The emergency number (police, ambulance, fire) in Hong Kong is 999. We hope you’ll never need it. If you do, they’ll speak English and help will arrive very quickly. You might want to write down the name in English and Chinese characters of your nearest hospital in case you want to take a taxi, but saying ‘hospital’ and demonstrating your stricken state should work fine too.
Overall, you’ll find Hong Kong medical facilities and services excellent – there’s a reason it has the world’s second-highest life expectancy despite increasing pollution and a dense urban population. Diet is healthy (or it can be – expat life can involve a lot of work meals and late-night drinking) and people have good habits. There are very few obese people around. Since the SARS epidemic in 2003, health authorities have become extremely motivated to get on top of infectious disease, and have been tested by bird flu scares since, which means procedures and systems are in place. Health education is good, and you’ll see little spitting or uncovered coughing. You’ll also notice people wearing surgical masks – this admirable practice is so they don’t infect others with their cold. There are no required immunisations, but experts recommend jabs for hepatitis A and B and typhoid, particularly if you plan to travel around the region.
The healthcare system is also among the best in the world, with advanced facilities and technologies, and subsidies making it very affordable for Hong Kong residents – which includes you, once you have your Hong Kong Identity Card. There’s a British-style GP system, meaning you see your local doctor for basic complaints. For more serious problems, a public hospital will do a great job for almost any ailment or injury you may suffer, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg (in either sense). They may not be big on bedside manner or speak perfect English, and may be brusque and not over-inclined to listen to what you have to say, but rest assured that the medical care itself is excellent and leaves little to desire in comparison with private care. Waiting times for non-emergencies can be trying and there’s little privacy though, plus uninspiring hospital food.
Doctors love to prescribe drugs no matter how small the ailment, and most hospitals have their own pharmacies for filling them. Mannings and Watsons are the most prominent drugstores, and many most have in-store pharmacies too. You’ll find almost all the medications you’re used to and can ask pharmacists for local equivalents if not.
Alternatively, there are also private hospitals and clinics, all extremely plush and comfortable. If your employer is covering your health insurance, this is a great way to go; but as mentioned above, the gap in terms of actual quality of care is pretty small. With the exception of specialists for some serious diseases, you’re paying for perfect English, privacy, immediate service, better food and more comfortable surroundings. Of course, these are nothing to be sneezed at and you’ll enjoy excellent facilities if you go private. These are some of the most expensive medical services in the world, so make sure you discuss this in advance of agreeing the details of your employment package, or shop around for international insurance yourself in advance.
Pre-natal and maternity leave is excellent and essentially free, though you have to give birth in your nearest hospital rather than choose yourself. You have nothing at all to fear about giving birth in Hong Kong. You can also go private, with the same advantages as above. One thing to bear in mind is that the increasing numbers of women from mainland China choosing to give birth in Hong Kong – a controversial and politically delicate trend – means maternity beds both public and private get booked up very early. Book one as soon as you know you’re pregnant.
Dental care is all private, and a little pricey. Local doctors are fine, but stick to the more established chains. As ever, private expat specialists are available too.
While far less popular than on the mainland, TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is fascinating, and can be effective where Western medicine fails, or used in conjunction with it. It’s not snake oil (literally or figuratively): medicine is produced in laboratories and clinically proven to be effective.