Foreigners remain lukewarm to China’s social security scheme

Hu Xiaoyi, vice-minister of human resources and social security. Photo:
Hu Xiaoyi, vice-minister of human resources and social security. Photo:

Two and a half years after China’s Social Insurance Law rolled out, an action that saw the extension of the country’s social security programs to foreigner works, only about 20% of expats working in China had joined.

Hu Xiaoyi, vice-minister of human resources and social security, told China Daily that more than 200,000 expats have participated in various social insurance programs covering basic pension, medical, unemployment, working injury and maternity benefits. “This is a small ratio,” Hu said.

The China Daily also interviewed 26-year-old William Willcox, an English teacher from the UK, who has participated in the social insurance plan since he started working in China two years ago. He explained he “found most of the insurance plans of little importance.”

“I don’t think an unemployment plan would help foreigners. If we are unemployed, we lose our visas and rights to stay in China,” Willcox said.

He said he gave up claiming for medical expenses after he realized the procedure was too complicated when he went to a hospital in Shanghai.

For a pension, he said he would not work longer than 15 years in China, the minimum period to benefit from the endowment insurance.

“I have plans to stay in China for a few years. However, I see myself returning to the EU in the near future, as social welfare is better there,” he added. [source]


  1. The whole of expat welfare payments has been poorly managed by the Central Government, in passing the directive to local governments to enact. This means it is enforced and mandatory in some cities (Beijing) and not yet in others (Shanghai). This encourages expats to ignore it even though these payments are supposed to be mandatory. The low figure of 20% therefore is more to do with poor administration of the matter rather than any expats ignoring it, although there are some who do.
    I suspect the current status quo will remain for awhile until the Central Government either cracks down nationally or decides it was badly thought out and restructures the whole thing.
    It’d be interesting to see what punishments would be meted out to any expat who should have contributed but didn’t. At present both the employer and the employee would face fines for non-payment yet it remains unclear if any other sanctions such as non-issuance of work permit or even deportation would follow.
    Meanwhile, if your city demands you pay – you should do so. If they don’t as yet – enjoy it while you can. – Chris

  2. Anybody know in which cities, as of Oct. 2014, the social insurance is currently being enforced (or about to start)? Hangzhou? Ningbo? Thanks!

  3. In Shanghai it is said to be ‘optional/ while in Beijing it is mandatory to have bother expat and employer contribute every month unless your country has bi-lateral agreements with PRC (Germany, South Korea and Denmark)
    I know it also exists in Chongqing, Chengdu and Wuhan.

    Since it’s a compulsory contribution withheld from my salary every month I’m very much interested in how to get my individual contributions back when I leave China (Medical fund and Pension fund).
    There’s a bank passbook we can use to withdraw the medical part (employee’s contribution), important for me because I pay separately an international medical insurance (I can’t really use local hospitals, not able to claim medical bills to PRC)
    Regarding the pension fund I heard it can be cashed in when leaving China (employee’s contributions only) but I cannot find anybody (not even my HR) to confirm this and also show me that my contributions really go to an account (no statement available 🙁 )

    anybody with details please help clarify this. Thanks.

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