FAQs for buying health insurance for expats in China

Do expats in China need to have health insurance?

Yes. Expats in China absolutely need to have health insurance. And if you are a long-term expat with a family, there can be serious consequences to being without a comprehensive family insurance plan.

Foreigners in China are not automatically covered under the government health system.  If there is an accident or major health issue, an expat cannot get treatment without an insurer to cover the costs, or a large bank balance. (Or, as has actually happened, a GoFundMe page.)

Therefore, an expat must ensure that he or she is insured under either: 

– a comprehensive employer-provided health insurance plan 

– a comprehensive personally-provided health insurance plan

The only alternative is to have a spare USD 250,000 to spend on medical costs 

Can foreigners buy health insurance in China?

Yes, expats can buy health insurance in China. If you and your family are in good health, your application will be quite simple and easy to process, and you can get your family covered within a few business days. 

However, if you or your family members have any pre-existing health conditions, this will slow down the application process, and may require further medical reports. Ultimately, the insurer will assess your risk, and may choose to exclude some conditions, or decline to provide insurance cover altogether. We can help find the right insurer to get pre-existing conditions covered. Get in touch! 

What if my employer provides me with government mandated social insurance?

Even if your employer provides you with government mandated social insurance, it will only cover part of the costs in the leading government hospitals. Most likely, it will  not cover any costs at the private and international medical facilities which have English-speaking doctors and nurses. China’s public hospitals can be cheap for basic medical treatment, but if you have a major illness or accident, you will have a huge bill to pay. 

How much does medical care cost in China?

You need health insurance for serious scenarios. Here are a few situations where you will need a health insurer: 

  1. A serious accident, requiring hospitalization for four weeks: costs will certainly exceed RMB 1,000,000 (USD 155,000).
  2. Cancer treatment and surgery, plus six weeks of chemotherapy: costs will likely exceed RMB 300,000 (USD 47,000).
  3. A heart attack, requiring hospitalization at a leading Shanghai heart hospital: costs would be expected to exceed RMB 500,000 (USD 78,000).
  4. Premature baby delivery (complications of pregnancy):  neonatal ICU costs can quickly exceed RMB 1,000,000, while routine child delivery or C-sections can easily run to over RMB 100,000 (USD 16,000) in most international hospitals.

Can’t I just use China’s public hospitals? 

China’s public hospitals have different tiers. The lower-tier hospitals can be cheap and sufficient for basic medical treatment. However, if you have a major illness or accident, you will want to be treated in the upper-tier hospitals or private/international hospitals. In most Chinese hospitals, it is difficult to find English-speaking doctors, nurses, or administrator, and the quality of service is much different from what we are used to in our home countries. 

For more details, please refer to our complete guide on costs of treatments in different medical facilities. Otherwise, save yourself time and worry by simply buying comprehensive health insurance, so you will have access to the best hospitals, the best doctors, and services in English!