Medicine in South Korea: what you need to know about the health care system

South Korea (The Republic of Korea)


Medicine in South Korea: what you need to know about the health care system

What is the medicine in South Korea and how is it unique? What do you need to know about medical treatment in South Korea? Tips for newcomers. Read our blog.

If you're considering moving to South Korea, you're probably wondering about the local healthcare system. Korean doctors and hospitals are highly developed and use the latest technology, just like in Western countries. Indeed, health is a particularly serious issue for Koreans, so much so that at the slightest sign of a cold, they go to the local hospital. 

Facts about healthcare in South Korea

  • Quality, though expensive, medical care is available in Seoul, Pusan, Daegu, and other major cities. Hospitals in Korea are generally well-equipped. Seoul has highly qualified general dentists and dental specialists. However, large hospitals are often overcrowded, and you will have to wait a long time even if you ask for an appointment. There are no international hospitals in Korea. However, acute care hospitals, general hospitals, and private hospitals have international clinics for foreigners.
  • Curious fact: Seoul is the capital of cosmetic surgery. A business that costs 4.4 billion euros a year and has 2,000 registered specialists. 20% of South Koreans have had cosmetic surgery, mostly to touch up their eyelids (blepharoplasty).


South Korea's healthcare system

  • Hospitalization is subject to the payment of a deposit to cover the expected cost of medical care, and in some cases, a guarantee statement from a Korean citizen is required. Doctors have usually trained abroad and usually speak English. Nurses and support staff, however, do not. Sometimes hospitals charge a surcharge for their services (examinations and care) when they go through an international clinic.
  • The National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC) is the only state insurance organization that administers the health insurance system under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
  • Foreigners working in companies with more than 5 employees are entitled to health insurance at their place of work. Public health insurance is for those who are not insured at their place of work. However, foreigners working in South Korea are included in the local healthcare system and receive medical cards.


Health demographics

  • Population density: 501 inhabitants/km².
  • Birth rate: 8.33% (2013)
  • Birth rate: 1.24% (2013)
  • Mortality rate: 6,5% (2013)
  • Life expectancy: 83 years
  • Population per doctor: 2,500 doctors / 100,000 residents (2018)

In South Korea, both locals and foreigners enjoy good medical care. It is highly recommended that you learn about all necessary immunizations and, most importantly, take out health and repatriation insurance before you move. Healthcare costs are automatically deducted from your monthly salary and are approximately 5% of your salary. The employer also pays 50% of the foreign worker's medical care.


Vaccinations in South Korea

As of today, no vaccinations are required to enter South Korea. However, universal immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, polio, etc. are recommended. Vaccination against Japanese encephalitis is also recommended, since it can be transmitted through mosquito bites between June and October, especially in rural areas of South Korea.

Health Risks in South Korea

South Korea has experienced many epidemics in recent years, including bird flu and influenza A (H1N1). It is highly recommended that you protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially from May through September. If you experience flu-like symptoms, fever, fatigue, stiffness, and nausea, seek medical attention immediately.

Keep in mind that Korean cuisine has many dishes made with chili that are eaten very hot. The body gets used to the different ingredients over time, but if you suffer from abdominal pain and/or diarrhea for an extended period, it is recommended that you go to your local hospital.

Traditional Medicine in South Korea

Traditional medicine is very popular in South Korea. Every city, large and small, has traditional Korean medicine hospitals. Although ancient Chinese medicine has influenced its Korean counterpart, the Korean version has developed unique practices and treatments that can only be found in South Korea.

Many people use herbal or oriental medicine as an alternative to pharmaceuticals. Nevertheless, doctors are highly qualified and use techniques such as acupuncture, moxibustion, aromatherapy, and meditation to treat diseases. There are also specialized dietary programs using traditional Korean medicine, which are very popular. Hospitals are mostly private, and the healthcare system is close to the American system. The facilities are of good quality.

Costs/infrastructure medical care

The medical infrastructure is good and comparable to Belgium, but much more expensive. Major hospitals have an international department where you will be greeted in English. In case of hospitalization, a financial guarantee is required. It is also customary in Korea for the family to take care of the individual needs of patients (washing, etc.).

It is highly recommended that insurance be taken out for the duration of the trip. It is also recommended that you bring your own medicine and first aid kit. Most medications can be found in Korea, but they usually do not have instructions in English.

COVID-19 (coronavirus)

South Korea is still struggling with an outbreak of COVID-19. All travelers wishing to enter Korea should take a PCR test within 48 hours of departure or a rapid test at a medical center within 24 hours of departure and submit confirmation (printout) of a negative result. It is recommended that a negative COVID test result be entered into the Korean authorities' registration system before departure.

Upon arrival in Korea, all travelers must take a new PCR test within 3 days. If this test is positive, a 7-day quarantine period must be observed. It is important to have health insurance that covers Covid-19 treatment. Foreigners who are not covered by Korean health insurance and those who are found to be infected must pay for their treatment.

Wearing a mask in enclosed areas (public transportation, museums, etc.) is mandatory from age two. It is recommended that you wash your hands often and thoroughly. The disinfectant gel is available in many public places (buses and subways, stores, etc.).

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