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Health in Shanghai: a Complete Guide

All you need to look after yourself in the city


Joe O Neill

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Health and Medicine

While Shanghai is a city that often makes the news for pollution and food scandals,it’s more than possible to stay healthy in the city. Read on to find out how.

Surviving the health check:

If you're planning to live in Shanghai on a work or travel visa, you'll need to pass the health check to complete the visa process. The place to do this is at the Shanghai International Travel Healthcare Center:

Where: Shanghai International Travel Healthcare Center

Address: No. 15, Jinbang Road (Hami Road), Shanghai

How to get there: Take line 10 to Shuicheng Road subway station. From the station, you can take a taxi to the healthcare center;the cost of the ride should be less than 20 RMB. The tests themselves are relatively straightforward and should take between 40 minutes to 1 hour during non-busy times.

What to bring: 

A completed health examination form (your employer or school will usually help provide this form) 

A valid passport (with photocopies of the photo page and visa pages) 

Four recent 2-inch color photos (these photos can be taken on-site for a fee of around 25 RMB) 

Fee: At the time of writing the cost of the health check is 640RMB (470 RMB for students). You can save money and time by having the results of the health check mailed to you for a small additional fee. Credit cards are not accepted, so be sure to bring enough cash with you. 

Supporting documents:

For work visa: photocopy of business license or registration certificate. 

For student visa: photocopy of student ID or admission notice

For accompanying family members: photocopy of family members' business license

When to go:

You need to book a time in advance before going for your health check. Your company or school will usually arrange this for you. If you do need to organise the health check yourself, you can make reservations here. 


Try not to eat for at least 5 hours before the health check. Water is OK. 

Bring enough cash to cover taxis,fees, and a little extra for photos, mailing fees and just in case there are any extra charges. 

What to expect: 

The procedure involves depositing your belongings in a safe and changing into a gown and slippers. You'll then be waved from room to room, and will quickly meet a number of doctors with varying levels of friendliness and English ability. Along the way, you'll be tested for height, weight and blood pressure. There is also a vision, blood, and heart test, an X-Ray and a sonogram of the organs. 

Bad health? No problem. 

If jogging before your morning muesli and 5 portions of fruit a day isn't your thing, don't worry. The health check is more a screening for major diseases and conditions than it is a health test, as this article testifies. 

Food,water and air:

Tap water in Shanghai is ok for washing and brushing teeth, but not recommended for drinking. Even after boiling, Shanghai’s water contains heavy metals that may impact health. If you are particularly concerned about the impact of Shanghai’s water on you and your family, you can install a water filter in your home. For many people, though, sticking to bottled drinking water is enough of a precaution.

The same principles that make up a healthy diet still apply when you arrive in Shanghai.A diet based on fresh fruit and vegetables will boost your immune system and help you fight off bugs and infections. Fresh vegetables can be bought locally or online through companies such as Fields.

Many expats are wary of local restaurants. Whether you choose to eat at expat-orientated places, high-end Chinese eateries, or hole-in-the-wall noodle shops, you stand a better chance of not getting sick if the restaurant is popular and the food is freshly prepared; a busy restaurant not only suggests the food is good, it also means that ingredients will be used quicker and are likely to be fresher.

Shanghai’spolluted air is a real issue. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to mitigate the risks. And Shanghai’s pollution isn’t nearly as bad as it could be; China’s industrial heartlands have it significantly worse.


Crime, safety and scams


Take great care when crossing the road. Shanghai’s traffic system takes getting used to.Even on a green light, be careful as you cross; cars may still turn through the light, perform U-turns, or flout the rules completely and drive straight on.

Shanghai is overall a city with a low crime rate. The most common crimes are petty theft and pickpocketing. Stories of nabbed wallets and absent Iphones abound. Lower your risks by staying aware of your surroundings and your belongings. Pay attention on packed subway trains and buses. Violent incidents are relatively rare, but do happen, particularly around clubs and bars and late at night.

The tea scam is one of several well-known scams.  Watch out for friendly locals who pull you into conversation, especially around tourist areas. If they approach you, seem friendly, and invite you to tea, they are almost certainly scam-artists. This scam often begins with the tricksters asking unsuspecting tourists to help them take a photo. It ends with a bill for hundreds of dollars which you will be pressured into paying.


Health Insurance

Though local hospitals are cheap in China, international hospitals are expensive. This means a good healthcare plan is essential. Local hospitals often require you to queue and lack English speaking doctors; they may be fine for minor ailments,but in the case of serious illness or injury, the last thing anyone needs is a long waiting list and a culture barrier. 

Health insurance plans with companies such as Cigna and Aetna give you a card you can carry on your person. You can then show the card when you go to hospital and your treatment should be taken care of; each insurance plan has a set of terms and conditions that details which kinds of healthcare are covered,and which hospitals/clinics the card can be used at.  High end plans should cover treatment at all international hospitals in Shanghai, including expensive hospitals such as the Shanghai United Family hospital.

Another point to check on your insurance policy is the benefits cover. Ensure that there is adequate outpatient cover, and that the area of cover includes China and any other countries you may be spending time in. Most policies come with a maximum pay-out of eight million US dollars for inpatient treatment, which should be enough to cover all contingencies. A good plan should also pay for emergency evacuation. You might need to be evacuated if you fall ill in a remote area, or if you become sick in Shanghai and need to be repatriated.

If you have additional family members to insure, or your work doesn’t offer health insurance, you can arrange health insurance yourself. Buying insurance independently, you are free to adjust the policy according to your personal needs. You can approach insurance companies independently or use a broker. A good broker will give you a range of options as they work with several insurance companies and understand the market. Reputable brokers also help with any claim disputes that may arise.

Check that your broker is legally licensed to sell insurance in China. Also be careful to buy a legal plan: some reputable international companies sell insurance in China although they are not registered to trade in China. These health insurance policies may work, but if there is a dispute you will have no options to resolve it. Make sure your insurance provider and your broker are both legally registered.

The price of your insurance will be determined by whether you take options such as dental insurance, as well as by your age and any pre-existing conditions. For a thirty-year old, a general plan will cost 15,000 RMB to 25,000 RMB annually. For a fifty year old, a plan with the same cover might cost 40,000 RMB a year.

With health insurance being both expensive and essential, it can be tough if you’re on a budget. One option for those in excellent health is accident insurance.This kind of insurance doesn’t cover anything except accidents, but can cost as little as 1,000 RMB a year. If you choose this kind of insurance,be aware that a range of conditions that can happen to young, healthy people,from food poisoning to malaria, won’t be covered. If you choose to travel to remote areas or nearby countries on accidental insurance, consider supplementing it with travel insurance.

For short term visitors to China, a sound travel insurance plan might be a good option. It’s often better to buy travel insurance before leaving home, as some companies won’t offer travel insurance if you have already left your home country.


Further reading: 

Your must-know about health insurance

Thanks to Peter Wang for his information on health insurance. 

Vaccinations in Shanghai:

For advice on whether you will need vaccinations for China, you should contact your doctor in advance before you leave for Shanghai. If, however,there isn’t time for you to be vaccinated before you go to China, or you are in China long term and need to update your vaccinations, then it is possible to be immunised in Shanghai.

There are several hospitals that offer vaccinations within Shanghai.One of these is the Shanghai International Travel Healthcare Center: the same hospital that provides health checks. Vaccinations here are reported to be reasonably priced.

For advice about what immunisations and health precautions are recommended before you visit China, you should consult your doctor before you leave home. For additional information, you can also visit the CDC website.

Further reading:

Vaccinations:For Shanghai and in Shanghai

What to do if you fall ill in Shanghai 

Whether you're dealing with a serious illness or a mild cough or cold, it's best to be prepared. Here are some tips on what to do when you're unwell in Shanghai. 


Local pharmacies can be recognised by a green cross sign hanging outside.  Hours vary but pharmacies generally open between 7-10 am and close between 7-10 at night. Some local pharmacies have a 24-hour service; even if the pharmacy looks closed, you can still knock on the window and someone will assist you.

Bring a Chinese friend or Chinese dictionary (if you download a translation app on your phone, you’ll always be ready for this sort of scenario. Scroll to the bottom of this article for some tips). China has strict medicine import rules, so most medicines are local brands. This means that if you ask for Imodium, you’ll be stuck, but if you admit to having lādùzi (diarrhoea) they’ll be able to help.

Hospitals, clinics, and emergencies 

China doesn’t traditionally have a GP system. This means that even very minor ailments are often dealt with at hospitals. Some of the international healthcare companies in Shanghai, such as Parkway Health, do have small clinics which operate in a similar way to a general practitioner’s in the West.

The number of the local ambulance is 120, but they may well not be able to speak English. It’s a good idea to learn to say your address and the name and address of your preferred hospital in Chinese. 

Carry a card with you at all times written in English and Chinese. On this card should be written in both languages:

  • Please take me to hospital
  • Your preferred hospital(s) name, address and phone number 
  • Phone numbers of emergency services (police, fire, ambulance and the hospital emergency hotline if they have one) 
  • Your name, your next-of-kin, and your insurance policy information

Other precautions you can take include: 


  • Having a list of your family medical history , any allergic reactions to medications, any previous conditions and your height, weight and blood type in English and Chinese
  • Keeping at least 10,000 RMB in cash available in case you need to settle a cash bill 
  • Registering with your consulate and having their emergency phone number saved into your phone 
  • Learning CPR skills and basic first aid 
  • Buying all the components of a first aid kit from your local pharmacy and having them to hand in your home, car and office 


The Shanghai ambulance is an independent service. They are 24-hour and there is a small charge when you get to the hospital. If the sick person can be moved safely,another option is to get a taxi to the hospital.

Some hospitals such as the Shanghai United Family Hospital have an emergency line.When you get to Shanghai, call the hospitals close to you and ask them if they have an emergency number. Also check that you are covered at those hospitals under your health plan.

You can find a list of hospitals and clinics in Shanghai here. 


Emergency numbers:


Ambulance: 120


Shanghai United Family Hospital 24-hour Emergency Hotline: 2216 3999


Police: 110


Fire: 119


Car accident: 122


Shanghai helpline (may be able to help with translation if you are at the hospital): 962288,,,, ,, , 


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