Keeping Healthy in China

Travel Health

Getting ill is one of the things to watch out for when traveling, as it can spoil your experience, or even have long-term effects if more serious. Infection through inadequate hygiene, and not keeping warm/cool enough, well rested, and well hydrated are the common problems.

Health Risks

The main risks to your health are ordinary things like eating something you shouldn't, inadequate clothing for the conditions (see our weather pages for the month/destinations you will be traveling in for what to bring), over exertion, and exposure to infection. (Also altitude sickness in areas over 2,500 meters, mainly applicable to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.)

Come prepared, insured, and take precautions.

China Travel Health Advice

Drinking Water

  • Water is easily available in China, but drink bottled, not tap water wherever you go, including in hotels or on the train. Drinking water is available at restaurants and hotels.
  • Very few cities, like Hong Kong and Guilin, have a 100% potable public water system available. Bottled water can be bought anywhere at the station stalls and supermarkets.
  • Drink only boiled or bottled water or carbonated drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water and drinking fountains. Don't drink beverages with ice, unless you are sure it have been made with clean water.

Food Precautions

Street Vendors Pay attention to what you eat.
  • Don't eat food purchased from street vendors.
  • Wash hands often with soap or water (and/or instant antibacterial hand wash).
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked food, or fruits and vegetables that you have peeled yourself.
  • Never eat uncooked meat, raw eggs, or unpasteurized dairy products. Raw shellfish is dangerous for people who have liver disease or compromised immune systems.

Other Health Precautions

  • Don't handle animals (especially monkeys, cats, dogs), to avoid the risk of rabies.
  • Don't swim in fresh water (excluding well-chlorinated pools) in some parts of China to avoid infection with schistosomiasis.
  • Don't share needles with anyone.

Vaccinations & Medical Suggestions

Foreign visitors should check what vaccinations are required or recommended when planning a trip. Your doctor may also be able to provide you with up-to-date information on the status of disease outbreaks in China. Most national governments also run travel advisory websites through their State or Foreign Affairs Departments.

While traveling with China Highlights, we take every precaution to provide a safe and healthy environment for you. We choose restaurants and hotels that are clean, safe, and we always keep your needs and interests in mind. However, here are some precautions for you to take into consideration for your trip to China.

Vaccines/Immunizations (4-6 weeks before your trip)

  • Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG)
  • Hepatitis B if you might be exposed to blood, have sexual contact with the local population, be exposed through medical treatment, or stay longer than 6 months. (Hepatitis B is recommended for infants and for children 11-12 years of age who did not receive it as infants.)
  • Rabies, if you might be exposed to wild or domestic animals.
  • Typhoid, for visiting developing countries.

Malaria

Malaria is only present in the extreme south of China on the Southeast Asian border and Hainan Island. For prevention of Malaria, starting 4-6 weeks before your trip, start taking a antimalaria drug. Please ask your doctor which one he/she thinks is best. Protect yourself from mosquito bites using mosquito/insect repellant or spray.

Medicines to Bring

medicine
  • Bring over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicine if you have or get diarrhea easily.
  • Bring Ibuprofen, Motrin. Advil, or other types of mild pain relievers for headaches, toothaches, muscular aches, backaches, the common cold, menstrual cramps and fever reducers and mild body pain.

If you have a medical condition that requires you to carry certain medicines, customs regulations only allow you to carry enough for personal use for the length of your stay. Many medicines are available in China, so...

Bring Your Medical Records Along with You

All travelers are recommended to take their medical records along. In the event of an emergency your medical records will be of great assistance.

The medical record should include your blood type, immunization record, allergies, and any medications you are currently taking (both prescription and non-prescription), You should also include your doctor's name, address, phone number, emergency contact name and phone number, and your insurance company's name, address and phone number.

Hospitals in China

The major cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou have hospitals that will reach the standard of foreign hospital however the hospital systems differ considerably. Hospitals in other cities may not offer the same standards of hospitals as foreign countries.

If You Require Medical Assistance

In case of accident, most major cities will have a hospital with an accident and emergency ward, however, in more rural districts the nearest hospital may be a distance away so your best bet would be to call an ambulance. Outside of hours try a local hospital or in emergencies. Dial 120 for an ambulance which is a free call from any telephone.

Ambulances are not equipped with sophisticated technology, and seriously ill visitors are recommended to take a taxi to the nearest facility rather than wait for an ambulance.

In the event of a serious condition which requires hospitalization, your tour guide will do everything possible to ensure that you receive that best treatment possible. Please call your China Highlights travel advisor so that we can provide assistance.

Conditions Not Requiring Hospitalization

Clinics equipped with simple and general medical facilities are available in star-rated hotels, star-rated cruise ships and most of scenic spots in the city. For unexpected injuries or minor ailments, you can get first aid there.

Getting Treatment

On entering hospital all patients are required to pay a substantial deposit before any treatment will be administered. Nursing care in hospital is strictly limited to medical treatments so patients will require a person who can assist with all other activities. No food is supplied.

Most hospitals and medical facilities will require either a deposit, or payment up front.  Those in major cities may accept credit cards, but others may insist on cash.  They will not all recognise foreign medical insurance. We highly recommend that all travelers buy comprehensive travel insurance in their home country before departure. See our recommended China Travel Insurance.

A number of the larger cities have western style medical facilities with international and local staff. Some other hospitals in major Chinese cities have gaogan bingfang - wards which are equipped with reasonably up-to-date medical technology and physicians who are both knowledgeable and skilled. Many of these wards will  provide medical services to foreigners and have English-speaking doctors and nurses.  There are also some foreign-operated medical providers who cater to expatriates and visitors.

Rural Health Facilities and Chinese Health Improvement

Bottled Water Drink bottled, not tap, water to avoid sickness.

Facilities in rural areas are likely to be very limited. Take care in rural areas and seek medical assistance for serious conditions in the cities.

Government Health Initiatives

After the founding of New China in 1949 the Chinese government put the emphasis of medical work on the rural health services, disease prevention and health care and giving a boost to traditional Chinese medicine. Great efforts were devoted to setting up medical and public health institutions.

A nationwide public health network has now been basically formed and an adequate contingent of medical personnel has been established. China’s medical education system is complete, and a large group of medical experts has been trained.

Great Improvements in Public Health

By the end of 1999, there were 310,000 public health institutions (including clinics) with 3.16 million beds, of which 2.93 million beds were in hospitals and clinics. There were 4.46 million medical personnel, including 2.05 million doctors and 1.25 million nurses. The public health institutions, hospital and clinic beds and medical personnel increased by 83 percent, 58 percent and 81 percent, respectively, compared with those in 1978.

The technical level of public health has improved greatly, and the management and supervision of medical work have been strengthened. An urban and rural medical insurance system combining state planning and fee paying has been established. Traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine have been promoted simultaneously.

Rural health work has been improved, greatly contributing to the overall health of the population. The average life expectancy of Chinese people, the death rate of infants and childbirth death rates have almost reached the levels of developed countries. The incidence of many epidemic diseases has dropped considerably, and some endemic diseases are now under control.

Related Reading

Hi, I'm Gavin Van Hinsbergh
I updated this article on March 19, 2014
See all my travel articles
follow this pageChina Highlights

Questions and Answers About Keeping Healthy in China

April Offer $25 Coupon
  1. Send your inquiry before Apr. 30, 2014, and we will email you a $25 coupon.
  2. The coupon is valid till Dec. 31, 2014, for paying tour packages worth $250 or up.
  3. The coupon cannot be used for paying flight tickets, train tickets, hotel rooms and day trips.
Travel Advice or Question? Ask us here
Do you want to book a tour/hotel/Wi-Fi. etc.
Your Name Your Email