Prescribing for non-residents: Know your risks

Published: August 8, 2019 / Revised March 2023

Increasingly, non-Canadian residents (e.g. U.S. citizens) are seeking less expensive medications in Canada. Prescribing to non-resident patients whose primary purpose for coming to Canada is to obtain medication can increase your medico-legal risk.

Canadian physicians may be required to provide care to non-residents in emergency situations and when unexpected medical problems develop while visiting Canada. Physicians may also be asked to provide prescriptions when a non-resident of Canada unexpectedly runs out of or has forgotten or lost their medication while travelling. It is prudent to consider providing only enough medication to last until the patient returns to their home jurisdiction.

The CMPA will generally extend medico-legal assistance within Canada and the United States to members who have treated a non-resident under the following circumstances:

  • the care was provided in Canada
  • the patient presented with urgent and/or emergent health issues (these are generally unexpected medical problems developed during the patient’s visit)
  • reasonable efforts were made to have the patient sign the CMPA’s Governing Law and Jurisdiction Agreement
  • the non-resident came to Canada for reasons other than to obtain medical care and unexpectedly developed a medical problem

It is also important to note that prescribing medications which do not require immediate renewal, or for periods beyond the individual's stay in Canada, could be considered non-urgent care. In this situation, the CMPA will generally decline to assist with medico-legal matters brought outside of Canada.

Finally, the CMPA generally does not assist with medico-legal issues (in or outside of Canada) resulting from signing or co-signing Internet or cross-border prescriptions for persons with whom the physician has no prior recognized doctor-patient relationship.

For more information about treating non-residents and CMPA’s principles of assistance, read "Treating non-residents of Canada," and "Prescribing to non-patients a risky activity," or contact the CMPA at 613-725-1300, 1-800-267-6522.