Healthcare in China: What Foreigners Should Expect

Healthcare in China: What Foreigners Should Expect

Moving to another country can be an exhilarating experience, but it also comes with its own set of challenges, especially when it comes to healthcare in China.

As a foreigner, understanding the healthcare system, knowing your insurance options, and finding the right medical facilities are crucial for a smooth transition. Here’s what you should expect:

The Healthcare System in China

China has a national healthcare system that covers an impressive 90% of its population. However, coverage and quality of care can vary significantly depending on where you live. In urban areas, you’ll find a mix of public hospitals, VIP wards, and private facilities, while rural areas may have more limited options.

Public Healthcare

Public healthcare in China is available under the country’s social insurance plan. While it provides basic coverage for the majority of the native population, the extent to which expats can benefit from this system depends on their employment status and the region they reside in1.

VIP Wards and Private Hospitals

For a more comfortable experience, foreigners often turn to VIP wards within public hospitals or private international clinics. These facilities offer higher standards of care and are more likely to have English-speaking staff3.

Types of Medical Facilities

China’s healthcare institutions are mainly classified into three categories:

  • Primary healthcare institutions: These include community healthcare service centers and village clinics, offering basic medical diagnosis and treatments.
  • Specialist public health institutions: Focused on public health matters like family planning and infectious disease control.
  • Hospitals: Responsible for outpatient and inpatient treatment of more complex diseases.

Health Insurance Options

As an expat, you have several insurance options to consider4:

  • Local Insurance: This is often provided by employers and covers basic healthcare needs.
  • International Insurance: Offers comprehensive coverage and is favored by many expats for its wider network and direct billing facilities.
  • Private Health Insurance: You can opt for private health insurance plans that offer more flexibility and can include coverage for services like dental and maternity care.

Locating English-Speaking Doctors in China

For foreigners, finding English-speaking doctors in China can be a daunting task, but with the right approach, it can be manageable. Here are some detailed steps and resources to help you find English-speaking medical professionals:

Utilize Online Directories and Resources

  • Healthcare Platforms: Websites like provide lists of hospitals across China with English-speaking doctors.
  • Expat Forums: Platforms such as can offer personal recommendations for English-speaking doctors, especially in university hospitals where many doctors have international experience.

International Hospitals and Clinics

  • International Hospitals: Facilities like Beijing United Family Hospital and Shanghai United Family Hospital are known for their multilingual staff and high-quality care.
  • Private Clinics: Private clinics in larger cities often cater to expats and usually have English-speaking doctors available.

Networking and Community Groups

  • Expat Communities: Join expat groups on social media or platforms like WeChat, where you can get recommendations from peers who have been through similar experiences.
  • Embassy Assistance: Some embassies provide lists of local healthcare providers that offer services in English.

Public Hospitals with VIP Services

  • VIP Wards: Many public hospitals in China have VIP wards where you can find English-speaking doctors and better facilities1.

Emergency Services

  • Emergency Hotlines: Services like International SOS offer 24-hour assistance and can direct you to English-speaking medical professionals when needed.

Tips for Navigating Healthcare in China

  • Research: Before moving, research the healthcare system and insurance options thoroughly.
  • Network: Connect with other expats who can share their experiences and advice.
  • Documentation: Always have your health insurance documents handy, as hospitals may require proof of insurance or a deposit before treatment.
  • Language: Learn basic medical Mandarin or have a translation app ready to overcome language barriers in non-international facilities.

Navigating healthcare in China as a foreigner requires preparation and understanding of the local system.

By familiarizing yourself with the available medical facilities, insurance options, and resources for finding English-speaking doctors, you can ensure that your health needs are met while you enjoy your new life in China.