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Making sure of your health

The Chinese health care system is currently undergoing huge change.

After years of stagnation, a report published by consultants Deloitte in 2015 revealed that annual expenditure on health care is expected to rise to 11.8% by 2018. 

There are still problems within the system, and a recent independent survey revealed that you cannot expect to receive a uniform standard of care should you be admitted to hospital in China. There is no free health care within China, and you may be expected to pay before receiving medical treatment, even though you may have health insurance.

Chinese Health care facts

China has a population of 1,400,000,000 and in 2015 World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics show that out of a total of 190 countries, China's health care system is ranked at 144. Despite the government's commitment to improve China's health care system by 2020 and the claim that only 5% of Chinese still lack medical insurance, this insurance doesn't cover most health care bills. 

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), health care spending as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is rising, as are the numbers of doctors and nurses per capita of population. In 2013 this percentage had reached 4.5%, and a report published by consultants Deloitte in 2015 revealed that annual expenditure on health care is expected to rise by 11.8% by 2018, thanks to rising incomes and government reforms.

Different province, different standards

Hospital and medical care vary from province to province. Hospitals in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, have modern international private hospitals, which have English speaking staff and good standards of care — though this care is considerably more expensive than the treatment at Chinese public hospitals, up to 10 times more expensive according to some sources.

But you can expect a very different picture in rural China, though with the introduction of the New Rural Cooperative Medical Insurance in 2003 and the spread of the Seasonally Affected Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, more funds have been pumped into rural health care.

For a list of hospitals across China and published by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) click here — though this list is not endorsed by the FCO it’s a very useful tool.

Forget family doctors

If you're looking for a doctor, you may well have to go to your local hospital to find one. China's health system is very hospital-centric. Despite the expansion in recent years of international wings in hospitals, you will be expected to queue when attending a Chinese hospital. But, the international wings have improved health care standards, and you can expect to find Western standards when attending one of these facilities.

The advice on expat websites is to take out private health insurance if you want to be assured of a decent quality of care. Bear in mind that since 2012 expats and their employers are expected to contribute to the Chinese health system, as well as pension and unemployment schemes through the new Social Insurance Tax.

Taking care of prescriptions

And it's not simply health treatment that you need to take into account when moving to China. If you are on a course of prescribed medication at home, you cannot guarantee that the same medicine or brand will be available in China, and you may not be able to enter China with these brands without a letter from your general practitioner (GP, also known as family doctor). 

The FCO recommends that you ‘consult your GP before travelling to China to learn about any alternatives that might be available, before travelling.' It's easy to access pharmacies in the cities, though once in the countryside it's a different matter.


In case of a medical emergency, the number to call is 120, though ambulances can be slow to arrive, and often non-existent in rural areas. All ambulances in China have a doctor on board.

The Chinese health care service is improving, though at present it's always best to have your private health insurance for peace of mind and to ensure that you receive the best quality health care when staying or working in China. Call us today for a health insurance quotation.

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