Best Health Insurance for Expats in China

health insurance expats china

One of the most important things you need to consider before moving to China to live is whether you need to take out health insurance or not, and what type of policy to choose.

This article is intended to help you understand what you will find in China, and to provide the information necessary for you to be able to decide whether to take out a health insurance policy and how to choose it.

To do so, we are going to cover the following topics (you can click on the index below to skip directly to the section that you are most interested in).

If you are looking for information on health insurance for short stays or for tourism, while this article may be useful to you, I recommend that you check out this other article.

Medical attention in China

In China, despite the existence of a public health care system, it is not at all similar to the one that exists in Europe (and other countries), where free and universal health care exists. The Chinese public health care system is not universal and is free to an even lesser extent.

In China, primary medical attention and public hospitals are run by the government and benefit from a certain amount of funding. This makes being admitted and visiting a doctor relatively cheap (between 1 and 5 Yuan). Nonetheless, treatments and drugs are paid in full and are quite expensive (often more expensive than private hospitals in the West).

One of the particularities of Chinese public hospitals is that their financing depends greatly on the sale of drugs, which makes it so that their prices tend to be much higher than in other countries (most of all for drugs produced abroad). This mainly happens because hospitals have a monopoly on the large majority of drugs.

That means that pharmacies in China tend to have a very limited selection of drugs (normally traditional medicine), and the only way to obtain certain drugs is with a doctor’s prescription, which is only valid in the hospital in which it has been obtained.

Another aspect that must be taken into consideration is the large number of health care professionals in China who lack professionalism (or better said, who are unscrupulous) and act on purely financial interests. It is very common for doctors to prescribe you the most expensive treatment as well as unnecessary extras that they consider harmless.

A clear example of this is their love of prescribing intravenous medicine, taking x-rays, and adding traditional medicine ingredients to prescriptions. In fact, it is a widespread practice that before an operation, you give extra money to a doctor so that they can “take extra care.”

In addition, nurses tend to not care for patients unless you pay them, which makes it very common for you to see the family members of sick people pushing around beds or wheelchairs in the hospital.

In addition to public medical assistance, there are numerous private hospitals and clinics which are both national and international. Despite the fact that numerous centers do not charge for consultations, treatments and drugs tend to have exorbitant prices.

Why do I need health insurance in China?

As I mentioned in the previous section, medical attention in China is not free, and in many cases, can be more expensive than that of private hospitals in the West. Therefore, if you don’t have adequate health insurance, you can go bankrupt if you suffer from a minor illness or an accident. To get an idea, minor surgery can cost up to multiple tens of thousands of Yuan.

In addition, you have to remember that in China, they are not going to attend to you if you don’t pay the bill up front (often in cash) or in the case of certain international hospitals, before you demonstrate that you have health insurance that will cover the treatment.

In China, health care is a business. If you have an accident and you don’t have money or health insurance, as soon as they find out, they are going to kick you out of the hospital.

Hospitals in China

In China, it can be said that there are three types of hospitals: public hospitals, private hospitals, and international hospitals.

Public hospitals

Public hospitals (except for rare exceptions) are far from meeting Western standards, are normally packed with people, the attention is poor, the facilities and hygiene in many cases leave a lot wanting, and their privacy is quite rare. In addition, you have to remember that staff will not speak a single word of English (some doctors might be able to say four or five phrases).
The operation of public hospitals is a bit chaotic:

  • You have to go to the main cash register to sign up (you can’t do it in advance).
  • You have to wait in a long line and pay the fee (normally less than 10 Yuan); they will give you a number for the specialist you have requested. Keep in mind that if you arrive at the hospital late, there might not be any more numbers left. If you haven’t previously been at this hospital, they will give you a card and a booklet where the doctor will note your medical history.
  • After you have received your number, you have to go to the section of the hospital of the specialist chosen and give the number to the reception.
  • You need to wait until they call you by number or name and go to the doctor they have assigned you. Be careful, as lots of people are going to try to get ahead of you. In addition, it is common that while you are talking to the doctor, people come in directly to ask things or to try to wait in line directly in the doctor’s office. In some hospitals, it is possible that they might not call you by number and you have to wait in line in front of the office.
  • After seeing the doctor, he/she will prescribe you drugs or will carry out tests, so you will have to go to the cash register once again and pay.
  • Once you have paid, you need to go to the pharmacy or the place to get your tests done and show your receipt.
  • Repeat numbers 3 to 6 as many times as necessary.

Private hospitals

Private hospitals for both traditional and Western medicine operate in a manner similar to public ones. The only differences are that there are not as many people, the staff is much friendlier, the facilities are better, and at times, staff may even speak English. Obviously, all of this has a price.

International hospitals

International hospitals are obviously also private, meet all of the standards you are accustomed to, their staff, in the majority of cases, speaks fluent English, and normally offer excellent attention. However, considering that these hospitals tend to be frequented by expats with good health insurance, their prices can be exorbitant at times.

Types of health insurance in China

When moving to China, many people don’t worry about health insurance, as they think that the university or company welcoming them will provide one. However, you need to be careful about the health insurance they provide, as not all health insurance is equal. Below, I detail the most typical conditions of insurance policies in China.

  • University health insurance policies: If you are going to work or study at a university, it’s normal for them to provide health insurance. However, university health insurance is far from ideal. This type of insurance only covers treatment at the university hospital. University hospitals are normally incapable of treating the majority of illnesses, and at the most, they are going to treat you if you have a cold or cut yourself.

    If the illness or intervention cannot be treated at the university hospital, you pay the fee, visit a doctor, they will tell you that they can’t treat you, and will give you a proof of this and send you to another hospital. Later, you go to one of the authorized public hospitals and after paying all of the bills, you go back to the university so that they pay you the percentage corresponding to your insurance. Obviously these insurance policies don’t cover international hospitals. This plus the bureaucracy makes them inconvenient, especially if you are sick or hurt (university hospitals are not capable of treating a fracture), and makes this insurance far from adequate.

    This type of insurance is normally used by poor Chinese students to stock up on drugs to later give them to their families, as the drugs are free.

  • Chinese health insurance: While there is a huge variety among Chinese health insurance policies, the majority of them, especially if they are cheap, only cover public hospital costs. While this type of insurance can be adequate for people who want to save money, it is not very recommendable, as the payment of medical costs is not immediate; rather, you pay out of your pocket first and then later file a claim with the insurance company to reimburse you. Obviously, the paperwork and contracts tend to be exclusively in Chinese.
  • International health insurance: International health insurance tends to be the most convenient for expats, and as expected, it is the most expensive. These insurance policies cover you at international hospitals and some private hospitals. In addition, if you live in one of the main cities in China, such as Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, among others, the majority of these insurance policies give you the option of the insurance company paying directly at international hospitals. That means that you won’t need to go to the cash register every time you go to the hospital, as your doctor’s bills will be sent directly to your insurance provider. Nonetheless, if you live in a second or third-tier city, you will have to pay first and then make a claim for reimbursement.

What is a broker and why you might need one?

People who aren’t very familiar with private health insurance might not know much about the figure of the broker. A broker is an independent professional (or company) specialized in the insurance sector. They are basically an intermediary between the customer and the insurance company that helps people to choose the most suitable insurance policy and to mediate between the insurance company and the policyholder.

Getting the advice of a broker can be very useful, especially for people who aren’t familiar with health insurance or don’t know very much about the specific market (such as the offering of health insurance policies in China). Below, I detail the main advantages of purchasing a health insurance policy through a broker:

  • “Free” service: A broker doesn’t charge for advising you when choosing your health insurance policy or after you have purchased the policy when helping you with other claims or questions that might come up. In addition, purchasing an insurance policy through a broker does not cost more than doing it directly with the insurance company. Brokers charge a commission paid by the insurance company for each customer that they refer to it, which means that brokers are interested in giving you good service so that you decide to purchase the insurance policy (and renew it) through them.
  • Brokers don’t work for insurance companies: Good brokers work with a couple of dozen insurance companies. Because of this, they won’t try to sell you a particular insurance policy that isn’t suitable for you. Rather, they will try to find the best insurance policy for you. For a broker, what’s important is that you are happy with their service and therefore decide to buy an insurance policy with them (or to use them to renew your insurance policy).
  • They are an insurance expert: To be a broker, you need a license (that certifies that you are an insurance expert). A good broker is familiar with the intricate insurance market and will be capable of guiding you through the complicated conditions and clauses imposed by companies.
  • After-sale service: Good brokers give you complete after-sale service, meaning that if you have any questions regarding your insurance policy, you can ask for their help. The procedures to follow with insurance companies can be complicated at times, and because of this, it’s important to have the help of an expert to avoid unnecessary charges or problems with the insurance company.
  • Confidentiality: A good broker has strict confidentiality clauses, which means that you can discuss things that you don’t want your insurance company to find out about with them (as the company might increase your premium).

In our experience, for the majority of people, purchasing a health insurance policy in China through a broker is the best option.

The important thing when trusting a broker is to make sure that they are familiar with the specific insurance market. Insurance policies in the United States (or Europe) don’t operate the same way as in China, and the best companies aren’t necessarily the same ones.

Click here if you want to send a request for a free quotation to the broker we recommend at the moment

Table comparing health insurance types for China

Name of planGlobal Medical InsuranceInternational Medical InsuranceComprehensive
Geographic coverageGlobalGlobal excluding the United StatesGlobal excluding the United States
Annual limitfrom 1,000,000 USD to 8,0000,000 USD (lifetime limit)from 1,000,000 USD to unlimitedfrom 1,500,000 USD to 2,400,000 USD
Minimum deductible0 USD (in China)0160 USD (once per year)
Hospitalization (In-patient)CoveredCoveredCovered
Out-patient servicesDepends on the plan (either everything covered or a maximum of 500 USD pre- and post-hospitalization, and 300 USD for tests)Covered (some aspects are optional)Covered (including traditional Chinese herbal medicine)
Direct billing in ChinaBeijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Wuxi, Xiamen, Xi’an502 centers in 51 Chinese citiesBeijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan
Emergency assessmentIncludedOptionalIncluded
DentistOptionalOptionalNo, Prestige Plus plan
Annual medical checkupNot mentionedOptionalIncluded
Coverage of chronic conditionsThe same as pre-existing medical conditionsThe same as pre-existing medical conditionsIncluded, some exceptions
Coverage of pre-existing medical conditionsDepends on the plan (covered or moratorium of two years)Reviewed on a case-by-case basisNot included
PregnancyOnly under the Platinum plan (10 month wait period)Depends on the plan (12 month wait period)No, Prestige Plan
Approximate annual cost (35 year-old)From 1,100 USD to 5,000 USDFrom 2,500 USD to 4,000 USD2,700 USD
Online quoteAvailable upon filling out a formAvailable upon filling out a formAvailable upon providing personal and contact information
ProsBasic plans very affordableVery complete plans and very good coverage in ChinaStandard plans include many benefits
ConsLimited coverage in ChinaExtra benefits somewhat expensiveLimited coverage outside of large cities
Request a quote from IMG now!Request a quote from Cigna now!Request a quote from Axa now!

The information contained in this table is for information purposes only and is a simplification of the information obtained on the websites of the insurance providers. Due to the complexity of health insurance policies, we recommend that you thoroughly read the conditions of the policy that you will choose, before purchasing it.

Other Health Insurances for China

Below you can also find some other health insurance if you live in China.

Now Health International

Now Health International was founded as late as 2010 in Hong Kong and provides international private medical insurance. In addition to Hong Kong, the company also has offices in Singapore, Dubai, Jakarta, Shanghai, and in the UK.

The company offers 24/7 support and is renowned for its high-quality services. Some of the awards won in the past years include Golden Shield Excellence Award 2020, Winner of Menair Insurance Awards 2019, Insurance Asia News Awards for Excellence, and more.

One of their most popular insurance plans is called Now Health WorldCare Plan‎. It comes with the following options:

  • WorldCare Essential
  • WorldCare Advance
  • WorldCare Excel
  • WorldCare Apex

WorldCare Essential: This plan is the cheapest of the above listed and suitable for persons who only need access to in-and outpatient treatment when really needed. You have many options in terms of deductibles if you want to keep the premium low. For an additional cost, you can get both inpatient and outpatient treatment.

WorldCare Advance: WorldCare Advance is similar to the above-mentioned plan, but comes with a few more benefits. It covers both outpatient and inpatient treatments.

WorldCare Excel: This plan is even more premium compared to the Advance and Essential options. It covers you for both in-patient, out-patient, and day-patient treatment.

WorldCare Apex: This is the most expensive and comprehensive plan offered by the company. For more information about the plans, I recommend you to visit Now Health International’s website directly.


Aetna was founded in 1853 in Hartford CT and is by far one of the oldest insurance providers in the world. The company now belongs to CVS Health Corporation from the US.

Over the years, Aetna has emerged as a leading insurance provider worldwide and they also have one of the best options for foreigners and expats that stay in China.

One of the best plans that you should have a look at is called Aetna MHP and Pioneer Plans. The Aetna Pioneer plan comes with numerous benefits, including:

  • USD 1,750,000 – 5,000,000 coverage
  • Inpatient and daycare treatment
  • Parent hospital accommodation
  • Emergency inpatient and daycare treatment outside area of cover
  • Inpatient psychiatric treatment
  • Others

For a complete overview, you can also visit their website directly.


GeoBlue is a good option for Americans who live overseas and that need full medical coverage. A benefit of opting in for GeoBlue is that you can enjoy reduced prices if you keep your existing US health plan.

The company offers three plans that should be of interest: Xplorer Essential, Select, and Premier.

The policy maximum is unlimited (compared to USD 1,750,000 – 5,000,000 for Aetna) while there are multiple options for the deductible, ranging from USD 0 – 5,000. Besides, the deductible is waived for office visits, preventative care, evacuation, and prescriptions.

Again, the insurance is only available for Americans and you can only be a maximum of 74 years old. The insurance covers you worldwide, except for the US, which is common among many international insurance policies.

How to evaluate the features of a health insurance policy

For people who are not familiar with international health insurance, reading a policy may be “Chinese” to you, quite literally. Below, I detail the most common vocabulary in health insurance policies so that you can actually understand what you are purchasing.

  • Annual limit: This value is the maximum amount that the insurance provider will pay per billing period (one year). If you exceed this limit, you will have to start paying out of your own pocket.
  • Deductible: This is the amount that you have to pay for medical treatment before the insurance provider begins to pay. For example, if your deductible is 1,000 USD when you go to the doctor, you will pay for all treatment and consultations so long as the bill is less than 1,000 USD. As soon as the treatment costs more than 1,000 USD, the insurance provider will start to pay. That’s to say, you will only pay 1,000 USD and the remainder will be paid by your insurance.
  • Direct Billing: Direct billing means that the hospital bills are sent directly to the insurance provider without you having to pay them beforehand.
  • In-patient: These are treatments that require hospitalization, such as an operation.
  • Out-patient: These are treatments that do not require hospitalization, such as visiting a specialist, dressing wounds, drugs, and rehabilitation, among others.
  • Cost Share after deductible : This is the percentage of the cost of treatment that you have to pay after paying the deductible. In the table, 0% means that the insurance provider pays for treatment 100% once the deductible has been reached.


In China, health care is not free, and getting good medical treatment can be quite expensive. Because of this, in our opinion, it is more than recommendable to take out a good international health insurance policy. The risks you expose yourself to without insurance or with poor-quality insurance are too high and can bankrupt you and your family.

There is no ideal insurance policy for everyone, and when you choose one, you will have to assess your specific needs, your budget, and the risks you want to expose yourself to.

Finally, we strongly recommend, taking into consideration the information in this article, that you thoroughly read the conditions and benefits of an insurance policy before purchasing it or ask for the help of an insurance expert.

Do you need help with insurance for China?

Do you live in China or are you going to move to China and need help choosing the best health insurance policy for you? Fill out the form below to get personalized advice and a free quotation from the broker we recommend at the moment.

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    29 thoughts on “Best Health Insurance for Expats in China”

    1. Thanks for the article. I am curious if most TCM hospitals fall under public, and also am wondering if there are visa regulations related to various insurances. Can a person who travels throughout the country on a tourist visa for 2 months a year get access to these policies?

    2. Health insurance is incredibly expensive in China… the kicker, the “western” hospital you will go to, is just part of the large Chinese hospital. Anything serious you for sure will be in the main hospital. More needs to be written on the Chinese insurance options. The Chinese doctors are good, very good.

      1. I Agree the article can and should be improved. Chinese doctors can be good or not as everywhere, my experience in public hospitals is that they have too much work to give a decent service.

    3. I just took out an expat insurance. I talked to brokers in China but for various reasons ended up with the insurance company in my home country that provided me with travel insurance before. The information in the article is very thorough, but I would like to add a couple of points about the small print: I’m very active and I really had to pay attention to things like until what altitude and which sports are covered. I live at almost 2000m altitude (in Kunming) and like to go rock climbing. Not all insurances cover this. Before I checked I made a list of my particular requirements so I could make a good comparison and dismiss insurance policies that wouldn’t fit my needs.

    4. The form isn’t working. Keeps saying I made an error, but I tripple-checked and tried my phone number with and without +.

      1. Hello Rob,

        the form is working, probably it’s a pb with your browser. Note that you can send the inquiry to info at saporedicina dot com, so that we can then forward it to the agency we recommend

    5. Thank you so much for taking time to provide such valuable information to your readers. It just so happens that I’m looking into expat insurance as I plan to spend more time in China in the future, then I found your website with insightful articles and ebooks.

    6. This Definitely contains great information and important for new comers, however it is a bit biased and unfair. I’ve visited plenty of countries where the doctor and hospital fees are much higher. In the Usa, I couldn’t even see a doctor as a basic check was 500$ , here the basic fee is still at 3-12 rmb. Living through experience with elderly family and friends with first hand experience, the person that was close to passing was also to allowed to see a doctor , not only was she unable to see someone, she was also asked to leave midway of treatment as even though she held private “insurance “ and both of the national insurance cards they still forced us to remove a patient as she no longer fell under the correct item of insurance. We moved a very frail sick old lady three times due to these policies. And no one is admitted into any institution without first providing insurance then wait for approval and verification. These happened to people with cancer, strokes, broken limbs and elderly and sick, In a western country. It is unfair to judge China and single it out. Pharmaceutical companies world wide all campaign and push their products, it is not solely here. As for expensive “medicines” the cost at a local hospital is indescribably lower than other places. Yes I agree it’s a pain and if you don’t speak the language or you have no help it’s a fighting nightmare. But that does not make China any less than other “modernised” countries. Absolutely get insurance, but don’t sell out a country you are a guest in under false pretenses. That’s exactly what pharmaceutical companies do.

      1. Hello Cara,

        United States is a very, very special case as health care is extremely expensive. That’s why many insurance companies have 2 different prices: one for United States (or United States and Canada) and one for the rest of the world!.

        Some insurance company, doesn’t even has a offer for US.

    7. Hi

      Comparing the three insurance companies, you say that the IMG has limited coverage in China. Why is that?

      Thank you

      1. I say that because the last time I checked the health plans didn’t have many options a part from the basic coverage. Also in the small cities might not have any asociated hospital.
        Anyway you should check and compare what they offer.

      2. I also think you should include PingAn insurance, I have Health and Life insurance in one package – the cost is 13,500rmb per annum.

        It covers treatment abroad also, however as stated above I need to pay for the treatment first then claim the money back at a later date which I find very antiquated, as are most public services in China from insurance to banking.

        1. Hello, I have been struggling to get PingAn insurance for my family, Im based in Shenzhen, could you guide me on how should I approach them? Thanks in advance.

          1. Hi there,

            I guess the best way is to go through a broker! Sometimes it’s difficult to talk directly with these huge insurances companies.

      3. Best health ins. co. in China have had operation on head but that was 3 years ago and feel great now. [email protected] male 1950 take no meds at this time. Please quote me using email Bill Nicholls Thanks

    8. Great informative article, thanks for writing it.

      Firstly, it’s pretty crazy coming from the UK where we have a brilliant (free!) national healthcare service, and seeing the prices of some of the international insurance quotes. A yearly fee of $1,500+++ is just outrageous, it’s criminal in fact.

      One thing that wasn’t quite clear though, was how the Private Chinese hospitals work? I get that the public ones are chaos and cheaper, and that the international ones you essentially have to have insurance to set foot inside, but what about the private Chinese ones? They seem like a good mid-ground. And are there plans for those ones?

      Thanks :)

      1. Hello Joe, it really depends on the insurance company you will choose, it’s difficult to give a “general” answer to you!

      2. Some Chinese insurances may cover the Chinese Private Hospitals, and yes some of them are a mid-ground if you are able to speak Chinese. Everything depends on the city you are going to live.

        It’s hard for us (with good public national healthcare back home) to understand this kind of systems. However, you must know that even if you go to a Chinese public hospital, if you need an expensive treatment the bill can be too high to afford without insurance.

    9. Hi, I recently found out I’m pregnant and living in Shenzhen. I’m planning to go back to the US by the time I born my child. I noticed two of the plans have a wait list for the “Pregnancy” section. Can you elaborate? Am I able to use one of the insurance plans to get routine checkups while I’m pregnant or no? Hope to hear from you soon, I just arrived in China 3 weeks ago and new to the country!

      1. Hi Hazel the wait list for the Pregnancy normally means that you have to wait some time ( from the time you get your insurance) to get pregnant (if you want to be covered).

    10. Hi there,

      Great article on health insurance in China for expats. I think this is great for someone who is pretty unfamiliar and has to move to China without much background knowledge of the country.

      I have one question though, your article starts nicely talking about different types of insurances, university insurance, Chinese insurance, and international insurance. Do you have any advice on how to get the Chinese insurance as a non-Chinese citizen who has no problem going to a public hospital, no problem it being only in Chinese, etc. and doesn’t need the perks of an international insurance? Thanks.

      1. You can get a regular Chinese insurance like the one’s offered by Ping An (中国平安), normally they are quite cheap (around 3.000-4.000 RMB),but I’m not sure about the details of those insurances. I had one of them during a year but I was lucky that I didn’t need to use it.

    11. Great detailed information, especially the steps on how to navigate thru public hospitals and the part where people will walk in on your consultation with a doctor. Also, no money no treatment and Chinese people do love to cut in line. This article is a must read for anyone new to China’s heath care system.

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