Chinese healthcare

Being ill is not fun at the best of times but when you’re ill in a foreign country it can really be quite frightening. Before moving abroad it’s a good idea to check out what kind of healthcare will be offered so you know what to expect and can make any necessary arrangements.

Although healthcare is available across China the quality of care can vary considerably and is not free for all residents.

Generally speaking facilities in rural areas are not as good as the facilities available in cities (some rural clinics may even refuse to treat foreign patients).

As of 2012 expats living in China, and their employers, have to contribute to China’s public health, pension and unemployment schemes. The amount expats must contribute varies provincially from 8-11%. Employers contributions also vary provincially and can be anywhere from 31-37% of their expat employees’ salaries.

Word of warning

Cultural and regulatory differences between the British and Chinese healthcare systems can cause difficulties for some expats seeking treatment so comprehensive health insurance really is strongly advised.


When you move to China you will need to find a General Practitioner (GP) to take care of your everyday health needs. Ask around for recommendations, make enquires at listed clinics and do a little research before picking your GP. Once you’ve been listed with them you will be able to see them for physicals, general checkups, minor health issues and referrals.

Teeth and eyes

High quality dental care is widely available in China but you are advised to choose your dentist based on recommendation and research. Dental care prices fluctuate massively and for the most part treatments will cost more in rural areas than in cities. The same is true of optical care.


In China there are several types of hospitals for expats to choose from.

Even if you feel fit as a fiddle it’s worth checking out the hospitals in your area as if you do need healthcare in the future knowing where you’re going can make the experience less daunting.

Many expats feel most comfortable seeking treatment in foreign-run hospitals and clinics. There are many of these around China and they generally have up-to-date equipment, international staff and offer a very high standard of care.

Bear in mind, these facilities really don’t come cheap. You will be charged significantly more for procedures carried out in these facilities so before receiving treatment make sure your health insurance will cover the cost. Although international institutions usually accept overseas insurance policies some may not so it’s always best to check.

In an emergency situation foreign-run hospitals are the best option. As ambulances are quite scarce and poorly supplied/managed it is often quicker to call a taxi than the emergency services.

In comparison with foreign-run hospitals the cost of treatment in public hospitals is very reasonable.

One of the biggest downsides to this type of healthcare is that public hospitals don’t issue appointments. If you want to be seen you must wait in line until you can pay the receptionist the basic fee and then pay separately for every treatment you need.

Patients in public hospitals are almost as often expats and foreign visitors as locals, but the institutions commonly won’t accept overseas health insurance.

The standard of care and waiting time provided by public hospitals can differ greatly according to location. In the main, the treatment in urban hospitals is better than rural hospitals but the waiting time can be several hours longer. The lengthier wait is usually worth it though as some rural hospitals have only basically trained staff and sub-standard equipment.

Some larger city-based public hospitals have VIP wards which charge higher prices for greater comfort and better care.


Prescription and over-the-counter medications can be acquired from Chinese pharmacies. In big cities there is commonly one on at least every other street and they are distinguishable by a large green cross; however you do need to be aware that very few pharmacies will be manned by English speaking staff.

Most over-the-counter medications found in Chinese pharmacies have a Western counterpart that you may be familiar with but they are highly unlikely to stock your usual brand. Further, although some medications have their generic English name on the box the directions for their use and lists of side effects will be in Chinese.

For a fee foreign clinics can usually procure imported U.K. medications for patients.

If you need a prescription medication your GP will need to fill out a prescription form which you then take to the pharmacy.

A couple of warnings…

Overseas prescriptions won’t be accepted but you may be able to get your GP in China to re-issue it as a Chinese prescription.

Some medications prescribed in the UK are not available in China. If you plan on bringing a stock of tablets over with you make sure you hold on to your prescription form, you will need it if you’re stopped by customs!

Health insurance

Health Insurance is not mandatory but it is highly recommended. You may find that your employer covers the cost for you but they might only foot the bill for a basic (rather than comprehensive) plan. It is really important to know exactly what you’re covered for so you can gauge whether you will need private health insurance. Because there is no uniform private health insurance system the cost of some individual/family policies can be ten times as much as others so shop around and be sure to double check exactly what the policy covers. Dental and Optical care are extras which can be added for an additional cost.

Remember to consider that alternative medicines, fertility treatments, pre-existing conditions and cosmetic surgery are not covered by the majority of insurance policies.

Also, because of the very high cost, expats may want to consider incorporating medical evacuation in their insurance policy.