The quality of medical care in Seoul is high. You need a doctor’s prescription to buy most medications and it may be difficult to find the exact medication you use at home, so take extra. A letter from your physician outlining your medical condition and a list of your medications (using generic names) could be useful.
Checking insurance quotes…
Before You Go
A policy covering medical expenses is highly recommended.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.
No vaccinations are required to enter South Korea, though the American CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; www.cdc.gov) recommends that all travellers have their routine vaccinations (against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, chickenpox, polio) up to date. They recommend that most travellers are vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid.
In South Korea
In image-conscious South Korea, medical tourism is a booming industry, with annual visitor numbers expected to reach nearly one million by 2020. The focus might be on cosmetic surgery – with the highest rate of procedures per capita in the world – but can include anything from cutting-edge cancer treatments to simple check-ups. Health tourism is heavily promoted by the Korea Tourism Organization (www.visitmedicalkorea.com), with specialised information booths (and even festivals) in Seoul, Incheon, Daegu and Busan. Staff keep lists (but not prices) of medical practitioners who speak English, Chinese and other languages and have surgeries that resemble high-end hotel lobbies. Speak with your own doctor and health-insurance company before considering getting anything done; despite the gloss, botched work still happens.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
Medical services are very good in South Korea. For minor ailments, you can visit a GP for as little as ₩10,000, though the language barrier will be the biggest obstacle. Speaking to a pharmacist can work if your ailment is very minor. International clinics in hospitals in large cities will likely have English-speaking doctors, but expect to pay between ₩40,000 to ₩80,000 for the consultation alone.
South Korea has some of the cleanest tap water in the world, though most locals and visitors drink filtered or purified water from bottles or dispensers. The practice comes from a belief that bottled water is healthier, and the fear that old pipes can contain heavy metals. Filtered or bottled water is served free in most restaurants and machines with free purified hot and cold water are available in most motels, guesthouses and shopping plaza entrances.