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Health and Medical Care in China

China is a huge country and the level and quality of medical care available depends very much on your location. Many of the remote villages are hours from doctors and hospitals and, if lucky, may have some sort of para-medical person. The big cities though have many first-class facilities. In today's China there is no need for the expatriate to go to Hong Kong or to return home for medical care.

In Beijing for example it is possible to go to one of the local Chinese hospitals (no English spoken) and pay ridiculously low prices. These doctors though get commission on the amount of medicine they prescribe and hence tend to prepare large prescriptions.

Another alternative, which is slightly more expensive, is to go to one of the Chinese hospitals that have a special foreigner / VIP department. Most of these doctors speak English and many have been trained abroad.

The third alternative is to go to one of the privately run, foreign invested facilities. In these facilities all the staff (barring the orderlies) speak fluent English and the majority of the doctors are foreigners. Unfortunately, the prices are unbelievably high and are normally only affordable for people who have good comprehensive medical insurance. (We will be happy to recommend Beijing based / China based medical insurance consultants that represent the major International insurance companies). The main advantage of these hospitals (in addition to being able to understand the doctor and nurses) is that many of them have direct billing arrangements with the medical insurance companies.

Yes, you need good medical insurrance!

China-Expert recommends that even if you are coming for a short visit make certain that you have medical coverage. If anything serious happens you can end up paying thousands of US dollars. The prices at some of the privately owned foreign invested hospitals are higher than the prices in the States.

Private Medical Insurance for the Expat:

Tight budget vs. All the bells & whistles…

If one is searching for medical insurance whilst living in China, and possibly beyond, it would be helpful to remember that the concept of “insurance” is to provide oneself against financial hardship in case of unexpected medical bills. Some good advice is to find an international plan in hard currency (USD, GBP or Euro), with a $1.5 million overall annual lifetime limit, at minimum. It also wouldn’t hurt to keep in mind that private medical insurance is a big business, and not a social benefits service for jet setting expatriates. The costs of these policies are paid for by policyholders and not tax subsidies, so, in many cases, you do get what you pay for. Likewise, the foreign-run and foreign-owned medical facilities in China are businesses, and they are not subsidized by any tax funding, so therefore, you can expect high prices to pay for such care. You’ll need international insurance to afford them.

A couple of recommendations for you to keep in mind whilst shopping for your new international insurance policy:

Tight Budget Scenario: Cover should include 80% to 100% refunds for all in-patient and/or major medical bills. Inpatient refers to a patient’s status in a hospital upon being checked into the hospital. It is usually the in-patient bills that can bankrupt an individual or family. Don’t settle for a plan that puts low limits on nightly room rates or doctor consultation fees, for example. Beijing’s western style medical facilities are of first world standards and first world prices. What about out-patient (non-hospitalisation care)? Outpatient refers to a check up, for the flu, for example. How many times per year does one go to the doctor anyway? If outpatient treatment is desired, be prepared to pay more for it because it is the outpatient claims that actually cost insurance companies the most. Hence, look to the plans that include the “bells & whistles”…

All the bells & whistles: Even if one spends $10,000 per year, on an individual healthcare policy, chances are it still won’t reimburse teeth whitening and the tanning bed. However, dental, vision, outpatient and such routine benefits as wellness or vaccinations are frequently offered. Just be prepared to pay more for such luxuries. Most policies that are designed for the mass market of mobile global citizens do provide outpatient benefits. If you are paying more for a plan and are expecting such coverage, just be sure to check the policy terms and understand what the out-of-pocket expenses will be, so there won’t be surprises later.

© 2006


Bayley & Jackson provides comprehensive health care from their clinic in Beijing. 

Beijing Puhua International Clinic's unique services include orthopedic and trauma surgery conforming to European standards. 

International SOS offers international standard family practice services, emergency medical services and a range of clinical services in many cities throughout China.

Oasis International Hospital is a full-service private hospital with international standard medical care.

United Family Hospitals is a foreign-invested hospital with facilities in Beijing and Shanghai. 

The Vista Medical Center is an international standard medical provider located in the 5 star Kerry Centre complex in the heart of the CBD. It offers a complete range of medical services and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Health Insurance Providers

Abacare Insurance - is an International Insurance Agent that helps Expats in China find the best Medical Insurance Plan for Individuals, Families or Groups.

Health Supplements and Vitamins

World Health Store is China's first Western style health store. It is a foreign owned and managed health store located in Beijing's CBD. Available in store is the biggest array of imported health, vitamins, sports supplements and environmentally friendly alternatives in all of China. Please go to, for list of all health products and directions to the store.

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