The dangers of living in China without health insurance

By and large it would be fair to say that it is unwise to live without health insurance in any country without a developed social healthcare system.

But China does present a few extra layers of risk which you may not be aware of, and risks which you may be more liable to encounter when you work overseas due to a lack of familiarity with the local environment.

Broadly speaking, the developed areas of China, including Beijing, Shanghai and the east coast look quite developed on the surface. Modern transport systems carrying millions of people to work in towering skyscrapers, surrounded by glitzy shopping malls selling luxury brands. Alongside these you’ll see shoppers and off duty office workers dining in fancy bars and restaurants, whilst on the streets shiny luxury motor vehicles buzz past.

But in reality, things are a little different. Big-city China’s outwardly modern appearance is not only somewhat misleading, it can lull us into a false sense of security and make us lax in our approach to health and the importance of healthcare coverage.

Take food safety for example. Not only are there places which are obviously risky in terms of eating unclean or undercooked food, such as street barbecues or cheap, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, higher-end establishments may be manned by poorly-trained staff who don’t understand proper food hygiene standards.

You may treat yourself and friends or family one night by going out to an expensive restaurant, yet still find yourself with a very upset stomach and in need of a trip to the doctor – something that can be paid for with proper health cover.

Here at China Expat Health, we’ve heard countless stories of foreigners who had a bad stomach, or found themselves on the toilet more than is normal, for months, hoping the issue would clear itself up for fear of having to pay to see the doctor and get it sorted out.

And whilst such it may be rare, there is the chance that a more serious bout of food poisoning would require a few nights stay in hospital whilst you recovered – something which definitely would cost more than a course of antibiotics.

Sometimes in China, just being a in the wrong place at the wrong time can make you a target. There are many documented cases of pedestrians feigning injury in road accidents, or, in some cases, even throwing themselves in front of drivers or cyclists to injure themselves on purpose with the intention of claiming compensation.

There are stories of foreigners being targeted in such scams. The best preparation you can have in such a situation is to be aware of this risk and make sure you are properly covered if you somehow get dragged into this kind of situation and are injured yourself.

And if you are a pedestrian in China – watch out! Traffic signals are not always obediently followed, so what out when you are crossing the road – the law of the jungle applies – the biggest vehicle has right of way. And if you find the thought of crossing the road a little too much, the sidewalk offers little refuge – mopeds and scooters routinely speed along, weaving between shoppers and passers-by. Cars may also use the pavement when it’s convenient, and you may even find yourself having to yield to trucks and busses on occasion. So the injury possibilities are countless on the streets.

Everyone gets coughs and sneezes from time to time and usually these can clear up with simple medication or even just a few days rest and some warm drinks. But in China, pollution can come into play and make people’s lungs sensitive.

That cough which went away after a week back home might take much longer to shift in China – and require a Doctor’s visit instead of just a trip to the pharmacy for some cough medicine.

Similarly it doesn’t take much imagination to work out that if you suffer from asthma or have some other respiratory problem, you might require some treatment than you may normally at home.

Is health insurance necessary?

The above scenarios may seem alarmist, and the majority foreigners who come to work in China never encounter any major issues. But the point still remains that China does have it’s unusual quirks.

There’s plenty more unusual hazards lurking in China, but most are easily avoided with a little pre-knowledge. So call us today if you’re worried about how you might deal with these and we will put your mind at rest with our experience of the country, and the chance to get yourself covered well for any health insurance eventuality.