Health care in China

Doctors, clinics and hospitals

Health care in China

Health care is widely available in China with clinics being found in every village, but in many areas the local facilities are very basic and not generally used by expatriates.

Some rural clinics may even refuse to accept responsibility for treating foreigners. China no longer offers free medical care for all urban residents, as people are now being encouraged to buy health insurance. In the main cities, satisfactory medical care for expatriates is available, but emergency treatment may be inadequate. Ambulances are often unavailable and do not carry sophisticated medical equipment.

Hospitals in China

There are many horror stories about hospital treatments in China, and though most of them are legends , you should be careful as to where you get treated. If you plan to live for a longer time-period in China, it pays off to research hospitals before you get ill, so in case you need urgent medical treatment, you wont be forced to make a decision under pressure and without the proper information available.

Foreign-run hospitals in China

There are various types of hospitals in China: Foreign-run hospitals and clinics (including joint venture facilities) are generally the most expensive option for health care, but also the most trustworthy. Medical facilities are up to date with Western standards, and many foreign-run hospitals employ international staff.

Be aware, however: Treatments in these health institutions can easily cost more than ten times the price of the same procedure at a public hospital (and it is by no way cheaper then in the US or Western Europe) – therefore it is important to make sure that the treatment is covered by your health insurance. Fortunately the international institutions are more likely to accept insurance policies from abroad than their public counterparts, but you should check this in advance if you don’t want to pay upfront and wait for reimbursement.

Public hospitals in China

Any foreigner can take advantage of the public hospitals and clinics in China, paying the same prices for treatment as the locals. Although these prices are a bargain – especially compared to Western standards – although you might not get the treatment that you’re used to at home.

For a start, public clinics don’t take appointments. You must go there, wait in line, pay the basic fee at the reception desk and then pay again for each treatment you require. Most public hospitals in China will not accept medical insurance from abroad. In some cases, you will be asked to post a deposit prior to admission to cover the expected cost of treatment. Hospitals in major cities may accept credit cards for payment; you will later have to ask for reimbursement from your insurance company.

Quality of treatment at public hospitals varies tremendously according to location: The best treatments can usually be found at the public city-level hospitals, followed by the smaller district-level clinics. However, district-level clinics usually have much shorter waiting times. If you only need a quick check-up or a minor treatment, you can get this done in 10-20 minutes at district-level clinic, while the same procedure might take a couple of hours in a larger hospital.

In rural areas, only rudimentary medical facilities are generally available. Medical personnel in these areas are often poorly trained, have little medical equipment or availability to medications. Some rural clinics are therefore reluctant to accept responsibility for foreign patients, especially in emergency situations.

VIP wards

Many public hospitals in major Chinese cities have so-called VIP wards (gaogan bingfang). Prices are much higher in these VIP wings, but they can still be half that of a western hospital.

VIP wards feature reasonably up-to-date medical technology and physicians who are both knowledgeable and skilled. Most VIP wards also provide medical services to foreigners and have English-speaking doctors and nurses. However even in the VIP/Foreigner wards of major hospitals, foreign patients frequently encounter difficulty due to cultural and regulatory differences. Physicians and hospitals sometimes refuse patients with complete copies of their Chinese hospital medical records, including laboratory test results, scans, and x-rays. Foreigners travelling to China are therefore strongly encouraged to buy foreign medical care and medical evacuation insurance prior to arrival.

Doctors and dentists in China

If you plan to stay in China for some time, you may want to find a general practitioner (GP). They can handle annual check-ups, physicals, seasonal health concerns, and also direct you to help for more serious issues. Inquire at any of the listed clinics, and ask friends or co-workers for recommendations.

Dental care, cosmetic surgery, psychological care, and other health-related services are now widely available to western standards, though prices can vary widely.


In an emergency situation, you will probably be better off by calling a foreign-run hospital. Ambulances from public hospitals do not carry sophisticated medical equipment, and ambulance personnel generally have little or no medical training. Therefore, injured or seriously ill foreigners may be required to take taxis to the nearest major hospital rather than waiting for ambulances to arrive.

For the latest news regarding healthcare in China, visit our website on expatriate health: .

Further reading

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