Here’s our guide to the healthcare systems in South Korea for expats living in and moving to the country
28 March 2018| Last updated on 13 November 2018
Healthcare in South Korea is both modern and efficient, and combines both Western and Eastern medical treatments, practitioners and medicines that are available to both expats and residents living in the country.
There is also public and private healthcare options for expats in South Korea. While the national National Health Insurance (NHI) is the most widely recognised use of healthcare in the country, there are some private health insurance options available.
Getting Your ARC in South Korea
Before taking a look at both the public and private healthcare options in South Korea, it’s important to note that you are not covered by either the NHI or a private health insurance plan until you have received your Alien Registration Card (ARC) from your local Korea Immigration Service officer.
Public Healthcare in South Korea
All healthcare in South Korea is primarily covered under the government’s NHI, which is a compulsory social insurance system that covers the whole population.
While doctors, dentists and other specialists are affordable in South Korea, as well as healthcare products and pharmaceutical drugs, the NHI is in place to help govern the public healthcare options in the country.
In fact by law, any company that employs more than five expats/foreign workers must enrol them into a health insurance programme – and the company is expected to pay 50% of the employees’ health insurance premiums each month, and the employees pay the other half.
There are exceptions however…
It is important to remember, however, that this does not apply to expats working on an independent contractual basis. The amount an individual pays towards the NHI is dependent on the same way taxes in the country are; on a sliding scale, decided by how high their salary is.
How to enrol in the NHI in South Korea…
To enrol in the NHI, as an expat you simply need to bring your ARC with you to a nearby hospital to apply for your NHI card. Once enrolled, you will be able to extend your coverage to immediate family members.
The costs of public healthcare here can be kept relatively low, as expats need only to pay a small premium as explained above. So the costs of seeing a doctor or specialist will primarily be covered by the NHI. This procedure applies also to prescription and traditional medicines, too.
Private Healthcare in South Korea
While the NHI covers most day-to-day and emergency medical requirements, some treatments, especially those linked with chronic illnesses, such as cancer, are not covered. This can become costly, and so private insurance companies exist for these circumstances.
Many Koreans and expats living in South Korea who can afford to, sign up for a chronic illness plan to guard themselves against costs that the NHI may not cover.
Hospitals in South Korea
Expats living in and moving to South Korea may be comforted by the fact that medical facilities in South Korea are of a very high standard, especially in the country’s capital, Seoul. City hospitals will always have an English-speaking doctor in their team.
Hospitals are often well-equipped and modern, and there are also several ‘international clinics’ that expats may attend – these are generally staffed by doctors who have studied abroad.
Please note that before being treated in a hospital in South Korea, patients must pay a deposit against the costs that may be incurred during their stay.
What about medicines and pharmacies?
For medication, expats must visit a pharmacy in South Korea, as hospitals do not dispense prescription medication. Pharmacies in South Korea can more often than not be found close to a hospital or elsewhere nearby.
For a full list of hospitals in the capital, you can visit our guide to hospitals in Seoul here.
Medical Emergency Services in South Korea
If for any reason, you are unable to communicate your medical needs at a clinic or with your doctor, you may ring the Emergency Medical Information Centre. Their staff are bilingual, and you’ll almost always be able to find someone who speaks English.