Your guide to health insurance in South Korea
Expatriates and their family members relocating to South Korea will discover a modern, monolithic country that is rich in ancient history, culture, and tradition. Many expats will find themselves moving to Seoul, the country’s capital and most densely populated city. Currently, the country’s population stands at over 51 million inhabitants, with around 25 million people living in Seoul alone. Expats will benefit in knowing that connections to other major cities, such as Daejeon, Daegu, and Busan are made easier and quicker, thanks to the country’s extensive network of road, rail, and ferry transport systems.
The healthcare system in South Korea is as advanced as its transport network, as the demands of an expanding population require a robust system to keep the health of inhabitants well and strong. South Korea is also renown for being at the forefront of medical research, and constantly pushes the boundaries of medical knowledge, especially in cosmetic surgery.
This short guide below offers a practical summary of healthcare and insurance in South Korea, as well as options from health insurance companies for expats residing there. Read on to learn more, or click the button below to obtain a no-obligation, free quote.
Overview of South Korea’s Healthcare System
South Korea has one of the most modern and developed healthcare systems in Asia. The country has numerous medical facilities, both public and private, that provide first-class levels of care and health treatments. Medical professionals ranging from healthcare assistants to surgeons in the country are all highly trained and experienced. Surprisingly, treatment and services available throughout the country are close to international standards if not better.
Once in South Korea, foreign visitors and expatriates have unrestricted access to health facilities when treatment is necessary, and expatriates are required to join the national health insurance scheme shortly after their arrival in the country. Healthcare in South Korea is dominated by the National Health Insurance (NHI) system.
What is the National Health Insurance system?
The NHI system is compulsory and required by Korean law. The system is run by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and is free for every resident in the country regardless of nationality, background or profession including expats.
The system ensures medical costs are subsidized for the most part, including curative care, dental care, and prescribed medication for expatriates at public health hospitals and clinics. To become a member, expats, and foreigners will need an approved Alien Registration Card (ARC).
Applying for the ARC in South Korea as an expat
Foreign workers and expatriates are legally required to join the scheme if they are staying for 6 months or more. On arrival in South Korea, expats must first apply for the ARC before being eligible to enroll in the NHI system. Registration can normally be done at the nearest immigration office where paperwork can be completed and submitted. Advice on how to complete the steps can be provided by employers, or agents dealing with work permits.
One important point to note is that it can take a number of months to receive the ARC, and during this time an expat is not covered by the scheme. It is therefore wise to consider securing a private health insurance plan to cover any medical expenses.
How do expats contribute to the NHI system?
Members of the scheme contribute through a social insurance tax reflective of their annual salary. Coverage also then extends automatically to other family members and dependents.
The payment structure is slightly different for expats, as the employer will pay 50 percent of the health insurance tax and the expat the other 50 percent. When a foreign national requires treatment at a dentist or health facility, they are still required to pay a small consultation fee.
Public and private healthcare systems in South Korea
Private hospitals and clinics operate throughout the whole country, however, the majority of facilities are located in Seoul and Busan.
There is little difference between the medical services and standard of treatment on offer from private and public facilities, although there are some notable exceptions as shown below:
- The first main difference is cost. Treatment at private facilities is not covered by the NHI scheme and costs are therefore quite high. Korean citizens will typically only use private clinics or hospitals for treatment that is not covered by the NHIP scheme, such as treatment for chronic illnesses or diseases such as cancer.
- The other difference is clientele. Given the additional expenses, private facilities are most popular with expatriates and wealthy Korean nationals. This ensures that waiting times for specialist procedures are short, whereas in public facilities the waiting-times can be extensively long.
All in all, as an expatriate, it is highly recommended to secure private health insurance prior to moving to South Korea. There are a number of health insurance plans available to choose from that will help cover medical costs and ensure accessibility to some of the best hospital facilities in the country. For international students studying in the country, the price of private health insurance will vary from cheap-price plans to high-level coverage. It is worth speaking to an international insurance intermediary to get the best comparison from the insurance market.
Hospitals in South Korea
In South Korea, medical facilities and clinics, whether public or private, are of a high standard. Hospitals in urban-developed cities are often well equipped and modern in appearance.
What are the major health threats in South Korea?
Expatriates and visitors should be aware of the health risks associated with living in or visiting South Korea.
As the country becomes more urbanized, pollution and sanitation have become an important issue. In addition to the air pollution that naturally develops across the country, South Korea is also affected by a seasonal “Yellow Dust” which consists of dust and sand particles blown over the peninsula from China.
First-time visitors to South Korea and East Asia, in general, may need to update or receive vaccinations prior to travel. While there are no major contagious illnesses or diseases to be aware of, incidents of malaria, hepatitis A and Japanese encephalitis do occur from time to time.
- Malaria: there is a small risk of malaria in some rural areas and expats are advised to take medication and wear appropriate clothing in affected areas. Malaria prophylaxes are widely available in clinics.
- Hepatitis A is spread through food and water, while Japanese encephalitis normally spread through the bite of a mosquito. Precautions against both of these diseases should be taken, particularly during the warm and humid summer months.
The above are mosquito-borne diseases and are spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. It is recommended to carry mosquito repellents and avoid wearing black clothing, which is said to attract mosquitoes.
How to find the best mandatory health insurance for foreign residents
With extensive years of experience throughout the world, Pacific Prime can assist you with any health insurance needs in South Korea. Leveraging our close relationships with major insurers over the world, we offer professional advice and free plan comparisons to our clients. No matter what your budget is or what your requirements are, our professional consultants can match you with a policy that best fits you or your group. Our policies can cover a wide range of services including dental, maternity, specialist consultation, transportation, inpatient services, and many more aspects. For international students in search of health insurance or travel insurance, Pacific Prime is the go-to insurance intermediary for the best impartial advice and comparison. Please contact us today for a free consultation.