Is Korea for Me?

Considerations when choosing Korea

Korea’s rapid ascent as a medical tourism destination has been both astonishing and well earned. One key indicator: the country has 39 Joint Commission International (JCI)–accredited healthcare and medical facilities. Like many other countries in Asia, it has declared medical tourism a national strategic industry and is avidly pursuing medical travelers. Korea’s government, for example, is considering turning a 560,000-square-meter area of downtown in the capital of Seoul into a medical tourism zone to accommodate the growing numbers of medical travelers.

Here are a few of the reasons so many people are choosing Korea. First, the level of medical skill here is rated nearly equal to that in the United States and Singapore—at least at major facilities—and medical costs are about level with India or Thailand in plastic surgery and with Singapore in intensive care. The country also offers fantastic care in preventive medicine, cosmetic procedures and holistic treatments that combine Korean traditional medicine and Western medicine.

To take advantage of the urge to combine travel with treatment, some areas are building massive resorts. One on the island of Jeju, called Jeju Healthcare Town, is scheduled for completion in 2015, and will include a medical check-up center and clinic, sanatorium, rehabilitation center, and health community and international resort. Jeju is already a tourist magnet, with attractions that include Bunjae Artpia—the planet’s biggest botanical garden—and Jeju Folk Village Museum, Hallasan National Park, and Loveland, an outdoor sculpture park described as “a place where love-oriented art and eroticism meet.”

Heightened interest in Korean pop culture, particularly K-pop’s stunning female artists, is drawing medical tourists to the country. Not surprisingly, aesthetic and reconstructive procedures are a recognized specialty in Korea, and Korean surgeons are renowned for not leaving scars during breast augmentations and reductions and when removing wrinkles—a particular concern for female clients. The “beauty belt” in Seoul’s chic Gangnam district has hundreds of clinics offering plastic surgery, liposuction, rhinoplasty and other reconstructive procedures. Surgery on eyelids and noses costs a third of what it would in Japan, and many other procedures are competitively priced.

Korean doctors are also willing to explore alternative therapies. Moreover, the therapies, technology and equipment used at the top facilities rivals anything you’ll find elsewhere. Proton therapy for prostate cancer is one example, and the anti-cancer treatment provided here is registered as a global guideline.

At major metropolitan medical facilities, communications in English should not be a problem. The government and hospitals are working hard to provide interpreters fluent in Chinese, Japanese and other languages to ensure that more overseas patients have a more pleasant medical experience.

Korea is a friendly country, but it is also very focused on and proud of its own culture, and recently Korean hospitals have been found to charge foreigners two to three times more than the full fee for locals. Another point is that Korean medical law does not shield foreign patients in cases of discriminatory charging, overpricing, malpractice and privacy rights abuses.

There are plenty of opportunities for exploring Korea before and after treatment: the country is an absorbing mix of venerable cultural aspects and super-modern technology. Korean cuisine is diverse, fresh and flavorsome, often spicy, and visually appealing as well. The Korean people are friendly and direct, and while the spread of foreign languages is not wide, you will find many who speak English and, to a lesser degree, French.

Know Before You Go

Korea News & Features


Korea: Cosmetic and Beauty Procedure Mecca

Korea is a relative newcomer to the medical tourism world, but has made some of the most decisive moves in the industry. The government identified medical tourism as a growth sector and has systematically addressed the potential concerns of medical tourists and Korean citizens by favorably modifying malpractice laws and medical visa policies, monitoring medical tourism providers, and establishing a medical tourism center with 24 hour multi-lingual support. As a result, the number of medical tourists has increased from a low of 7,900 in 2007 to 120,000 in 2011 and continues to grow rapidly.

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