The South Korean health system


The South Korean health care system was developed from 1976 onwards coinciding with the country’s rapid economic development. Virtually all hospitals and clinics are operated privately; however, fees and treatment are standardized by the government.

Compulsory health insurance, paid for by both the employer and employee, ensures that everybody has coverage and that supplementary medical expenses are low. The government helps those with low income.

Hospitals and clinics vary in size and quality depending on how urban or rural the area is. Generally speaking each major city has at least one general hospital, a university hospital (considered the best quality) and a multitude of smaller hospitals, clinics, physicians, dentists and pharmacies. Health care access is therefore relatively easy with short waiting times.

The biggest challenge for expatriates in South Korea is likely to be the language barrier. The majority of hospital staff speak little to no English. Doctors, however, are far more likely to be able to communicate with you as it is common for them to have studied in the West or at the very least be competent with English medical terminology. Seoul city is the most accustomed to dealing with overseas patients; Seoul National University Hospital even has English speaking volunteers on hand to aid communication.


The emergency number for Ambulance or Fire Brigade services is 119. Dial 112 for the Police.

Speak slowly and calmly, state that you are a foreigner and ask for an English speaking interpreter. If no one is available try dialling the tourist information service on 1330 and they will be able to interpret for you.

The Medical Referral Service (MRS) is an English-speaking, volunteer staffed service that can give you information on the nearest health services to your location. Dial 010-4769-8212 or 010-8750-8212. Opening hours are 8am – 8pm and for emergencies only, 8pm – 8am.

Further reading

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