Have a pet? Then you know how expensive their vet bills can be. One minute they are tearing around the house, chewing on anything laying around. The next minute, they are having surgery to remove the sole of a shoe from their stomach. Or, heaven forbid, they hurt someone else. Then what?
Well, there is pet insurance in China. It’s not common. According to China International Pet Show, a professional pet exhibition company, less than 1% of pets in China are insured.
And it’s not easy to get. We spent more than a week trying to find reliable, direct ways to buy pet insurance, only learned that it is an opaque, extremely frustrating world.
What we did find is that pet insurance only dates back a little more than 15 years in China, and that was liability insurance, in case your pet injures a stranger. Medical insurance for pets is even newer, starting in 2014. Because of that, very few people are fluent in the ins and outs of pet insurance, including the insurance companies themselves. But we found some options. Let’s get into them.
If you already have a pet medical insurance from your home country and its coverage is transferable, then it should cover your pet in China. Ask the company and the vet about making claims. And double-check if your vet can provide a copy of the pet’s medical history and a receipt in English.
How old is your pet? How healthy? Does it have hereditary diseases or chronic health issues? Is your dog very naughty and likely to get into accidents? Or super grumpy and might hurt someone if you’re not careful?
There are many third-party companies (or "platforms" as they call themselves) in China that specialize in pet insurance, but they are not actually insurance companies or brokers. These agencies are "partner promoters" for certain insurance products — at the end of the day, your claims will still be handled by the insurance company they promote for. These agencies will also get involved in the claims process.
Is that a bad thing? Well, first of all, a lot of pet insurance packages work like a membership card — the discount or coverage on the pet’s medical bill is considered a "membership perk". But it’s highly unreliable. If they go out of business one day — and these companies do, frequently — you have nowhere to turn to.
Secondly, their partnerships with vet clinics are often unstable; if the partnership goes bad, your regular vet may suddenly be taken off their list of designated service hospitals.
We’ve called many vet clinics around town; this is common.
Also, their service quality is not regulated. If they decide to be unhelpful, there’s nothing you can really do.
The insurance doesn’t just start covering your bills immediately. The waiting period ranges from a week to a month, depending on the policies of your insurer. Don’t expect to buy it today and use it tomorrow.
Insurance companies ask for a new chip to be inserted under your pet’s skin so they can make sure the animal getting the treatment is actually the animal you have bought insurance for. If you’ve got a dog license in Shanghai, then your canine friend is already chipped. But the insurance chip is different, which means you will need a second chip. It is requested for cats as well. The insurer will point you to designated vets to get the chip.
Purchasing insurance and understanding insurance are two different matters. It’s awful enough to clarify every little detail; you won’t want to deal with that using broken Chinese. Even the easiest DIY method requires high Chinese proficiency. A broker might be the way forward.
Not a lot of insurance brokers who sell to expats also do pet insurance but we called around and found one: Orix Insurance, an online insurance intermediary that specializes in customized insurance. They explicitly said that they could do both liability and medical insurance for pets, on request.
There are two types of insurance for pet owners: the third-party liability insurance and pet medical insurance. Depending on your needs, you can get either or both.
Third-party liability insurance is often categorized under Property Insurance. It covers the damage caused by your dog or cat if it hurts someone or damages their valuables (it may or may not cover the medical bill for that person). It puts a limit on the breed of your dog — no American pitbulls, for example — and will not cover all pets.
Chinese insurance companies don’t sell pet liability insurance to non-Chinese pet owners. The only one we found for non-Chinese buyers is offered by German company Allianz — now called Allianz Jingdong in China, one of the largest insurance providers in the world. What they offer is actually pet medical insurance with included liability insurance. Cost for cats range from 1,000rmb to 1,500 rmb per year. For dogs, it starts from 1,300rmb to 1,700rmb.
Visit their website or call 400-650-0557 to ask for more details or make a purchase. They also have a WeChat account: AWP_Broker (养宠无忧宠物险)
China Taiping Life Insurance also offer a pet liability insurance called "宠爱有+ (chong ai you jia)" for 29.9rmb per year. However, you can’t make a purchase by yourself. It’s only sold through China Taiping agents, who are contract promoters working for the company. It's like hunting Bigfoot — we can’t tell you how to find them because they don’t advertise their products. This is the extremely annoying part about the pet insurance world. If we had a contact, we would give it to you. But we don’t.
This works exactly like your own health insurance. The lower the deductible, the higher your premium. Depending on the age, health condition and the breed of your dog/cat, your premium will vary.
Option 1: Purchase a Medical Package From Your Vet
The packages sold at vet clinics are not insurance. Technically, they are a medical service package for one clinic involving an annual fee that differs according to the level of perks you receive. In Chinese, this arrangement is referred to as a baozhang ka (保障卡).
The benefit with these medical packages is that it’s easy and straight-forward and works best if they happen to be sold at your long-time vet clinic. You could avoid the often arduous claiming process with the insurance company.
The popular English-speaking vet clinics in Shanghai like PAW Veterinary Clinic and Concordia Pet Care don’t offer this type of medical package. But double check with your current vet: from talking to different vet clinics around town, we learned that many clinics don’t promote these packages unless asked.
One good option is offered by a Chinese conglomerate that specializes in pet medical care, The New Ruipeng Pet Healthcare Group. They own over 1,300 vet clinics in China, and many popular clinic chain brands in Shanghai, including: Ruipeng Veterinary Clinic, Vet AnAn, Puppy Town Animal Hospital, Ai-Bi Pet Hospital, Dr. Pet Vet Clinic, and Doctors Beck & Stone.
New Ruipeng’s medical service package can be used across these chains. The annual fee of the package varies depending on the age of the cat or dog, and it covers a health checkup, a rabies shot, vaccines, deworming medicine, 60% off on medical bills and 70% off on meds. They do partnerships with different pharmaceutical companies such as Zoetis, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Bayer for the drugs included in the package — prices will differ accordingly. For a dog 1-7 years of age, the package starts at 1,499rmb per year. For cats 1-7 years of age, it starts at 1,599rmb.
You can make a purchase by visiting one of the venues from the chains mentioned above. Ask the reception for more info.
Or, if you’re confident enough, purchase directly from their WeChat. Search for "阿闻宠物 (awen chongwu)", go into their mini App homepage and click the tab on the lower right that says "保障会员卡 (baozhang huiyuan ka)" to select your package. Their customer service hotline is: 400-688-6120.
Option 2: Purchase from China Continent Insurance Through Alipay
China Continent Insurance is one of the earliest insurers to offer pet medical insurance. They are now partnering with Alipay, which allows you to make a purchase directly on your phone. No chip implantation required. You only need to upload a few pictures of your pet.
Their insurance is for pets from three months to 10 years old. The premiums are at 199rmb, 399rmb, or 799rmb, with a standard deductible of 200rmb and different levels of maximum one-time compensation. You get to claim 60% of the total medical bill if you go to a designated vet clinic. Quite a few vets on SmartShanghai’s directory like Shenpu Pet Hospital, Petshome and Advanced Vet Care Veterinary Hospital are on their list.
We haven’t personally tested it, although vet clinics around town says that they have customers who use it. As always, be cautious.
How to Purchase through Alipay:
Open Alipay. Then, search for "大地宠物保险 (dadi chongwu baoxian)" and click the small text that says "宠物医疗险 (chongwu yiliao xian)". The system will automatically use your name and passport number stored in Alipay.
Register your pet. Click this tab that says "添加被保宠物 (tianjia beibao chongwu)" and follow the prompts.
Confirm by clicking the big blue tab that says "确认投保 (queren toubao)". You can see the list of designated vet clinics by clicking "查看服务机构 (chakan fuwu jigou)”.
To make a claim, go into "我的 (wo de)" in Alipay. There’s a tab that says "蚂蚁保险 (mayi baoxian)", and then on the upper left corner next to your personal icon, there’s a small text that says "全部保单 (quanbu baodan)". This is where it lives.
Or call China Continent Insurance’s service hotline at 95590. Depending on how complex your case is, it takes anywhere from 3 to 13 business days to process.