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Expats moving to China will find that the standard of healthcare provision varies greatly. While those living in urban areas usually 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.
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 generally 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 can usually speak English.
Public health insurance in China is mediocre and not particularly 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.
Expats should also be sure to check where their insurance will allow them to seek treatment. Not all hospitals recognise all insurers, making it wise to do some research before committing to a health insurance policy.
Most expats living in China opt to use private hospitals, which are generally only 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 Europe and North America.
Medicines and pharmacies
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, expats might find labels that are only in the local language, and it’s a good idea to have help from a local friend who can translate in case the pharmacist does not 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. For expats who suffer from respiratory conditions, is it advisable to invest in a home air purifier. Houseplants can also have a positive effect on the air quality in a home.
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. Purchasing and using only filtered water is best way to avoid water-borne illnesses.
Emergency services and important numbers
Depending on where expats choose to live in China, most medical emergencies can be handled quickly and efficiently. Some rural areas have very limited emergency services, but urban areas are generally well serviced. Due to a lack of ambulances, private “black” ambulances have emerged. These are mostly unlicensed and unauthorised vehicles, and expats are advised to avoid them.
Emergency response personnel are well-trained and professional, but seldom speak English. Expats should make an effort to learn basic key phrases in the local language for medical emergencies.
The local emergency number is 120. Expats should also keep the contact details of their nearest embassy accessible for cases of emergency.
Regional healthcare plans for groups in China
Our plans, created in partnership with Allianz China General Insurance Company Ltd. are designed for international and local Chinese companies.