There is no national healthcare service in China, and that fact applies to expats and locals alike. What this means for expatriates living in China is that you need a contingency plan if you are going to live in the country. Expat destinations like Thailand are often chosen by expats with health concerns because Thailand offers a comprehensive network of hospitals and highly advanced procedures. In fact, Thailand’s medical tourism industry is growing rapidly right now.
That is not the case within China, however, because of the government controls and government priorities.
So what does this mean for expats living in China?
You will pay for healthcare and your best options are in the larger cities within the country. Foreign-funded hospitals and medical care is available in cities like Beijing and Shanghai if you can afford to pay for it and happen to live near these types of facilities.
But what about traveling in rural China? You are facing domestic-run hospitals and staff; though this can be fine for minor ailments you may want to seriously consider what a poor healthcare infrastructure can mean if you are traveling with children or have any prior medical conditions.
How do I prepare for China then from a medical standpoint?
- Get your vaccines before you go and take the recommendations of your local travel clinic and healthcare professionals.
- Be honest with your doctors before you leave: tell them you will be gone for a long period of time and voice any concerns upfront about medical situations and issues you may run into because of your unique circumstances.
- Once you decide on a city, head to the China expat forums on the internet and ask around for advice on the best healthcare providers other expats in your city are using.
- Know the names (in Chinese) for the major foreign hospitals in your city. Write them down if possible in Chinese characters so you can communicate clearly in any circumstance which hospital you would like to be taken to in case of an emergency.
- Ask the hospitals for your records after a visit. Keep all of your medical data and forms so you can give this to another doctor for reference if you need it in the future!