Healthcare Information for Expatriates Living in China

Apart from being one of the world’s oldest civilizations, China is now lauded as an economic superpower. It offers a wide range of career opportunities for expats who love cultural diversity & economic growth in this dynamic Asian country. If you are planning to visit one of the expat destinations in China, ensuring that you have easy access to healthcare facilities beforehand is a must.

Medical care in China is offered by various public hospitals, international clinics, and private facilities located in many Chinese cities. The healthcare system in this nation is hospital-centered, which means that expatriates won’t have to look for a general practitioner before getting treated in a hospital.

China is a vast country, so the quality and costs involved in medical care may vary immensely for different institutions. Expats in China mostly prefer private facilities for their medical issues, so they purchase private health insurance to pay the bills. If you are moving to a Chinese destination for the very first time, you should check out important health updates mentioned on the CDC China page.

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Overview of Healthcare in China

China is the world’s most populous nation. Even then the country has managed to sustain its healthcare system all this while. However, China’s public healthcare system, despite being extensive, is not at all similar to that in Europe. In other words, healthcare in China is not universal and is not free for the most part. As an expat planning to move to China, you must know your options to avail healthcare in China.

Primary medical care offered at public hospitals in China is quite inexpensive. However, for any major surgery or treatment or procuring drugs, the charges need to be paid in full. At times, these treatments cost even more than what the Western private hospitals charge – especially in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

China’s public hospitals get a majority of their finances from the sale of medications. This is also why the drugs manufactured abroad and sold across China tend to cost higher than in other countries. Additionally, hospitals own the rights to procuring a majority of drugs entering China, giving them a monopoly in the sector. This is why the regular pharmacies across the cities have a very limited set of medicines available with them. For obtaining drugs for a severe condition or disease, you will need to get a doctor’s prescription and then buy them from the same hospital only. While you may think that medical care will be inexpensive in China, the opposite is true. In some cases, medical care can be more expensive than in the USA!

How the Chinese Healthcare System Works for Expats

Expats can receive medical assistance in China from both public and private hospitals as well as designated international hospitals. Some of the public hospitals also have international wings. Since China is such a big country, it’s obvious to notice a big difference in the quality of healthcare and treatment costs between different Chinese cities and other areas. Though many expats visit the public hospitals to obtain medical help due to the low cost, a majority of them prefer seeking treatment at private facilities only.

Public Healthcare

While the cities in China have top-notch hospitals and clinics located all around, those living in rural areas have to travel for several hours to reach the nearest clinic. Many expats have found the entire system to be below average. Other issues expats generally face at public hospitals include communication barriers, long queues, and longer wait times for medical procedures.

World-class Care at Public Hospitals

The international wings at public hospitals represent an attempt to match the quality of care being provided at private hospitals. Many of these hospital wings have been erected as joint ventures between public and private hospitals to match the higher Western standards of healthcare. At present, hospitals with international wings are based at China’s largest commercial centers only, such as Beijing and Shanghai. The hospitals in China can be some of the best in the world and have excellent facilities and service. Note that the level of hygiene is not always reliable with poor sterilization and the reusing of medical supplies a problem in some facilities. Doctors may need to be asked to use fresh or sterilized equipment.

Private Healthcare for Expatriates in China

Chinese private hospitals generally follow international standards of healthcare and are based in almost all large cities. However, not many of them are available in smaller cities, and there aren’t any at all in the country’s rural regions. Due to their exclusive and top-notch medical services, these hospitals charge as high as twice the fee of the same treatment available at the public hospitals.

expat healthcare china

Medicines and Pharmacies

Many Chinese pharmacies hold expertise in both modern as well as traditional Chinese medicines. Labels on most of these medicines are in Chinese, which is why it’s recommended to have someone accompany you who can help you bridge the communication barrier. Expats living in Chinese cities can benefit from their expertise whenever needed. However, not all foreign patients may be comfortable with such recommendations and may want to be certain about what they ingest.

Emergency Services in China

You need to dial 120 to call up the Chinese emergency services in your area. These services are top-notch in the urban areas, but not so in the rural regions. Some unauthorized “Black” ambulances claim to help those staying in rural areas; however, expats are advised to steer clear of them at all times.

Best Private International Medical Insurance for Expats in China

There are many international travel plans available for expats moving to China. Through these plans, the expats can avail worldwide coverage, including hospitalization and outpatient care, prescribed medication, and more, subject to the conditions and type of the insurance plan. Cigna Global Insurance is one of the most widely-followed medical insurance companies that offer comprehensive plans for China and our most popular provider. But before that, you must know that public hospitals might not accept your international health insurance plan in China. Your insurer may still provide cover for them but will need you to pay the hospital in cash first before receiving reimbursement for the same.

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