Sick in China: What Should You Do?

Sunday, December 21, 2014 | By:

China is one of those countries that have totally different rules when it comes to everyday life. It is important to read up on local issues and culture, as well as have a Chinese contact or two, for emergency cases. Everyone who has stayed in China for longer than a week or so has asked themselves, “What if I get sick here?”

Getting sick is always worrying, but in foreign countries, it can be downright terrifying.

Before coming to China, you should always have an emergency kit with all the necessary medicines: aspirin, something to help with food poisoning (god you will need it here) and something for symptoms of flu. When first arriving to China, some people may have a hard time adjusting to the new climate. It is very common for some to get sick very easily, and surprisingly, often some people have cases where Chinese medicines have no effect on them at first (or vice versa with Western medication).

But if you actually get sick, is it that deadly? Students and those on study programs should contact the agency that brought them here, whether it is a company or university. They might help you with medication if it’s just a headache or stomach ache, and in most cases they can help you go to the nearest hospital. Those working at companies should ask their supervisors about what to do in emergencies.

When visiting hospitals, bring your passport and be aware that you will probably need to pay upfront for any treatment. If you have insurance, it is likely to be reimbursed later. Hospitals in China vary in quality, but in first tier cities you can usually find modern, well-equipped hospitals.

Of course, the language barrier and the fact that you are a foreigner might not make the hospital experience the easiest experience in China.

Private clinics are convenient for those that do not know a word of Chinese, most of doctors speak a certain level of English, and even if they don’t there is always a receptionist that will do all the translations for you. Private clinics are very expensive I must warn you, but if you have money to spare and no time to waste while waiting for the doctor, a private clinic is all you need. It is quite common for doctors to try to make patients pay extra money for unnecessary procedures, so be on guard for this, as they often will try to make you pay for things you don’t need.

In case you have an emergency and you are not able to travel to the hospital by yourself, the emergency line for calling an ambulance is 120, but if you do not speak Chinese, this line is not an option.

If you are feeling sick but you think seeing a doctor is not necessary, Chinese pharmacies have polite staff, that will generally make you feel very comfortable.  If you are able to explain what medicine you need they will show you all the spectrum: the Western version of the medicine under it’s Chinese name, as well as the traditional Chinese medicine. Be wary of trying medicines when you do not have a prescription for them. Also be careful for attempts to sell you more expensive versions of medicine.

And the most important advice of all, if you are sick drink more hot water.

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