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Living in Beijing Guide

Health Care

Generally health care in Beijing is up to international standards, and facilities continue to improve. As an expat you should have no trouble finding quality care in one of the many Western-oriented facilities. Even some of the local hospitals have English-speaking staff. Consult with your doctor at home and your insurance company, as well as friends and colleagues, in order to determine which facility best serves your family’s needs. Each expatriate community has its own services available locally. The range of these services is generally proportionate to the size of the community.

Private versus public care

The public health care system isn’t free, but costs are kept low and it effectively serves enormous numbers of people. There are public hospitals all over the city, but they can be intimidating. They are usually very large, noisy, chaotic and crowded. However, many expats leave fully satisfied with the care they receive and even more satisfied with the prices, which start as low as RMB8 for basic services and RMB50-250 for expedited or English speaking VIP services. If you have a minor problem, such as a stomach ailment or sprained ankle, public doctors can provide you with quality care at a fraction of the private clinic price. If your Chinese is substandard, bring a translator and the experience will be a lot less stressful.

Recommended public options China-Japan Friendship Hospital 中日友好医院

Yinghua Dongjie Heping Jie, Chaoyang District
(6422 2952, www.zryhyy.com.cn)
This hospital is highly regarded in Beijing and offers a wide variety of services combining Eastern and Western medicine. It was the primary facility for athletes during the 2008 Olympics.

Peking Union Medical College Hospital 北京协和医院

1 Shuaifuyuan, Wanfujing, Dongcheng District
(6529 6114, www. pumch.ac.cn)
This is an excellent public hospital known for its maternity services. The doctors can speak English.

Private health care

If you have good insurance that covers care at international facilities, these are normally your best option, particularly for serious medical problems. It’s comforting to be in a familiar setting if you must undergo a medical procedure or get tested for an unknown ailment. Private facilities are smaller and more comfortable, and offer faster, friendlier service. Comprehensive providers like Beijing United Family and International SOS offer 24-hour emergency service and always have English-speakers on hand. But the prices are much higher and could lead to higher insurance premiums. If possible, call first to check if the hospital or clinic you plan to visit accepts your insurance.

Main private hospitals Amcare Women’s and Children’s Hospital 北京美中宜和妇儿医院

9 Fangyuan Xilu, Chaoyang District
(6434 2399, www.amcare.com.cn)
This hospital specialises in pediatrics, gynecology, childhood development, ultrasound and radiology. Offers outcall.

Beijing International SOS (Clinic) 国际SOS北京诊所

5 Sanlitun Xiwujie, BITIC Building C, Chaoyang District
(6462 9112, www.internationalsos.com)
At this internationally respected hospital the staff speak several European languages. There’s a well-stocked pharmacy and 24-hour emergency service. They can train your ayi in first aid as well.

Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinics 北京和睦家医院

2 Jiangtai Lu, Lido area, Chaoyang District
(5927 7000, www.unitedfamilyhospitals.com)
This hospital focuses on providing comprehensive and integrated medical services for expats and locals. It is staffed by 60 internationally trained and certified physicians and assisted by a team that speaks over a dozen foreign languages. This hospital is the first choice for many expats giving birth in China.

International Medical Center (IMC) 北京国际医疗中心

S106, 1/F Lufthansa Center, 50 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District
(6465 1561/2/3, www.imcclinics.com)
IMC has foreign doctors on-site 24 hours and offers a wide range of services, mostly in English. It has top-notch facilities and a well-stocked pharmacy.

In the event of a medical emergency…

If it’s safe to move the injured or sick person, it’s usually best to find the fastest way to the hospital on your own, by private car or taxi. For this reason, carry a card with the name and address of your hospital of choice in both English and Chinese. Ambulance times are slow because gridlocked Beijing traffic does not yield to emergency vehicles. Note that you will be taken to the nearest hospital, not to the hospital of your choice. To call an ambulance, dial 120 or 999 on any phone. Don’t count on the operator speaking English. It’s advisable to learn a few key phrases, particularly your own address and the name of your hospital. Another option is to call International SOS, which maintains a team of Western and Western-trained doctors. The US and Australian Consulates also have nurses on staff, and they can assist in suggesting an appropriate course of action. International SOS and Beijing United Family Hospital have the best emergency services for expats. Register with one or both of these hospitals before an emergency to save precious moments in the event you need to call either of these phone numbers. If you call their emergency numbers, they will liaise with an ambulance for you if need be.


Visiting a Chinese pharmacy can be a frustrating experience. Most of the brands you are familiar with will not be available, and few products are labelled in English. The pharmacist is unlikely to speak good English and may even try to pressure you to buy drugs you have never heard of. Items such as cold medications, allergy medications and Pepto-Bismol are hard to find. However, if you know the medicine’s chemical name, they may be able to help find a close equivalent. Chinese pharmacists may also suggest Chinese medicine for your ailment, which can sometimes be a useful alternative. However, if you need an antibiotic or anything more serious, you will have to visit a clinic or hospital pharmacy. At these, always ask if there is a generic version of your medication – hospitals tend to push more expensive brand medication.

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