Medical Services for Expatriates in Shanghai

Health in Shanghai

Rest-assurred, basic health care is perfectly adequate in Shanghai, taking on the form of American-style medical centres. The good news is that the quality of services and availability are improving all the time as the number of expats increases.

Each expatriate community has its own services available locally. Obviously, the bigger the community - the more medical facilities.

The best way to find the right health care provider for you is by listening to recommendations from friends and colleagues. Then establish a relationship before an emergency situation occurs. Inform your employer and friends of your preferred choice and set up an emergency plan for you and your family which you should also mail home to a trusted friend or family member.

Expatriates are generally treated at one of the city’s Western-staffed and managed clinics by generalists or at designated foreigners' clinics in local hospitals, but facilities and treatment are limited at both. Foreigners' clinics are supposed to have English-speaking personnel, but usually the level of English is poor, and you should bring along a Chinese speaker to make sure you understand what needs to be done.

The care itself is usually competent, and very inexpensive compared to Western clinics and the West. Other hospitals will treat foreigners, but only in emergencies.

There are a number of private hospitals and clinics in Shanghai set up as joint-ventures. Quality, education and experience vary greatly as do equipment, services and medications available.

For more serious / complicated issues, patients usually return to their home countries or seek treatment in Hong Kong, Bangkok or Shanghai. Generally speaking, complicated health issues are best handled abroad.


Shanghai does not require any immunizations, but Hepatits A & B, Japanese encephalitis and rabies are recommended.  Ideally, these should be done before you arrive in the country, but if not, the clinics below can usually do them for you. Check before you arrive, as some immunizations may not be available.


Similarly, all the medication you might need over the counter and prescription should be brought with you, as not all medication can be found in Shanghai. The law requires import certificates with any medication that you send into the country (via a shipment, for example), although local health professionals say that it is rare for a customs officer to ask to see one. Medication that you carry with you does not fall into this category, but should have a prescription.




Health Problem Support Groups

Health problems support groups are run mostly by expats, and tend to be very individually-driven. There have been support groups issues as diverse as cancer and wives whose husbands have left them for Chinese girlfriends.

There are a number of expat support groups within the International Women's Associations.



Health Insurance

For reasons mentioned before, expatriates should have health insurance that includes repatriation (or at least travel to Hongkong for emergency treatment). Repatriation for medical care is also useful for those who may encounter medical emergencies while traveling abroad.

If your company does not provide a service for you, you should shop around to identify a health care provider that caters for all your different needs, such as for general health problems, children or dental services. Providers often often cheaper packages inside China than purchasing from your country of origin.

It is worth considering a comprehensive package that includes dental and doctor visits. A single consultation with a doctor will cost between 80 and 140 USD without medicine, so this could add up to a sizeable cost if you have children. See also Insurance.

Emergency Care

medical services Shanghai

In case of a medical emergency, it is best to teleTel the International SOS, with their team of Western and Western-trained doctors, or one of the Western medical clinics like Parkway Health, for advice. 

The U.S. and Australian Consulates also have nurses on staff, and they can assist in suggesting an appropriate course of action also. The Public Security Bureau's Division for Aliens can also help direct foreigners seeking emergency medical care.


Photo: Microsoft Office Clipart

Knowledgeable health care personnel suggest that in the event of an emergency, patients are transported to the hospital by private car or taxi. Ambulances are not adequately equipped, either with medical equipment or staff, who usually have little or no medical training.

If you contact SOS or one of the clinics, however, their staff may be able to accompany you.

Once you are at a local hospital, the care is competent; expatriates report that their cases are diagnosed accurately and treated appropriately.

Note: Shanghai United Family Hospital and Clinics, an established Beijing-based Western managed and staffed hospital has a 24-hour full service Emergency Room staffed by expatriate physicians and ambulance service.

Hospital Admission

Car Showroom in Shanghai Foreigners may go to designated Foreigner's Clinics at local hospitals, but it is a good idea to bring along a Chinese-speaker if you don't speak Chinese. Even if your doctor speaks English, the admissions nurse may not.

Referrals are not necessary, but if you do get one from a Western clinic, the visit will be smoother as the local hospital will understand exactly what's to be done. No payment is required until after your visit is complete, and prices are very low compared to the West.

It is a good idea to carry a credit card with a high limit just for emergencies.

Photo:enterAsia Art


Insurance companies in Shanghai require that payment is made first, and then claims and receipts sent to the insurance company. Only top hospitals like Ruijin and Huadong are recognized by local insurance companies, while some hospitals only accept a limited number of insurance companies. Check with your insurance company and your local health care provider.

Note: Shanghai hospitals are not up to the standards of Western hospitals - they are often dingy, with older equipment. As is the case everywhere, however, most physicians are competent, some are excellent, and many Shanghai expatriates swear by their Chinese doctors.

Local Hospitals

Shanghai has over 80 hospitals, but foreigners are technically only permitted to go to those with designated foreigners' clinics, listed below. These are Shanghai's top hospitals, but you may be referred to others for speciality treatments.

Western Clinics and Joint Ventures

First Aid/CPR/Home & Safety Training


See also Training Courses for Ayis

Health Specialists






Ear Nose Throat Specialist


Eye Specialist








Hearing Aid

Orthopedic Surgeon




Psychological Services/Counselling

Shanghai has several local psychiatry centers, but the doctors and therapists generally don't have a high level of English or an understanding of expatriate issues. For this, it is best to go to the Western clinics that have their own list of therapists and psychiatrists who are expat-focused. A new psychological counseling hotline has recently opened, Lifeline, which has trained staffers who will refer callers to the appropriate resources.

In addition, the major international schools either have a psychologist on staff, or have access to one. This is particularly useful in the wake of traumatic events that affect the community (as when a beloved tennis teacher died) and the world (9-11 and the Iraq war).


Radiologist/X-Ray Services


Respiratory Specialists


Vascular Surgeon


Blood Testing (HIV, Malaria, Blood Group)


Blood Banks


Allergy/Foodstuff Emergencies

If you or a family member has a food allergy, you will need to make an emergency plan upon arrival, with your selected medical provider. Local hospitals can handle this, but language is a problem, so rather than waste precious time explaining during a crisis, it is best to have the plan mapped out ahead of time. At this time you should also double-check that all medicines required are available, and if not, plan on bringing what you will need.

Shanghai's urban pollution, exacerbated by traffic and coal-burning in some areas in the winter, is bad news for asthmatics and those with dust allergies, who usually elect to live in the Pudong or Minhang suburbs, where the air is cleanest. When dining be aware that MSG is used often in local dishes and may cause allergic reactions especially for people with astma.


Nebulizers/Air Purifiers: See Shopping: Allergy Control Products

Many air purifier and nebulizers are made in Shanghai, and available here inexpensively.




While it is true that a few years back expats in Shanghai used to fly to Hong Kong, Singapore or back home to give birth, that is no longer the case. Shanghai now boasts a number of international hospitals that offer 5-star hotel-like services at their maternity wards, with English-speaking doctors and nurses, as well as local hospitals with very experienced doctors that offer both VIP wards as well as normal care.  Several VIP wards cater to foreigners and have a couple of doctors who speak English as well as one or two nurses in their staff.

However, at local hospitals, expect little English and vast cultural differences, from a more prevalent use of c-sections to less support for breastfeeding. This can be particularly scary if you deliver prematurely, as local hospitals can take a different approach to bonding with your child, making access infrequent and irregular. International hospitals come at a price, however, which you will need to ensure your insurance policy will cover.

As mentioned above, when deciding where to give birth, expatriates in Shanghai should double check with their insurance policy. Both prenatal and post-natal services can be very expensive at international hospitals and can well exceed many insurance policies’ limits. VIP wards tend to be more reasonably priced.

In a nutshell, before committing to give birth at any one single hospital, expatriates need to do their due diligence: from the detailed costs of prenatal care and delivery, the availability of packages, and their insurance coverage, to the level of care the different hospitals can offer you in the event of emergencies, including NICU facilities and the sort. There are lots of choices nowadays and a pregnant woman giving birth far away from family and friends needs to be comfortable and feel secure whatever her decision.

Parents in Shanghai
The information in this section was compiled by Bumps & Babes - the parenting site offering parents-to-be and parents of young children resources and information about giving birth, baby-care and family life in Shanghai.

Bumps & Babes also offers you the possibility to connect with other parents, experts, and professional speakers both on its website, and through the regular talks it organizes in Puxi and Pudong, ensuring you have all the answers you need to deliver safely and care for your family in Shanghai.





Obtaining Western medicine can be a challenge in Shanghai - even over-the-counter medication. China has strict rules on importing medicine, and it is not unusual for the Western pharmacies attached to the clinics to have limited medication, or standard medication at very high prices.

Many expatriates bring back over-the-counter medication they might need. Particularly, children's cough and cold medicines and allergy medicines. Of course, you can get your family or friends back home to post these to you. Alternatively, give Chinese medicine a try.



Alternative Treatments

Parking in Shanghai

Traditional Chinese medicine is available in Shanghai through several established TCM hospitals and Parkway Health (with an English-speaking doctor).  TCM is a holistic approach to health care that is being embraced in the West, and some if its practices, like acupuncture, are increasingly accepted in Western medicine.

It is useful to do some research and go to an English speaking practitioner the first few times, so that you understand the process. If you do decide to go to a local practitioner, make sure they are recommended.

Health concerns with unreliable TCM doctors include hygiene, sterilization of needles for acupuncture (even packaged needles may have been recycled), and herbal medications.


Photo: enterAsia Art





There are literally hundreds of acupuncturists throughout Shanghai, and the best are booked ahead for months. Acupuncturists can be found at the traditional Chinese medicine hospitals, acupuncture departments of universities teaching TCM, and at the locations below:



Phone: 6445 5999


Call for locations

Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture Department

274 Central Zhijiang Rd

Tel: 6417 1226


Alcohol Treatment and Support

For some expatriates, the pressures and stresses of expat life are the catalyst for a downward spiral with alcohol. Shanghai hosts a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous for those with drinking problems, and Al-Anon for families.