International Experience Canada Health Insurance: What you need to know

Are you participating in International Experience Canada (IEC)? Trying to figure out what health insurance you should buy?

Today we are answering all your questions about the health insurance you must have before entering Canada and activating your International Experience Canada work permit. This applies for work permits under the Working Holiday, Young Professional and International Co-Op categories.

Whether you are participating in Stepwest’s Working Holiday Ski Resort or Summer Program, Working Holiday Vancouver Program, or coming to Canada on your own, getting health insurance is a very important part in the process of coming to Canada.

Your experience of a lifetime in Canada is here! Make sure you are fully prepared for your trip.

Why do I need Health Insurance to work in Canada with an International Experience Canada work permit?

The Government of Canada requires that you must have health insurance for the entire duration of your IEC work permit. This insurance is mandatory for all IEC participants and covered you for your entire stay. If you’re eligible for a 12-month work permit in Canada, you must have 12 months of insurance coverage.

Your health insurance must cover medical care, hospitalization, and repatriation costs. This means prescription medicine, medical equipment, doctor’s visits, hospital bills, and evacuation costs in the event of an emergency. This is mandatory for all IEC participants, which you can read more about on the Government of Canada’s website.

If you are participating in Stepwest’s Working Holiday Ski Resort or Working Holiday Vancouver, Hospitality, Student Internship, or any of our Recognized Organization programs in Canada, you MUST have insurance to be able to activate your work permit upon arrival to Canada.

IMPORTANT: If you bring an insurance policy to Canada for a shorter duration than the duration of the work permit that you are eligible for, then you will get a work permit that expires at the same time as your insurance.

If this happens, you will not be able to apply to change the conditions of your work permit at a later date. For more information regarding this situation, please refer to the IRCC’s website.

While purchasing insurance for the entire duration of your IEC work permit might be costly, it could save you lots of money down the road. If you experience a medical emergency while in Canada and you do not have insurance, you would have to pay the full cost of hospital bills and medical care. Hospitalization in Canada can be very expensive if you are not covered by insurance.


I am planning to apply for provincial health insurance for the duration of my IEC work permit, isn’t this enough?

No, provincial health insurance is not an accepted insurance plan for your arrival in Canada.

In order to apply for provincial health insurance, you must have a valid work permit. In order to get this work permit, Canada requires you to have valid insurance for your entire stay. So, without private insurance, you will not be able to get the work permit that will give you access to a provincial health care system.

Additionally, provincial health insurance will not cover all important costs, one of them being repatriation. If you have an emergency in Canada and need to be repatriated (returned home in case of severe illness, injury or death), the provincial health insurance will not pay for this.

Make the right decision by booking health insurance for your entire permit duration. Then you will have the peace of mind that you will not be faced with any costly surprises during your time in Canada.


I might not stay for the whole duration of my IEC work permit. Can I purchase less insurance?

From our experience securing jobs for thousands of participants from all over the world, we have noticed a common trend. As our IEC participants approach the end of their trip, many decide to stay longer than they originally planned.

It’s worth buying insurance for the maximum eligible duration of your permit so you are granted entry for the whole time. This way, you can be the one deciding if you want to stay longer or not.

If you don’t, Canada will make the decision for you. And unfortunately, there is no option for you to change your mind during your stay.

At Stepwest, we have been working holiday participants ourselves. Giving yourself the freedom to decide when you want to leave is worth spending the money on insurance beyond your expected trip duration. It is a very disappointing feeling knowing you cannot stay longer when your time is up because you didn’t spend the money at the beginning.


I think I will get some insurance now, and extend it later when I am in Canada.

To be really clear, you cannot do this! The Government of Canada expects you to have insurance that covers the whole duration of your IEC work permit – upon arrival to Canada.

It is clearly stated on the Government’s official website that if your insurance policy is valid for less time than your expected duration in Canada, you may be issued an IEC work permit that expires at the same time as your insurance. Thus, it is important to purchase insurance coverage for your entire stay if you want to optimize your IEC work permit.

Get your Working Holiday Medical insurance

So now you have a good understanding what you need to know about insurance for your IEC work permit. It’s time to look into buying your insurance!

I am from a country eligible for a 2-year IEC work permit. Not many insurance companies offer policies this long, what should I do?

Indeed this is something you will need to take extra precaution with. Only buying one year of insurance increases he risk that your permit is approved for just one year. Instead, you should consider buying insurance for the entire two-year duration of the permit.

Check out our detailed post on How to Choose Insurance for your IEC Work Permit. Here, you can read what we recommend to ensure you get your permit activated for the entire two-year duration. Check our recommended 2 years insurance here for UK and European participants.

If you are traveling from Australia, we highly recommend you to check this insurance to get a 24 months option.


I will be traveling before activating my IEC work permit. Can I purchase travel insurance while outside of my country of citizenship?

Be careful here and pay attention to the policy of your travel insurance. Some companies will only cover you if you haven’t left home yet. It depends on the insurance company. Do not make the assumption you can be covered if you are already traveling. If you are currently outside of your country of citizenship, make sure to check with the insurance provider before purchasing. You don’t want to purchase insurance only find out it is invalid when you need it.


How do I know what my travel insurance covers? Do they all cover different outdoor activities in Canada?

This is where is it very important to take the time to read the fine print of the insurance policy you are going to purchase. You should have a complete understanding of what you are covered for. You don’t want to wait until an emergency situation to try and figure out what you coverage you do or don’t have.

If you are planning to do adventure or outdoor sports during your stay in Canada, it is important to make sure you are aware of the activities are covered by your policy. Do you think you will be doing a whitewater rafting trip in the Rockies? What about going into the backcountry? Certain activities or sports may be a premium feature that you need to add to your travel insurance plan.

If you plan to ski or snowboard during your time in Canada, be sure to ask your travel insurance provider if these activities are covered before purchasing. Although these sports are very common activities in Canada, they have a high risk of injury. Not all basic plans include them.


How do hospitals or clinics work in Canada when you have private travel insurance during your IEC work permit?

Unfortunately, there is no standard process. Each insurance provider works a little differently. Therefore, we recommend that you call your insurance provider once you are settled in Canada. Ask them questions about what to do in case of an emergency. What is the closest clinic or hospital you could visit during your stay? How do you process insurance claims for doctor’s visits, prescriptions, hospital visits, etc.

In some cases, you will need to pay for your doctor’s visit then fill in a reimbursement form to get a portion of your money back. Some insurance companies handle claims directly and so won’t have to deal with anything.

Whichever the case, always inquire with your insurance company directly. Do not wait until an actual emergency happens to find out what to do.


I am in Canada and planning a short trip outside the country. Will it be covered by my insurance?

If you are planning on leaving Canada for a short holiday, you must make sure your travel insurance covers you before leaving. Even if you are traveling for just one day, you never know what can happen! You must refer to your insurance company policy and make sure you are getting the exact same coverage as if you were in Canada.

Most insurance policies will cover you in Canada and a few days in the USA. Some of them will also cover you in Mexico. However, make sure you ask this question at the time of purchasing. Depending on where you will be living in Canada, you might want to do a short trip to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, even New York City!

Natalia, visiting the famous 'Route 66' in the USA while on her Young Professional IEC Work Experience in Canada.

Secure your job before your arrive in Canada

Stepwest offers working holiday programs where we guarantee you a job in Canada! Enjoy the summer or winter season working at a resort in Whistler, Banff, Jasper, or Lake Louise.

If you’re more of a city person, check out our Working Holiday Vancouver Program. Get assigned a personal job coordinator to secure interviews for you upon arrival.