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Doctors and Hospitals for Expats in China

Submitted: August 2013

Both Chinese and Western medicine are available in China. Many healthcare professionals in China have graduated in the US, so it is possible to find English-speaking doctors in China. Although they are likely to charge more for their service, it is probably worth paying the price if you are a recent expatriate.

There is a stark rural/urban divide in China when it comes to healthcare. In rural areas, you are likely to face a shortage of doctors and healthcare facilities, let alone Western medicine. In urban areas, it is easier to find healthcare facilities with qualified staff and adequate equipment.

A list of hospitals and clinics with English-speaking staff can be found here.


There are clinics in most villages in China, but they are pretty basic. These are designed to be specialised in traditional Chinese medicine only. Therefore, many Chinese citizens living in rural areas rely solely on traditional medicine only.

Traditional medicine is based on the philosophy of a balanced universe. Thus, a disease is perceived as the result of an imbalance or disharmony in your body.

Traditional Chinese remedies include notably:

Be aware that many rural clinics actually refuse treatment to foreigners, even in emergency situations.

If you live in a town, Western medicine is much more likely to be available, especially in hospitals. However, queues in hospitals can last for hours whereas queues in clinics are probably a matter of minutes. Thus, you might wish to go to the clinic in your local district for minor problems.

If your condition requires highly skilled staff and a lot of equipment, you should go to a city-level hospital.

Public hospitals

Do not expect comfort when you go to a hospital, but do expect cheap costs, long waiting times, and a lot of injections. As hospital can be a tough environment, you should call a friend or a family member to come with you to the hospital.

If you need to go to a hospital but you live in the countryside, you will probably have to move to a large town. You don’t need an appointment but you will probably have to queue.

If you are not happy with healthcare standards in Chinese hospitals, you can consider postponing treatment until after you leave China unless you are in an emergency situation. See Health emergencies for Expats in China.

Alternatively, you can go to a “VIP ward”.

VIP wards (gaogan bingfang)

A VIP ward is typically just next door to the hospital with long queues. It is much more expensive, but it has adequate equipment, reasonable waiting times and qualified English-speaking staff. See Health emergencies for Expats in China.

Despite the higher price, a VIP ward can still be fairly cheap in the eyes of many expatriates. If you are used to high healthcare standards in your home country, you are therefore probably willing to pay for VIP wards.

Due to cultural or legal issues, VIP wards may still disappoint expatriates in some respects. For example, you can be denied the issuance of a copy of your medical records, even though you need these documents for medical purposes in your home country.

Means of payment

You should always bring cash with you when you go to a hospital (e.g. CNY1,000 for public hospitals). Most rural clinics do not accept debit cards, and the same applies for many urban hospitals.

Private hospitals

Private hospitals are in no way cheaper than their foreign counterparts. However, healthcare standards therein are among the highest you can ever find in China.

Typically, these hospitals are run by foreign institutions, and they are likely to have staff from many countries.

Needles in China

Be aware that Chinese healthcare professionals do reuse needles, and that they do not always sterilise them with the utmost care. This is true of hospitals, doctors as well as dentists.

Do not, under any circumstances, let yourself be stung by a suspect needle. Unclean needles may contaminate you very easily with viruses such as hepatitis or even the HIV. If you have any doubt, do not hesitate to ask your doctor to use a new needle, or (if the former is impossible) to genuinely sterilise an existing one.



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