Chinese Health Insurance for Expats Living in China
If healthcare in China had to be summed up in one word, that word would be “inconsistent”. The standard of care is exceptional in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, In fact, some of the top healthcare research in the world is taking place there. As well, the wide selection of hospitals and clinics, the superbly trained specialists, and multilingual staff ensure that the care expats receive is second to none. But that can be a very different story in rural areas. As expats in China often report, healthcare services are often extremely limited in remote areas.
And while, in theory, over 95% of the Chinese population has access to the Chinese health care system, the reality is that the services within their reach pale in comparison to those the top city hospitals. “Inconsistent” also applies to costs. In a rural clinic, a simple examination from a doctor or nurse might only set you back a few dollars. Meanwhile, in Chengdu or Guangzhou, the cost of sophisticated tests and a short hospital stay can set you back thousands. An expat best be prepared.
In China: Private Health Insurance Versus Public Care
An international based insurance policy will also normally provide for treatment in private hospitals or in private wings of public hospitals. For expats used to the healthcare systems in Canada, German Health Care, or Australian hospitals and doctors, the idea of a private hospital often feels unnecessary or even uncomfortably elitist. But in China, where “inconsistent” is the hallmark healthcare phrase, the difference between public and private care can be astonishing. Private health care facilities are head and shoulders above their public counterparts in terms of customer service. This includes multi-lingual signs, staff, and familiarity with non-Chinese insurance companies.
In general, private health care facilities are cleaner, more modern, and better organized. They also have access to more diagnostic equipment and specialist care. For treating a sprained wrist or a modest infection, these differences mean a lot less time and frustration. For more serious ailments that require in-patient care and coordinating recovery with multiple departments, it can make all the difference in the world for both your health and your peace of mind. Private international health insurance provides you with access to the best hospitals and doctors with the least amount of waiting time.
China has three tiers of public hospitals: tier one, two or three. Tier one would be the best and tier three would be the worst. Tier three hospitals are publicly run and typically will not accept private insurance. If you must use a tier three hospital, you can pay cash and be reimbursed by your insurance by filing a claim. Most major cities in China will have tier-one or tier-two hospital where you can get a high level of healthcare. You should look into which hospital you will be suing in advance. Consider a VIP facility which are offered in many hospitals as they often have the best equipment and can speak english. Always check with your insurance company prior to using any medical facility in China. They can advise you on which ones will accept their plan and will guide you on the best options for your care.
Best Health Insurance Plans for Foreigners in China
There are a number of options for expatriate health insurance in China. Expatriates are able to have worldwide coverage, including or excluding the USA while living in China. These plans provide coverage of up to $5,000,000 or more and include hospitalization and outpatient care, prescription medication, mental health, and pre-existing condition coverage.
Best Expat Insurance Plans in China
- The flexibility to tailor a plan to suit your individual needs
- Access to Cigna Global’s network of trusted hospitals, clinics, and doctors
- The convenience and confidence of 24/7/365 customer service
Another option is Aetna International – With more than 160 years of experience in healthcare, Aetna has specialized in international health benefits insurance for more than 55 years – with a growing global footprint to reach wherever you travel. They have been recognized with such prestigious awards as “Best International Private Health Insurance Provider” and “Health Insurer of the Year.” Free Aetna Global Quote / Apply
Best Health Insurance for Americans in China
If you are a US citizen looking for expat health insurance in China that has an unlimited policy maximum, another plan option is the GeoBlue Xplorer. The GeoBlue Xplorer health plan is a great plan for US citizens who travel to or from the United States for extended periods of business, leisure, and study. If you leave home for six months or more, your health and financial security are at serious risk because of significant gaps in most available insurance coverage and services. This risk is only heightened by limited knowledge of health and safety hazards around the world, including medical treatment from unfamiliar providers. For other Expats in China, we would suggest reading Expatriate Health Insurance Questions and Answers.
- Premium Benefits, Coverage and Service
- Define your deductible and prescription benefits
- For Foreigners in the US or US Citizens Abroad
Health Insurance Provided by Chinese Employers
If you are fortunate enough to have a Chinese employer who provides you with a local healthcare insurance policy as part of the terms of your job, remember to read the fine print. Or, as the case may be, have a fully bilingual friend read the fine print for you! A Chinese healthcare insurance policy will, of course, be written in Chinese. Medical lingo can prove to be challenging for expats still honing their language skills. You’ll want to make a special note regarding in-patient and out-patient healthcare options. A policy that looks generous with regards to out-patient care may, in fact, be rather limiting when that same monetary amount is applied to in-patient care. Considering that most in-patient care is the result of emergency treatments when you require hospitalization and many tests, reaching the limits of your coverage can happen in just a few days.
Communication With Chinese Insurance Companies
Regardless of these limitations, Chinese based insurance companies do have a slight edge when it comes to hospital acceptance. Chinese hospitals usually require patients to pay upfront (especially in rural areas). The principle of providing life-saving care to all in need doesn’t always apply if there’s no evidence you can make good on your bill. This is where having a Chinese policy can be a lifesaver in more ways than one. The staff is familiar with the major insurance brands and they can read the policy terms.
Benefits of Service
To get the best of both worlds – the generous coverage of international insurance plans and the ease of use for a local plan – expats will often turn to policies with a strong focus on service. That includes policy apps that help you find a local hospital that accepts your coverage and companies that provide translation services and support. Other expats value rapid reimbursement terms as something important to consider when selecting an international medical plan to support your new expat life in China.
Settling into Expat Life
Unlike other countries, there is no requirement to see a doctor or be registered with a clinic when you begin expat life in China. In fact, with good health and good luck, you might go a year or more without needing to see a doctor! However, familiarizing yourself with your neighborhood facilities before you actually need them is a smart idea. Local friends, colleagues, and other expats can help with regards to recommendations for a clinic and a pharmacy. They can also advise you on regional specific tips on maintaining good health while you’re living in China. Their tips might include where they buy their bottled water, the insiders’ scoop on air quality, and recommendations for which street food vendors to visit and those which are best avoided.
Additional global health insurance advice in the following countries:
- Health Insurance for Internationals Living in France
- Thai Global Medical Health Insurance Plans
- International Health Insurance for Foreigners in Germany
- UK International Health Insurance Plans for Expatriates
- Wiki on Chinese Health and Hospitals