Healthcare in Seoul



Seoul may be one of the brightest cities in Asia, but it's not all about lights. In terms of healthcare, this city can be a shining star for expatriates in a place where it's not uncommon to hear about prescription medicine costing less than $10.

This is the simplest illustration of how efficient the city's healthcare system can be.

Responsible for Seoul's exemplary healthcare services is Korea's national scheme called the National Health Insurance Plan which requires coverage for all working individuals, including documented expatriates. There will be exceptions, however, including cases where the employer is providing international medical coverage, if the employee renders less than 60 hours per month and if the employer has less than five expats working in the company. Under the scheme, co-payments at varying levels apply, from 10-20% for inpatient cases to 60% of cases involving outpatient treatment in tertiary hospitals. Enrolled members are given the full rein on which healthcare providers they choose.

Those enrolling in the NHIC program will be given a booklet, and if one does not receive such a booklet from his employer, this means the individual is not insured.

Seoul's hospitals are manned by mostly foreign-trained medical professionals, and while the cost of medical care is significantly lower than that in western cities, the quality of services is highly comparable. Expats will have no problem seeking medical care and the only issue that can cause some difficulty is language. Even so, most medical professionals in Seoul hospitals have studied abroad or have trained there and may be expected to speak English well. It is also not important to set an appointment prior to seeing a doctor or dentist. Setting an appointment might be good, but if having to do so will be a burden, walking into a clinic without prior notice is an accepted practice.

Expats on private international health insurance may avail of benefits from private practitioners and hospitals but an upfront payment is often needed, and it will be up to the expat to claim reimbursements. NHIC claims may be rejected by private practitioners or clinics but are always accepted by public institutions. Often, a private policy is used to supplement the NHIC in cases when the latter is not enough to cover all of the bills.

In terms of medicines, expats will not have a problem in Seoul where practically all known brands may be bought at any of its drugstores. Those located within or near hospitals tend to have more of the specialized but lesser known medicines. And, of course, the prices are incredibly cheap compared to western standards. To get a prescription, one may have to pay 5,000 - 25,000 won, with those enrolled in NHIC paying the lowest fee.

There are no required vaccinations or immunizations but highly recommended are rabies, tetanus/diphtheria, hepatitis A and B. For medical emergencies, one can call an ambulance at 119.

As a global city, Seoul lives up to the world's expectations not only in terms of its economy but also as a good provider of globally competitive healthcare to its expatriate communities.


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Healthcare in South Korea