In general, Canada poses no particular health threats to travelers. Nonetheless, you may want to check your government's travel advisory site for any last-minute alerts.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. For conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a MedicAlert identification tag (tel. 888/633-4298; www.medicalert.org), which will immediately alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through MedicAlert's 24-hour hotline.
Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise they won't make it through airport security. Also, bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
General Availability of Health Care
Canada's health-care system is similar to that in other Western countries, except that its 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 416/652-0137 in Canada; 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, may also offer 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
Most 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. Look in the local Yellow Pages under "Clinics, Medical" for walk-in clinics; these clinics usually take charge cards, though they may be able to bill your private insurance directly. You can also inquire at your hotel, as some hotels have relationships with private practitioners to treat the emergency needs of guests.
Pharmacies are common, and most large cities have at least one 24-hour operation. You'll have no trouble having prescriptions filled; in fact, 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.
For American travelers, Medicare and Medicaid do not provide coverage for medical costs outside the U.S. Before leaving home, find out what medical services your health insurance covers. To protect yourself, consider buying medical travel insurance.
Very few health insurance plans pay for medical evacuation back to your home country (which can cost US$10,000 and up). A number of companies offer medical evacuation services anywhere in the world. If you're ever hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, Medjet Assist (tel. 800/527-7478; www.medjetassistance.com) will pick you up and fly you to the hospital of your choice virtually anywhere in the world in a medically equipped and staffed aircraft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Annual memberships are US$250 individual, US$385 family; you can also purchase short-term memberships.
Canada is one of the least violent countries on Earth -- at least outside of the hockey arena. 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 have winter tires or carry traction devices such as chains, plus plenty of warm clothes and a sleeping bag.
Wildlife is really only dangerous if you put yourself into their habitat: Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be dangerous. 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.
Moose are also 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. Also be careful when driving in areas where moose are common, particularly at sunset -- if you collide with a moose, you will come out on the losing end.
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 visiting Churchill in late fall or 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 the remote backcountry to inhabited areas. 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 her cubs, or stand in the way of a bear's food source. Never hike alone in the backcountry and, if camping, keep food items away from tents.
Dealing with Discrimination
Canada has one of the most open and cosmopolitan cultures in the world and an extremely ethnically diverse population. Gay and lesbian rights are enshrined in federal law. It's unlikely that travelers will encounter discrimination while visiting Canada. It's possible to get into heated conversations regarding U.S. foreign policy, but little discrimination will result from this kind of dispute over political issues.
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.