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The standard of healthcare provision in China varies greatly. While those living in urban areas have good access to public and private hospitals, medical services are limited in rural parts of the country. Healthcare services tend to centre around hospitals rather than local clinics which makes finding and registering with a GP unnecessary.
Public medical institutions in China are not often used by Western expats. Waiting times can be long, and locals can queue for days to get treatment. However, apart from the language barrier and the slow service, the quality of medical expertise actually compares quite favourably to Western medical standards.
In some public hospitals, particularly those in major Chinese cities, international clinics have been established to bridge the gap between public and private healthcare. Also known as VIP wards, medical costs incurred here can be more expensive, but are still considerably cheaper than in private hospitals. As these wings cater for wealthier patients, the treatment tends to be of a higher standard and medical staff generally speak English.
Most expats living in China opt to use private hospitals, which are generally found in the major metropolitan areas. While private healthcare services are certainly more expensive than those in the public healthcare sector, they tend to be closer to the standard found in Europe or North America. In fact, treatments offered at these hospitals rival those of Western institutions, so expats can rest assured they will receive the highest standard of care. Most medical staff speak English with many having received training in the West.
Public health insurance in China is mediocre and not very comprehensive. It can be fairly expensive, even for basic policies that don’t cover serious and chronic conditions. For this reason, private health insurance is the best option for expats. One thing to keep in mind when choosing cover is to check where you are entitled to seek treatment. Not all hospitals recognise all insurers, so it’s wise to do your homework thoroughly before committing to a health insurance policy.
There is usually at least one 24-hour pharmacy available in major cities. Larger, department-style pharmacies can be found in metropolitan areas. On occasion, you might find labels that are only in the local language, and it’s a good idea to have someone with you that can translate in case the pharmacist doesn’t speak English.
There are some health-related issues to bear in mind when moving to China, with air pollution in the bigger cities being one of the most concerning. If you have a respiratory condition, is it strongly advisable to invest in an air purifier for your home. Houseplants also have a positive effect on the air you breathe.
Water pollution is also a problem. Expats are advised not to drink tap water in China and to rinse fruit and vegetables with boiled water. Buying filtered water is best way to avoid water-borne illnesses.
Depending on where you live in China, most medical emergencies can be handled quickly and efficiently. Some rural areas have very limited emergency services, but urban areas are well serviced. Due to a lack of ambulances, private “black” ambulances have emerged. These are mostly unlicensed and unauthorised vehicles, and it’s wise to avoid them.
Here are some important numbers to keep in mind:
International Healthcare Solutions For Private Individuals
Healthcare plans designed specifically for expatriates and local nationals living in China, developed in partnership with our sister company Allianz China General Insurance Company Ltd.