If you’re planning on moving to China, 恭喜你 (congratulations). You can look forward to stunning mountains and rivers, incredible temples and monasteries, and a huge range of delicious food, from Xiao Long Bao to Chongqing hot pots.

But before you become one of the 4,737 British expats (source: United Nations) enjoying life in China, you’ll want to learn what kind of healthcare you’ll have access to once you arrive.

And if you want to join the hundreds of millions of people in China who have private health insurance, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers.

From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Chinese healthcare: key stats

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    % of China’s GDP is spent on public healthcare
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    average life expectancy
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    doctors per 10,000 people
temple in Chongqing, China

China has beautiful temples – but only the world's 48th-best healthcare system

How does the Chinese healthcare system work?

China has a system of universal healthcare, like the UK, under the principle that every permanent resident should have access to basic health services.

96.9% of the country is covered under this system, according to Chinese government statistics – a total of 1.35 billion people.

You’ll only be covered if you’re a citizen or permanent resident. If you are, you’ll typically have access to the following services:

  • Emergency care
  • Inpatient care
  • Mental health services
  • Physical therapy
  • Primary and specialist care
  • Prescription drugs
  • Traditional Chinese medicine

The central government creates policies, enacts legislation, and supplies local authorities with the funds they need to provide health services.

Employees in urban areas must sign up for Urban Employee Basic Medical Insurance (UEBMI), which is mainly funded through employer and employee taxes.

Your family won’t be covered under this plan, so they should either look at private insurance, or consider registering for the voluntary Urban-Rural Resident Basic Medical Insurance (URBMI).

This scheme mainly covers rural residents, self-employed people in urban areas, children, students, and elderly adults. Despite being optional, the plan covers around three times more people than UEBMI.

URBMI is funded by annual fixed premiums, though you’ll only have to contribute minimal amounts, with government subsidies taking care of the rest.

Is healthcare free in China?

No. Public healthcare is heavily subsidised in China, but you’ll typically pay a higher share of costs than you would in the UK.

35.75% of health expenditure in China is paid out-of-pocket, according to the World Bank – more than double the UK’s 16.71% figure.

If you’re on the UEBMI scheme, you’ll fund your own healthcare through taxes, while URBMI members have to pay premiums.

Inpatient care, outpatient care, and prescription drug payments are subsidised in China, but you’ll still be affected by deductibles, co-payments, and reimbursement ceilings.

Amounts will vary depending on a variety of factors, including your location, insurance scheme, hospital type, nature of care, and doctor’s seniority.

Quality of healthcare in China

China’s healthcare system comes 48th in the world, according to a 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

That puts China below Belarus, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda – plus a massive 25 places behind the UK in 23rd.

If you give birth in China, you have a one in 3,448 chance of dying during the process, according to the World Bank.

That’s four times higher than in the UK, and gives you a worse chance of survival than in Iran, Tajikistan, and Barbados.

The child mortality rate is also twice as high in China as in the UK, and people in general live four years less in China than in the UK, on average.

Why isn’t healthcare in China better?

China’s government only spends the 78th-most of any country on healthcare, per person, despite serving a huge country with a dispersed population that’s the largest on Earth.

The country’s healthcare spending comes to just $501 (£365) per person, per year, according to the World Bankeight times less than the UK, which spends $4,315 (£3,135).

While it should be noted that China has only the 73rd-biggest GDP per person in the world, its healthcare spending must be increased if the superpower wants to improve its provisions.

Iceland, which provides the best public health service in the world, spends the fourth-most per person, despite coming 14th in terms of GDP per person.

Money isn’t a solution on its own, but it allows people to find one.

Healthcare in China for foreigners

If you’re not a citizen or permanent resident in China, you won’t be able to access the public healthcare system. No ifs, no buts.

In this case, you’ll need to purchase private medical insurance.

Private healthcare is increasingly popular in China, particularly for foreigners, high-income individuals, and companies that want to provide their employees with the best coverage possible.

There are no official statistics on the percentage of people who have private health insurance in China, but 5.9% of total health expenditure in the country is down to private health insurance premiums, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

If you want (or need) to go private, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Do I need health insurance in China?

You’re not legally required to have health insurance in China, unless you’re a citizen or permanent resident who works in an urban area.

In this case, you’ll be compelled to join UEBMI, which will cover your healthcare through taxes on companies and workers.

If you’re not a citizen or permanent resident, we’d recommend getting private medical insurance, so you can access healthcare services without suffering unnecessary expenses.

Medical costs are inevitable, but private cover means that your finances won’t be thrown into chaos with every hospital visit.

Benefits of private medical cover in China

  • Shorter waiting times
  • Peace of mind
  • You’ll receive the highest level of care possible
  • Medical equipment is typically more up-to-date
  • Fewer unexpected out-of-pocket expenses means you can budget your healthcare in advance
  • Staff will be more likely to speak English

How much does health insurance cost in China?

For an individual

You should expect to typically pay £1,500 per year for private cover in China, which comes to £125 per month.

It’s worth getting a few different quotes though, as prices can vary hugely, from around £330 to £3,300 per year.

For a family

To cover a family of four in China, it’ll cost around £5,000 per year.

That means you’ll pay about £3 per day, per person to secure peace of mind – and a better level of care, if it’s necessary.