Travel Advice, Safety Tips, and Health Insurance Options for China
China is a hot destination for expatriates and visitors in more ways than one. Travel here is booming. It is the 4th most visited destination in the world (after France, the United States, and Spain). China also ranks first in the world regarding the travel industry’s contribution to employment. And it’s a country on the cutting edge of cuisine, fashion, technology, and entertainment.
China wasn’t always so accessible. Between 1949 and 1974, the tourism industry was closed to all but select foreign visitors. And today’s tourists are often playing catch up when it comes to their knowledge about the country. Our guide to China covers health, travel insurance, and safety advice to help every traveler have the best possible trip.
General Travel Tips and Safety Advice for Visitors to China
China is larger and more diverse – in ethnicity, in geography, in food, in tradition – than most travelers realize. Regardless of where you go, keep these tips in mind.
Work hard to break the language barrier. English language skills are growing rapidly, especially among young people and urban dwellers. However, knowing several basic Mandarin phrases is invaluable. Hire a tutor for the most efficient learning experience. Even a few hours of instruction will make a huge difference when you arrive. (And if you need extra motivation, note that a typical scam is taxi drivers who don’t turn on the meter. Ask your tutor for a phrase or two to use in this situation!)
As with travel to all major cities, keep your wits about you. Pickpockets love large crowds and distracted foreigners. If you don’t trust yourself to find your way back to your hotel, take a photo of its business card (written in Mandarin) and a photo of the exterior.
Research the weather while planning your trip. China is a vast country, with an equally significant amount of climate zones. Knowing what to expect will help you have a more comfortable trip.
Make communication plans. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are officially banned in China. Make arrangements to keep in touch by email or invest in a VPN (virtual private network).
Expect pollution and congestion. Smog levels are notorious in China’s cities. As well, cigarette smoking is widespread. Speak with your doctor before your trip if you are prone to asthma.
Understanding the Chinese Health Care System
Healthcare in China is a mix of public and private services. Nearly 95% of the population has some form of basic public health care coverage. However, only a portion of the cost associated with personal medical care is covered by the public plan. The system is restructuring, in part to shrink the coverage gap between rural and urban regions. Cities like Beijing and Shanghai offer hospitals with world-class care and have excellent specialist services. However, rural regions may have very basic or even essentially non-existent health care services.
Traditional medicine has been practiced in China for more than two thousand years. It is often practiced alongside Western techniques and treatments, though not always harmoniously. Few practitioners are equally competent in both fields. In rural areas, health care options are often limited to only traditional medicine, which includes herbal remedies, acupuncture, and acupressure.
Travel Insurance Needs in China
Comprehensive travel medical insurance is essential in China. The treatment at the best private hospitals is extremely expensive compared to the more basic public hospitals. And if serious health care is needed in a remote area, expensive airlift services are required. It’s best to be prepared. Choose a policy that includes translation services, medical evacuation, and private hospitals to maximize your comfort.
International Health Insurance for Expats in China
If you are looking for a Chinese expatriate health insurance, the Cigna Global Plan is a comprehensive annually renewable plan. This plan provides an unlimited amount of coverage annually, and benefits include for doctor office visits, prescription drugs, maternity, surgery, hospitalizations, diagnostic testing, lab work, emergency medical evacuation, repatriation, etc. This plan will cover you all over the world – including China – and you can choose to include or exclude the US in coverage. Learn more about international health insurance plans.
- Related: Expatriate Health Plans
Vaccines, Diet, Water, and Medication
Before any trip, check that your routine vaccinations are up to date. This list includes tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, chickenpox, polio, and influenza. Additionally, travelers to China should be vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B. In particular, Hepatitis B is widespread in China, with approximately 10% of the population infected.
The CDC also recommends travelers speak with their doctors about vaccines for typhoid, yellow fever, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, as well as preventative treatment for malaria. Whether or not you’ll require these different forms of protection depends on where you’ll be traveling and what you’ll be doing.
Tap water in China is not potable. Bottled water is widely available, as are bottled soft drinks, beer, and hot coffee and tea. Identify safe street food vendors by a long line of locals eager to eat their fare. Look for a very busy cook who is continuously cooking to fill orders (and not letting food sit and cool). Treat undercooked or raw meat and eggs with serious caution.
Your packing list should always include sunscreen, a bug spray with 20% Deet, and a basic first aid kit. Prescription medication must be in the original packaging from the pharmacy, with the prescription label attached.
Emergency Assistance in China
- Emergency services Beijing: dial 999
- Emergency services Shanghai: Dial 120
- Fire department services: dial 119
- Police services: dial 110
Embassies in China
- United States: 86 10 8531-3000
- United Kingdom: 86 10 5192 4000
- Canada: 86 10 5139 4000
- Australia: 86 10 5140 4111
- France: 86 10 8531 2000