March 21, 2023

Insider Insights: Navigating China’s Healthcare System as an Expat

China is a land of opportunities for expats. However, navigating its healthcare system as a foreigner can be overwhelming. In this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about accessing medical care, the insurance system, and other important healthcare-related aspects of life in China.

Overview of China’s Healthcare System

China has come a long way in terms of its healthcare system. In recent years, the government has invested heavily in improving medical facilities and expanding coverage. China’s healthcare system is primarily based on public hospitals, clinics, and community health centers, supplemented by private healthcare providers.

Public Hospitals

Public hospitals are the backbone of China’s healthcare system. They offer a full range of medical services, from general primary care to specialist treatments. Foreigners with a valid visa can access these public hospitals, but the language barrier can be a significant challenge. Doctors and nurses may not speak English, and the hospital bureaucracy can be confusing for expats.

Community Health Centers

Community health centers are government-run facilities that provide primary healthcare services. They usually have English-speaking staff and are ideal for routine check-ups or minor illnesses. These centers are more affordable than private clinics and are a great option for the budget-conscious.

Private Clinics

Private clinics are more expensive than public hospitals and community health centers but offer higher-quality services and shorter waiting times. They are more likely to have English-speaking doctors and staff who can provide personalized care for expats.

Insurance System in China

Basic insurance coverage is mandatory for all citizens and residents in China. Expats working in China are required to have basic insurance coverage. Basic insurance covers basic medical treatments, including hospitalization, surgery, and emergency medical services.

Private Health Insurance

Expats in China should consider private health insurance, which can supplement basic coverage and provide additional benefits. Private health insurance plans can be tailored to meet individual needs and can cover a wide range of medical expenses, including dental and eye care.

Medical Check-Ups in China

Medical check-ups are essential, especially for expats in China. The government mandates annual physical check-ups for all employees, and most insurance policies include free or discounted regular check-ups. These check-ups can help identify problems early and prevent long-term health issues.

Dental Care in China

Dental care is not covered by basic insurance, and dental services can be more expensive in China. Expats can access private dental clinics or receive dental care at public hospitals. However, language barriers can pose challenges, and communication difficulties make obtaining high-quality dental care challenging.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an essential part of China’s healthcare system, and many Chinese residents prefer TCM over modern Western medicine. TCM includes herbal remedies, acupuncture, and other treatments that are not widely used in the Western world. Expats can access TCM services at TCM clinics or public hospitals.

Pharmacies in China

Pharmacies in China are easily accessible, and many sell non-prescription medications. However, language barriers can pose a challenge when looking for specific medications. Most prescription medicines need to be purchased at public hospitals or designated pharmacies that require a valid prescription.

Challenges Faced by Expats in China’s Healthcare System

Language barriers, cultural differences, and different healthcare practices are the primary challenges for expats in China’s healthcare system. Finding quality English-speaking doctors or translators can be difficult, and a lack of familiarity with TCM or different medications can be overwhelming.

Preparing for Medical Emergencies in China

Expats in China should always prepare for medical emergencies. This includes carrying a first-aid kit, learning basic Chinese medical terms, and having an emergency contact who speaks Chinese. Registering with your embassy is also important, so they can assist in case of emergency.

Wellness and Health in China

Living a healthy lifestyle in China is easy with many locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, and many cities have accessible gyms and fitness centers. However, air pollution can pose a challenge, and expats might need to look for air purification solutions.


Navigating China’s healthcare system can be daunting for expats. However, with a little preparation and understanding of the system, expats can access quality healthcare services. Expats should be aware of the challenges faced and prepare for medical emergencies to ensure their well-being.


What should I do in a medical emergency in China?

In a medical emergency, call the emergency hotline (120) for an ambulance. Expats should also carry a first-aid kit and have an emergency contact who speaks Chinese.

Can I access TCM as an expat in China?

Yes. Expats can access TCM clinics or public hospitals for TCM services.

Do I need private health insurance as an expat in China?

While basic insurance is mandatory, private insurance can supplement coverage and provide additional benefits, making it a good option for expats in China.

Can I buy prescription medication in any pharmacy in China?

Prescription medication can only be purchased at designated pharmacies or public hospitals that require a valid prescription.

What should I do if I don’t speak Chinese?

Finding English-speaking doctors or translators can be challenging in China. Expats can prepare by learning basic Chinese medical terms or consulting hospitals that specialize in treating foreigners and have English-speaking doctors and staff.

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