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Beibu Gulf Square in Beihai, China

6 Expats Talk about Health Insurance and Healthcare in China

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on Jan 16, 2023

Summary: Expats and global nomads in China share their experiences with health insurance, healthcare in China, local hospitals and specialists, quality of medical care and more.

How are healthcare services China?

When we asked expats and global nomads about the quality of medical care in China, they replied:

"It is IMPERATIVE that you speak Chinese or else you need to take someone who is FLUENT in Chinese as interpreter. Some doctors speak English (or rather Chinglish) and communication is critical in receiving appropriate medical care. Also, be aware that the average Chinese person most likely will not have the medical vocabulary, so unless you have a medical interpreter communication will still be challenging, but it will be better than nothing," said one expat living in Shenzhen.

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Are healthcare and health insurance expensive in China?

"Men in China over 55 and woman over 50 do not qualify for National Healthcare, so employers have to pay for private insurance. However, the coverage is comprehensive. You do need to get prior approval from the insurance company, but that is to be certain you go to the proper medical facility.," said one expat living in Shenzhen.

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William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.
William Russell Health InsuranceExpat Health Insurance in China

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.
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What are emergency services like in China?

When we asked about emergency services, members in China wrote:

"In addition to a number of smaller local clinics., there are 2 BIG hospitals in Shenzhen. The main hospital is Peking University Hospital (Shenzhen), sometimes referred to as Beijing University Hospital by locals. The other is Hong Kong University Hospital (Shenzhen). Both are readily accessible by either bus or metro. Both are public. I have had extensive experience in both hospitals, so the following information is based on my personal experience. Peking University Hospital is older and services the masses. However, they have a VIP service area (6th floor) and will provide a medical interpreter. Although you will not find very many foreigners at this hospital, the staff overall is very helpful and professional. In fact, I felt extremely well-cared for and was treated with respect, but privacy and cleanliness can be an issue. For the most part, the Chinese have no concept of personal space or privacy, so if you don't have anyone with you to guard the door, people will literally barge into exam rooms as they are anxiously waiting their turn. However, knowing this in advance, you can establish boundaries and maintain a respectable degree of privacy. The medical staff and even patients will do their best to try and help you. In terms of hygiene standards, please bear in mind that this is China. As I stated, this hospital serves the masses, but they do their best to keep it clean, which still pales in comparison to any hospital or clinic you would find in USA. Again, the staff is extremely helpful and the quality of care was outstanding. Hong Kong University Hospital (Shenzhen), is very new, but still public. It is not as centrally located as the other hospital and therefore, is not as busy. Also, as it is new, it is much cleaner. HOWEVER, regardless of what you are told by local Chinese, VERY FEW GENERAL STAFF SPEAK ENGLISH. But they do have some English speaking doctors. The big issue is navigating the system to get to the doctors because I found many of the staff to be very impersonal. Remember Chinese are shy by nature and therefore, not very customer service oriented, so I found that the staff would just point, which is really not so helpful when you need specific information. I received medical care at both of these hospital. At Peking University Hospital (Shenzhen) I was treated for a stroke. Getting the diagnosis was quick because getting diagnostic tests done is extremely efficient. I chose NOT to be hospitalized and received out-patient treatment for 2 hours 3 times a week. Unfortunately, my treatment was NOT covered by my employer's private insurance plan. The costs were less than in USA, but still expensive by Chinese standards. Thankfully, I made a full recovery, no doubt in part to the excellent medical care. At Hong Kong University Hospital (Shenzhen), I received medical treatment for both a broken rib and to diagnosis and treat colorectal cancer. It was a major ordeal to get the proper diagnosis for my cancer, but getting the x-rays, CT scans, blood work, etc. was extremely efficient. In terms of the medical care that I received while I was there, I would say that it was adequate, but there were MAJOR language barriers and numerous miscommunications because the hospital does NOT have translators. Again, I had been told repeatedly that the staff speaks English, but I ASSURE YOU THEY SPEAK CHINGLISH NOT ENGLISH. Oftentimes, it was extremely frustrating because it was difficult if not impossible to understand what they were saying. Their pronunciation was quite poor, so even once they looked up the proper words, it was still hard to communicate. The hospital markets itself as a friendly English speaking hospital, but I PERSONALLY state that is NOT THE CASE. The head surgeon was assigned to my case and he was on staff only part-time as he lives in Hong Kong. I found the junior surgeon and staff to be arrogant, unfriendly, NOT shy. They were very unresponsive to many of my questions and I found myself having to repeat my questions. I had to insist on getting answers. Again, I understand that Chinese people don't typically ask questions to doctors (who apparently at this hospital have the mindset that they are Gods), but this is a medical care facility. As a patient, I expect to be able to ask questions, but I didn't feel that the staff were receptive. In fact, it was impossible to speak to the head-surgeon when I returned to the hospital for follow-up exam 2 months later. Instead I was referred to the junior surgeon who out right refused to get me in touch with the head surgeon who spoke better English. Furthermore, he was recommending further life altering surgery without even doing a proper follow-up physical exam. Communication became impossible, so I went to Peking University Hospital to get a 2nd opinion. At that hospital I was treated with dignity and given a medical translator. The specialist doctor there, recommended I go to Guangzhou to get more treatment options. If I had to rate the care of each of these hospitals, I would give Peking University Hospital an A- (cleanliness could be improved, but it is China) Hong Kong University Hospital would get a D because poor communication impacted the quality of my care. My diagnosis would have been made much earlier if the communication was better. Also, I never received the proper follow-up care," said one expat living in Shenzhen.

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William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

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William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

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Will I need to travel to see a specialist?

"I went to Guangzhou Modern Hospital in Guangzhou because they specialize in treatments for cancer and other serious diseases. The population of Shenzhen is still very young overall, so I was advised by a specialist doctor at Peking University Hospital to go to Guangzhou for follow-up to my cancer surgery. Although the doctors and many of the staff spoke decent English, I was provided with a medical translator. The doctors were very caring, professional and extremely knowledgeable with outstanding qualifications. However, the facility was old and by Western standards, not very clean. I think having good doctors is more important that a fancy medical facility," remarked another expat living in Shenzhen.

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Are common prescription medications available in China?

"There are pharmacies located throughout the city and within both major hospitals. I was prescribed a variety of medications, but only took a few. Compared to medications in the USA they are NOT expensive," remarked another expat in Shenzhen.

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What advice do you have for expats having a baby in China?

We asked expat moms who gave birth in China about their experiences and advice they have for other moms to be. They said:

"Get in touch with other expats that have similar requirements as you of comfort,language and expectation of service. Interview different doctors and trust your heart. Ask as many questions that comes to mind before making a decision of the hospital," added another person living in Shanghai.

"Give birth in Guangzhou but be open to a c-section delivery as almost everyone I know that delivered here were convinced to have one (6 out of 7 women)," explained one expat living in Guangzhou.

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Are healthcare services good in China?

We asked people if they have access to good medical care in China. They wrote:

"It is difficult unless you have someone who speaks English go with you to explain the problem. After that it is easy. I have been three time to the hospital. Once to have a mole removed from my face directly in front of my ear under my side burns (so to speak) and have it biopsied. about 1,200 yuan including anti-biotics. or about $200. Another time was for an eye infection about 200-300 yuan for medicine (office visits are almost free) and to have a new prescription for my eyeglasses which had to be done at the hospital. I paid $0.50 for the exam (not to sure if they meant to charge more, they wanted me to buy the glasses there but they wanted 3,500 yuan about $581 USD (I do need progressive lenses and am very far sighted (+7 to +9 diopter correction I can barely make out the letters at the top of the eyechart!) I said "No way" and left. I later bought them for 1,028 yuan ($170USD). The hospital go out of there way to set me up with doctors that have some English ability and in one case they called in someone like an orderly who had been to America for college and was very good at English and he was i big help. Prescription medication is very expensive. I have diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol for $30USD I got my medicine in the USA for 90 days here it runs about 400 yuan for 30 days or about $66USD," explained one expat.

"Yes and not as expensive as US. Must go to major hospital for clean facilities and care. One hospital we visited an old family friend in was comparable to what i would expect to find in a poor part of Tijuana, Mexico. I had 3 crowns and a root canal done on my teeth for $1,200 total and that was a month ago and everything is fine," said another person in Xi'an.

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

Beibu Gulf Square in Beihai, China

William Russell Health InsuranceExpat Health Insurance

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
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William Russell Health InsuranceExpat Health Insurance

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
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