Every country has its own distinctive arrangements for health care. All of them are complex systems, filled with bureaucracy and government regulation, designed to allocate scarce and expensive resources. But, beyond that, crucial elements differ.
Take the United States and Canadian systems. Both offer high-quality, high-technology, high-cost health care, but they pay for it very differently. In the United States, individuals pay for their own care, at least indirectly, through insurance or HMOs (health maintenance organizations). In Canada, the government pays for health insurance (which means individuals pay for it through taxes). The system does not use HMOs, which are central to US medical care. Because Canada's coverage is so straightforward, their doctors have far less paperwork. Because it is a far less litigious society, their doctors do not practice medicine with lawyers looking over their shoulders.
These differences have some impact on international students. The biggest is that students in the United States may need to choose between an HMO and health insurance. In Canada, insurance is the only option. Other than that, international students find the two systems very similar. Even Canada's single payer health insurance has little effect, because it rarely includes international students. An article "Studying in Canada: A Guide for Foreign Students," section on health insurance stated that provinces and territories have the option of covering international students, but they avoid it because of the cost. International students in Canada, like those in the United States, must pay for their own health insurance. It's not cheap.
In discussing health coverage for international students, it helps to distinguish between short-term issues -the ones you face when you arrive and longer-term issues.
The first stage is preparing yourself properly before you leave your health-care system at home. You need to collect your medical records, prescription medications, and proof of vaccination and bring them with you. These records will ease the transition to your health-care provider here.
The second stage is arranging your health care here. You need to sign up for an HMO or health insurance and then find the right doctor, pharmacy, and dentist. The two stages are closely linked, of course, but they are not identical.
Medical records are important enough to take in your carry-on luggage, if there's room. If you are already here and do not have your records, ask your doctor at home to send you a copy.
You should also pack a couple of month's supply of prescription medications. It might take that long before you see a doctor and have your prescription renewed or replaced. (Your prescriptions might be changed for two reasons. First, your new doctor might think there are better treatments. Second, your old medications might not be approved for use in the United States or Canada.
Finally, before you come to the United States or Canada, check on the immunizations you need. Different jurisdictions and universities have their own requirements. California, for instance, requires all university students to be immunized against mumps, measles, and rubella, and requires students under twenty-one to be immunized against hepatitis B. Washington, DC, has a much longer list of requirements.