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China is truly a land of extremes. You have the breathtaking space-age style of Shanghai, the constant bustle of Hong Kong and then the natural beauty of the Li River and Yellow Mountains. China has the largest population of any in the world, and each region is truly like a country all on its own.

Because of this, you need to account for every situation on your travels, so let’s take a closer look at how travel insurance can protect you against the unexpected.

Do I need travel insurance for China?

To answer this, you should ask yourself whether you can afford to travel anywhere without travel insurance, because trouble has a habit of striking when you least expect it! What happens if you break your ankle climbing the Great Wall of China, lose your passport in transit or your flight from Chengdu to Guangzhou gets cancelled due to bad weather? You could be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars out of pocket in medical bills and other expenses.

Travel insurance is specifically designed to provide financial protection when things go wrong, so you can enjoy your trip when things go right. You can’t put a price on peace of mind!

great wall in china

Here are a few fundamental reasons you should consider travel insurance for your trip to China.

Medical expenses

If you require healthcare services while in China, you’ll be grateful to have a travel insurance policy to shoulder the cost, especially if you need medical evacuation or repatriation (which can cost thousands of dollars upfront). An international travel insurance policy will keep you covered in the event of a medical emergency.

It’s important to keep in mind that while hospitals in major cities occasionally have departments specifically for foreigners, you may struggle to find English-speaking doctors and nurses in rural areas, and medical care in those areas may be less than adequate.1

Furthermore, you should be aware of the health risks in China, which can include:

  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Avian influenza, or ‘bird flu’
  • Malaria
  • Rabies
  • Hand, foot and mouth disease.1

You may want to consider getting vaccinations before departing Australia. Consult a doctor or visit a travel health clinic a month before departure for the most up-to-date information.

Another important note to make is that exclusions may apply to any existing medical conditions you have, depending on your level of cover.

Driving

Roads in China are notoriously busy and can be in poor condition,1 which could increase your likelihood of getting into a car accident. If this happens, your rental car company would usually charge you an excess to cover repair expenses.

Travel insurance can help pay for this excess if your rental car is damaged or stolen, although this depends on your level of cover.

Before driving in China, you’ll need a Chinese driving license; mainland Chinese authorities don’t accept International Driving Permits and foreign licenses.1 If you’re going to China for less than 90 days but are still interested in obtaining a licence, you might be eligible for a provisional license. Ensure you check these licensing requirements if you hire a car.

Theft and loss of belongings

The risk of potential theft in China is the same as in other bustling countries. This means that getting your mobile phone stolen on the train by an opportunistic pickpocket isn’t improbable, and neither is the likelihood of losing your suitcase in transit. That’s where travel insurance comes in; it could cover your luggage, travel documents (e.g., passport) and personal belongings from theft, damage and loss.

Keep in mind that you should always keep your passport on you in case you’re asked by authorities to present it. However, passers-by then have a chance to snatch your passport, so be precautious and keep this document out of sight whenever possible.

Cancellations and cost of delays

Despite the increased capacity at Chinese airports, flight delays are common. According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, delays are currently improving, with data revealing that the average length of domestic flight delays decreased to 9 minutes in 2020.2

Travel insurance ensures you aren’t caught off-guard by potential flight delays, especially in population-heavy countries like China. With this is mind, think about what you’d do if, for example, you missed your connecting flight from Beijing to Hong Kong and had to finance an overnight stay in a hotel to catch the next available flight. Comprehensive travel insurance can provide financial protection for trip cancellations or delays (up to a monetary limit) before you even take-off.

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What should my travel insurance policy for China include?

Usually, you can choose between single-trip and annual cover travel insurance. Single-trip policies cover a singular trip (and potentially layovers as well) from the day you purchase the policy until you return to your residence in Australia.

An annual or multi-trip policy, on the other hand, generally covers any number of overseas expeditions taken within a year. However, the policy will stipulate what the maximum trip length is for each journey. This maximum trip length will vary – some policies could be as low as 15 days, some as high as 90 days. It’s important to ensure that your longest trip doesn’t exceed the policy’s stipulated maximum trip length.

Generally, travel insurance can provide cover for:

  • Overseas medical and hospital expenses
  • Trip cancellation, amendment and delay costs
  • Lost, damaged or stolen luggage and personal belongings
  • Theft of cash
  • Additional expenses (e.g., accommodation costs if your flights are unexpectedly cancelled)
  • Rental car excess
  • Some sports and activities
  • Personal liability (e.g., your actions result in someone’s injury and you owe compensation)
  • Permanent disability and loss of income
  • Accidental death
  • Dependents under 21 years of age (e.g., your children)
  • 24-7 emergency assistance.

Your travel insurance cover is subject to the limits, terms, conditions and exclusions outlined in your Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). Not every policy covers all the above, so be sure to read the PDS to know what you’re covered for.

China travel insurance: Exclusions and what to watch out for

Similar to any other insurance product, travel insurance comes with a set of common exclusions and doesn’t usually cover:

  • Travelling against government advice or warning (these are listed on Smartraveller)
  • Negligence leading to loss or damage of personal belongings and valuables (e.g. forgetting your luggage at the taxi rank)
  • Trip cancellations due to change of mind or unpreparedness (e.g. forgetting to renew your passport or get a visa on time)
  • Extreme or high-risk sports and activities (these may be eligible for cover through optional extras)
  • Hire car excess if the accident was caused by disobeying road rules or if the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Injury sustained from paid work
  • Drug or alcohol-related claims
  • Loss or injuries from unlawful activities
  • Loss or injuries from unapproved pre-existing conditions
  • Acts of war, terrorism or civil unrest.

Top travel tips for China

Check your passport and visa requirements

If you’re travelling to China as an Australian citizen, you should make sure your passport has at least six months’ validity from your planned return date, or you risk being refused entry into the country.

You also typically need a visa to travel to China.1 Sometimes, you may be able to get a transit visa on arrival in China for short visits, but you’ll otherwise need a full and valid visa if your trip is longer than three days. You’ll also need to have your visa before you depart from Australia. There are numerous types of visas, so you’ll need to check what type you need (you can find a list on the Chinese Embassy’s website).

There are also different visa rules and requirements for areas like Hong Kong and Macau, and you require permission from the Chinese government to enter Tibet.

Check for travel advice and alerts

The Australian Government offers advice, alerts and the latest updates for more than 170 countries to help Australians avoid difficulties abroad. By having a travel insurance plan, you’re covered in the case of natural disasters, as long as they occurred after you purchased your policy. Regularly check the advice for China in the time before you leave on your trip, so you’re not caught out if the situation suddenly changes. You can even subscribe to Smartraveller to receive updates via text or email.

Always have cash on hand

While major credit cards are widely accepted in China, you should know that some smaller cities may not.1 As such, it might be a good idea to keep some cash handy just in case or be prepared to take regular trips to the ATM to withdraw Chinese yuan (renminbi).

Also, be sure to consider a credit or debit card with low or 0% international transaction fees, so you don’t get charged for making transactions overseas.

Tourists have been targeted by scammers in China as well.1 Common scams include credit card skimming, but some more elaborate scams involve tourists being invited for a massage, teahouse service or a café before being given an inflated bill they must pay before they can leave. Travellers have also been drugged and robbed. It’s important to remain vigilant and look out for suspicious activity.

Research local Chinese laws and customs

You’ll be bound by China’s local laws and penalties the moment your plane lands in the country. Some may appear harsh by Australian standards, but some of their legal traditions have been in place for centuries, and you’ll need to obey them all. A person aged 14 years and over is considered an adult under the law in China.1

So, do your research around what acts are forbidden and punishable by law. Sanctions for serious drug offences are especially severe in China.

The following activities are also illegal in China:

  • Participating in certain religious activities like preaching, distributing literature and associating with unapproved religious groups
  • Gambling and the promotion of gambling activities
  • Taking pictures of military or government buildings without permission from local authorities.1

The internet in China is also censored, so you may not be able to access common websites like Google, Facebook or YouTube.

Stephen Zeller, General Manager

Top insurance tips for China from our expert Stephen Zeller

  • Consider the cover you may need for medical expenses, cancellation fees, luggage and any rental vehicle excess, as well as any additional cover you may need for cruise or ski holidays. With all this in mind, do your research and buy a policy that suits your holiday needs.
  • Consider choosing a higher excess to reduce your premium. But remember that your excess is what you pay out-of-pocket if you need to claim, so always choose a manageable excess amount.
  • Always declare any pre-existing medical conditions as part of your travel insurance application to ensure you have the cover you need and there are no surprises if you are injured or become ill while travelling.
  • Make copies of all your important documents (e.g., passport, ID cards) and leave them with someone at home in case you lose them overseas.
  • If you plan to travel more than once throughout the year, you may find greater value in purchasing annual cover, which is travel insurance that covers all your trips for a full year and remember to check the maximum travel days covered, per trip.

Compare travel insurance

Looking for travel insurance to protect you on your Chinese adventure? Use Compare the Market’s free comparison tool to compare levels of cover, benefits, excesses and more from a range of policies. Just enter in some details about your trip to get started!

If you’re thinking of travelling somewhere else in Asia, you can browse our Asia destinations hub. Alternatively, check out our travel insurance guides for different countries.

Sources

1 Smartraveller – China. Accessed May 2022
2 Civil Aviation Administration of China – Statistical Bulletin of Civil Aviation Industry Development in 2020. Accessed May 2022.

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