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Calling an ambulance on the Chinese mainland

If you need to call the ambulance service on the Chinese mainland, the number is 120. The call is free and you can dial it even if your phone does not have any credit. However, actually being transported in the ambulance will cost money, based on the mileage between the location of the accident and the hospital.

For information on other emergency numbers, see this article.


Transportation costs

Every city has different rules, so it is hard to estimate, but generally it is free within the first five kilometers and after that each kilometer costs 3-15 yuan, though they may cost more.

Each hospital will usually also charge an emergency fee, usually starting around 150 yuan but it can increase greatly, depending on the case. There may also stretcher carrier fees, doctors’ fees and additional hospital charges.

Ambulances are usually sent from the nearest hospital to the accident, but may take the patient to another hospital once collected, if the injury or illness requires specialist care or equipment unavailable at its original location.


Waiting times

Waiting times vary depending on the caller’s location; as a rough estimate, the services say it is the distance from your nearest hospital to your location, plus five minutes for an urban area or plus 15 minutes for a suburban or fringe urban area. In rural areas, no response time is given. The operator may be able to give you an estimate when you call.

The additional time is to allow the police to react and prepare, and this may differ slightly depending on the nature of the emergency.


When should you dial 120?

  1. During emergencies concerning indiivituals, including severe illnesses such as heart attacks. 
  2. During public emergencies when the health and life of the wider public is threatened or harmed, including:

    A. Natural disasters, such as flood, landslide or earthquakes.
    B. Large accidents, such as vehicle pileups, air crashes, derailment, fires etc.
    C. Public health accidents, such as epidemics or group poisonings.
    D. Riots or brawls.

  3. In the event of accidents and physical injuries such as drowning, car accidents, consumption of toxins, etc.
  4. When patients need to be transferred to other hospitals (though you should really call either the hospital you are transferring from or the one you are transferring to first, and only use 120 if they cannot arrange it for you).


What information should you get ready?

  1. State clearly the symptoms and/or injuries. In case of group injuries, tell the operator the apparent cause of the accident (building collapse? Gas leak? Food poisoning?) and a rough number of the injured, so that they can prepare enough vehicles, and notify the government and other hospitals to tell them to head to the spot.
  2. Tell the operator the detailed location of where you live or where the accident occurred. The location should start with the city’s name and then go ‘down’ in size, to district, then main streets, then road to the specific spot so that the police can locate you or the patient as soon as possible. 
  3. Point out landmarks and notable buildings near the scene to help them pinpoint the location.
  4. Tell the operator the patient’s name, age and health history (if known), and whether you have taken any action to help them.
  5. Tell the operator your phone or mobile number so that they or the doctors can call you when the ambulance is coming, in case they need to confirm the patient’s situation and your exact location. They may also ask you to do something help the patient before they arrive.
  6. Make sure you let the 120 operator be the one to hang up the call, so that you can be sure they have all the information that they need.


Fake ambulances

Unfortunately, it has been known for the 120 operators in various cities in China to illegally send private ‘fake ambulances’ (in exchange for money, of course) instead of official ambulances. These are illegal and ill-equipped, and generally do not have trained medical staff on board. For information on how to spot fake ambulances, and what to do if you get one, see this article.


Useful Chinese words and phrases

紧急呼叫 jǐnjí hūjiào Emergency call
报警 bàojǐng Call the police
救护车 jiùhù chē Ambulance
急救中心 jíjiù zhōngxīn Emergency center
火警 huǒjǐng Fire service
接线员 jiēxiàn yuán Operator
拨打 Bōdǎ Dial
海警 hǎijǐng Coast guard
救援 jiùyuán Rescue
危险 wēixiǎn Danger
事故 shìgù Accident
火灾 huǒzāi Fire
伤亡 shāngwáng Injury and casualty
受伤 shòushāng Get injured


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