office the Newcomer needs to show their Landed Immigrant Status document, plus a proof of residency in the province/territory. Newcomers are covered by IFHP until they receive their Provincial or Territorial Health Insurance card. Once they receive it, their IFHP reverts to supplemental coverage (medications, emergency dental coverage, vision care etc).

What does IFH cover?

As far as we know - all Syrian refugees will have type 1 IFHP coverage - which includes basic coverage, supplemental coverage and prescription drug coverage. The IFHP will change in the first months of 2016, according to Minister of Health, Jane Philpott.

What about medications coverage?

BVOR & GAR ‘protected persons’ receive prescriptions coverage via the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).  Try to locate a pharmacy where a pharmacist speaks Arabic, by inquiring at your local Settlement Services organization or contacting the College of Pharmacists in your Province/Territory.
Contraception is free at your local Public Health Unit-Sexual Health Clinic through booking an appointment.

What other health-related documents do Newcomers need and how can they get them?

If needed, a form can be completed for the Provincial/Territorial Disability Plan. Other than the Provincial/Territorial Health Insurance Plan, no other documents need to be completed for health care coverage.

Where can sponsorship groups find information about healthcare providers?  

The Provinces and Territories are establishing websites where Sponsorship Groups can locate Health Care Provider’s (MD’s, Nurse Practitioners) who are willing to accept Newcomer patients.  There are also some larger urban centres that have websites where you can locate Health Care and Social Service agencies (including settlement services), which are in a map based format. 

An ideal health care provider will be a group practice (Community Health Centre or Refugee Clinic) that has experience working with Newcomers and has access to Certified Medical Interpreters. These group practices often include Nurse Practitioners, Nurses, Dieticians, Social Workers, Psychologists, Chiropodists, Settlement Workers as well as Medical Doctors.

What kind of health check-ups do refugees need to do upon arrival?

Some Newcomers will arrive with vaccination and other health care documents from their Country of origin.  These should be brought to their first medical appointments along with any medications that they may have for chronic conditions. Primary Health Care providers can arrange for in-person or on-line Certified Medical Interpretation. A basic health care screening is done including preventative interventions (vaccinations, blood work) and follow up appointments will be made.  

Where can I find low-cost or free dental care?

Inquire at your nearby University with a Faculty of Dentistry or Community College with a School of Dental Hygiene. The local Public Health Unit provides basic screening & treatment for kids, pregnant women and qualifying Seniors. The IFHP program covers the costs for dental emergency or urgent care.  

How can sponsors find Arabic-speaking healthcare providers?

Contact the Arabic Community Organization in your area or Settlement Services organization.  In southern Ontario, contact the Arabic Community Centre of Toronto. 

What kind of health problems could Syrian refugees potentially have?

Syria was a middle-income country before the devastation of war decimated the public health care system. All newcomers are screened for communicable and infectious diseases prior to arrival.  Current research indicates that there are no significant public health issues with newly arrived Syrians.

A recently published on-line article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal – ‘Caring for newly arrived Syrian refugeefamily’ by Kevin Pottie MD, MCISc et al

Members of the family we are sponsoring are having special needs. Where can I get support?

First a base-line screening and medical assessment are necessary.  The Newcomer’s Health Care Provider can make needed referrals to specialists.  With Newcomers who may have injuries due to trauma or those with neuro-muscular challenges there are Rehabilitation Medicine Specialists (Physiatrists) who work in teams at designated health care institutions.  In Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Care Centre and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute require referrals from the Primary Health Care Provider.

Provinces and Territories have Assistive Devices Programs (ADP) which pay a portion of the costs for necessary medically required devices, braces, orthotics, mobility devices, etc.  Social Workers and other healthcare professionals can assist with the applications.
Other assistance programs are Disability Plans which are available through Provincial and Territorial Plans.

How can families find Arabic-speaking mental health support?

PTSD and other mental health issues are invisible, but provision and access to social services, education, jobs and housing provide resiliency and positive mental health. 
There are a variety of mental health agencies specific for newcomers, do check your provincial/territorial website or your local Community Health Care Centre or Settlement Services Agency.

How should a Sponsorship Group approach assisting a newcomer family with health care?

The major role of  sponsors is that of a patient navigators and advocates.  They can assist with explaining the Canadian health care system.   They accompany newcomers on initial visits and follow up as required, such as a trip to the pharmacy to get medications or to go for blood work.  As soon as the individual is comfortable they will let sponsors know that they are ready to manage without their assistance.  Let the Newcomer be your guide!
Of note, it is important to realize that private medical information should not be shared, documented or disseminated.  Certified medical interpreters can be accessed for all medical appointments, and non-professionals and/or children/youth should not be used for medical interpretation. 

Another great resource:

Canadian Collaboration for Immigrant and Refugee Health (CCIRH)


  1. This is very informative writing on refugees. As refugees are deprived of various facilities, I think most of the world leaders should come forward to assist them. Here you provided some Q/A of health care facilities of refugees. This is really nice. Thanks.

  2. The true problem with those Refugees is that only 25% of them are women with children. Most of that wave are men in 20-35 age, which should stay and fight for their country instead of leaving families

  3. I just want to let you know that I check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative..
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  4. Yes, it's not a refugee crisis, it's a migrant crisis. And yes, most are NOT from Syria. God bless to Ripple Refugee Project.

  5. Love what I read. Health plans are really needed nowadays.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Everybody renounce citizenship and become refugee and then get free govt handouts