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Medical Tourism to South Korea

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South Korea is well known for its tourism. Most people who go there do so for the rich culture, cuisine and the friendly people. The country has beautiful scenery and is one of the most developed nations on earth. The country has some great sandy beaches and some of the most magnificent Buddha temples in the world.

In recent years, a huge number of people have been visiting the country for medical treatment. Medical tourism is an industry that continues to grow from strength to strength each year. Initially, South Korea was the preferred destination for spinal problems only but currently, it is emerging as an ideal destination for dental issues, organ transplants, cancer treatment and many others.

Health Care in South Korea

The country has one of the finest health care systems in the world. An eighteen-member board, who serve under the ministry of Health and Welfare, manages the health care. This office works with all other government agencies to enforce health standards. In addition, the government has policies to ensure that both public and private hospitals keep their systems updated. This is one of the major reasons the country is so attractive to medical tourists.

The Ministry in charge of the health care system is continually working with all industry players to improve healthcare. As a result, Koreans have one of the healthiest populations in the world. This is as a direct result of a good health care system. One thing to note is how efficient it all is. Even for outpatient services, patients do not wait for long hours to get treatment. If one were in need of a major operation, it could be conducted within a reasonable timeline.

Are Hospitals Private or Public?

Most hospitals in South Korea are privately owned. As a result, the government is not burdened with the task of maintaining huge medical infrastructure. It is only concerned with ensuring regulatory procedures are met. The government only runs a few community hospitals for the downtrodden of society. People going there for medical tourism will most likely have to deal with a private hospital. However, they have nothing to worry about; they already have a culture of efficiency instilled in them.

JCI Accreditation

Joint Commission International is a global organization that is considered the old standard in international medical care. In order to get this standard, a hospital has to pass through some very vigorous testing. Review of the accreditation is done on a regular basis. This is in order to ensure that JCI accreditation does not come into disrepute. It addresses all aspects of patient care and quality treatment. This organization operates on a nonprofit basis. In total, South Korea has twenty-three hospitals with JCI certificates. This is quite a high number. In some countries, there is not a single hospital with JCI certificate.

Major Hospitals for Medical Tourism

Wooridul Spine Hospital

This hospital has been at the forefront of spine treatment for a number of years. The staff at this hospital have helped to pioneer some of the best technology for spinal treatment. They have as a result earned the recognition of their peers at many international forums. The hospital is well known for the use of minimally invasive techniques to treat spinal conditions.

Samsung Medical Center

This medical center has been around since 1994. They are always looking to incorporate technology with medicine. The hospital is considered the flagship of the Korean health industry. This medical centre has won many national awards, some of which are for customer satisfaction.

The center is quite large, conducting about 48,000 surgeries every year. They hope to be at the forefront of innovative research for improving human life. This is considered the greatest medical center South Korea.

Yonsei University Health System (YUHS)

This was the first medical center in South Korea. The center has been around since the year 1885. In that time, it has managed to perfect its treatment options. With more than 120 years of experience, the center has some of the finest facilities in the world.

The center prides itself for being a great defender of the health of the Korean people. In addition, it strives to upgrade its facilities not through purchase but research. They are always forming collaborations with like-minded partners to be first in medicine.

Common Treatments

The major reason people go to South Korea is for treating Spinal problems. The country is loved for this because of innovative techniques that reduce the risk of injury. In addition, the operation scheduling takes a relatively short time. Other affordable procedures are dental surgery. In addition, cosmetic surgery is very affordable in South Korea.

Cost of Treatment

In South Korea, getting lumber spine surgery costs about $20,000. In the United States, patients would need to pay about $100,000. However, this price could double or triple depending on the specific hospital and the region one lives in. In short, it is totally worth it to go for medical tourism in South Korea.

One of the most basic surgeries that people will ever need is wisdom teeth removal. A wisdom tooth can be extremely painful if left in place. For those without insurance in the USA, this can be quite expensive. The procedure costs about $800 to get problematic teeth removed. In South Korea, the same procedure will cost about $30. This is amazingly cheap. This is just a small reflection of how cheap medical costs are in South Korea. People who go to South Korea for treatment can save between 70% and 80% in medical costs.

Price Comparison
Procedure USA South Korea Range of saving (%)
15,000 – 19,000
Between 66 -75
Breast augmentation
Up to 30
6,000 – 6,500
Between 57- 60
Heart bypass
29,500 - 31,500
Between 80- 81
Heart valve replacement
35,000 - 37,500
Between 81-84
Hip replacement
Up to 85
Knee replacement
Up to 86
Between 25-50
Lumbar Spinal fusion
Up to 80
All procedures
155,500 – 166,500
Between 76 - 78

Malpractice and Liability

Medical malpractice in the country is almost non-existent. In case of disputes, a tribunal deals with such cases. The tribunal makes it easier to resolve malpractice cases outside courts. As a result, patients do not have to wait for years to get justice. In the country, there is a very low level of corruption. They also set very high standards for doctors.

Issues of malpractice are dealt with swiftly and efficiently. While going to South Korea, there is no risk to a person’s life beyond the normal risks of procedures. This is assured by the fact that they use innovative technology. It helps to get rid of unnecessary risks to patients. Despite the low cost of treatment, patients should expect nothing but the best care in the world.


  • High standards of doctors and other staff

  • Relatively short waiting time for treatment

  • Use of innovative technology in treatment

  • Extremely low cost


  • Language barrier

Travelling to South Korea

The country requires that US citizens get a medical visa if they plan to stay longer than 90 days. In order to get clarity, medical tourists should contact the South Korean embassy.

City Travel time to South Korea (hours) Visa Requirement
Beijing 1 Not required
Tianjin 1 Not required
Bangkok 4 Not required
Osaka 1 Not required
Tokyo 1.5 Not required
Taipei 2 Not required

Do You Need a Visa to Go to South Korea?

USA –Yes
EU- Yes
Canada- Yes
Australia- Yes
*However, for stays less than 90 days, a visa will not be needed.

Entry and Exit Requirements to and from South Korea

The person needs to get the right approval from his medical provider. In addition, he or she must provide a passport photo. The other requirement is proof of ability to pay. This will thus entail providing financial documents. The processing takes a short time. It could be ready in less than three days.

Statistics of South Korea in Medical Tourism

The country has a robust medical tourist industry. This is due to the combination of quality and low price. Some countries that offer cheap medical cover also risk the patients’ lives. This is not to be expected in South Korea.


Tourists coming for medical tourism in South Korea, come from 188 countries. In 2012, the country received about 160, 000 medical tourists. This figure jumped to about 399,000 in 2013. In 2015, the country got about 598,000 medical tourists. This figure may reach 998,000 by 2020 according to recent estimates.

By Country

Chinese medical tourists represent about 20% of all medical tourists in South Korea. Mongolians are about 5% of all medical tourists. Americans, Japanese, and Russia represent 9%, 12% and 10% of all medical tourists respectively. The others come from the rest of the world.

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