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General Availability of Health Care

Canada's healthcare system is similar to that in the U.S. except that health insurance for Canadian citizens is managed nationally by the federal government. Hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies are as common as in the U.S. and western Europe. Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) (tel. 716/754-4883 or, in Canada, 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns in Canada. Travel Health Online (www.tripprep.com), sponsored by a consortium of travel-medicine practitioners, also offers helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable medical clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).

What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home

Canadian hospitals have emergency rooms open 24 hours for emergency care. In addition, most cities also have walk-in clinics where nonemergency treatment is available.

Pharmacies are common, and most large cities have at least one 24-hour operation. You'll have no trouble having prescriptions filled; in fact, you may note that prescription drugs are substantially cheaper in Canada than in the U.S. Also, certain drugs are available over-the-counter in Canada that are available only by prescription in the U.S.

In most cases, your existing health plan will provide the coverage you need, though you may need to pay upfront and request reimbursement later. But double-check; you may want to buy travel medical insurance instead. Bring your insurance ID card with you when you travel.

If you require additional medical insurance, try MEDEX Assistance (tel. 410/453-6300; www.medexassist.com) or Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com; for general information on services, call the company's Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc., at tel. 800/777-8710).

Safety

Canada is one of the least violent countries on Earth -- at least off the hockey ice. Using common sense, most travelers should experience few if any threatening situations during a trip to Canada. In fact, most Canadians are unfailingly polite and helpful.

The weather and wildlife are probably a greater threat to the average traveler than violence from other human beings. If driving in winter, be sure to carry traction devices such as tire chains in your vehicle, plus plenty of warm clothes and a sleeping bag.

Wildlife is really only dangerous if you put yourself into their habitat in the wrong place at the wrong time. Elk can often seem tame, particularly those that live near human civilization. However, during calving season, mother elk can mistake your doting attention as an imminent attack on her newborn. Hiking trails are often closed to hikers during calving season, so be sure to obey all trail postings.

Moose are more dangerous, as they are truly massive and when surprised are apt to charge first and ask questions later. Give a moose plenty of room, and resist the temptation to feed them snacks. Chances are they will come looking for more.

Bears are the most dangerous wilderness denizens to humans. Canada is home to grizzly bears, one of the largest carnivores in North America, and to black bears, a smaller, less fearsome cousin (unless you're traveling along the polar ice floes, you're extremely unlikely to see a polar bear). Grizzly bears tend to keep their distance from humans, preferring mountain meadows to human garbage dumps. However, black bears can coexist much more readily with humans, and in some ways pose a more persistent threat. Never come between a bear and its cub, or its food source. Never hike alone in the back woods, and if camping keep food items away from tents.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.