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Medical Tourism - Destination - South Korea

General Informations


South Korea currently attracts 40,000 medical tourists mainly from Japan and China, followed by the US and Canada thanks to the cutting edge technology, which is reflected in specialisations focussing on the areas of oncology, cardiology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics and dentistry. The introduction of medical visas and construction of a medical tourism hub on Jeju Island alongside promotion by the Council for Korean Medicine Overseas Promotion are hoped to increase South Korea’s reputation as a medical tourism destination for Westerners and increase inbound medical tourists up to 100,000 annually. South Korea does not offer any cost savings and so it is unlikely that the typical American medical tourists will be attracted.

South Korea
Localisation East Asia, bordering North Korea, China and Japan
Capital Seoul
Biggest cities (population) Seoul (10,456,034), Busan (3,596,076), Incheon (2,741,217)
Inhabitants 48,379,392
Politics presidential republic
Religion atheism (46.5%), Christianity (29.3%), Buddhism (22.8%), other (1.4%)
Currency South Korean Won (KRW) = € 0,000577496
GDP € 620,701 million, 15.25% of the world’s GDP
Official language(s) Korean
Climate humid continental and humid subtropical. Summer temperatures between 22°-30°C, winters -7°-4°C
Time zone GMT +9
Happy Planet Index (HPI) 68

Cultural Aspects

General Culture

South Korea has the third largest economy in Asia and the eleventh in the world resulting in an advanced society. The country is strongly influenced by North Korean and Chinese culture, reflecting both their way of life and their cuisine. Some similar basic ingredients are rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables, fish and meat with many accompanying side dishes.


South Korea’s GPI is 32, ranked higher than many Western European countries. The crime rate is low throughout the country, but petty crime does occur and normal precautions should be taken. Fatalities due to traffic accidents are however quite high.

Tourists Attractions and Sights

  • Dongbu-Dong: a five story brick pagoda in the city of Andong-si
  • Heoninneung Royal Tomb: in Seoul houses the burial mounds of two kings from around 1300 to 1400 AD
  • Ojukheon Residence: in Gangneung-si is one of the oldest wooden buildings remaining in South Korea dating back to the 16th century
  • Gyeongju: Korea’s old capital which rates as one of the ten most important ancient cultural cities in the world
  • Andong Icheondong: a Buddha statue that stands on an ancient path staring out over the mountains of the area at Jebiwon

Visa Requirements

Entrance to the country for medical reasons will become easier since South Korea will introduce the M (medical) visas by the end of 2009. Every foreign national will need a visa to enter South Korea.



South Korea has a very advanced and modern infrastructure, which has been expanding since the 1960’s. There is one major international airport situated in Seoul, which is connected with many smaller domestic airports. The train connections are good, cost effective and safe. In the major cities taxis are abundant and primarily used by tourists, but bus connections are also available.


Many international hotel chains are present in the South Korean hospitality market such as Marriott Hotels and Resorts, Hyatt Regency, InterContinental Hotels Group and Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Accommodations are to be found in all price categories with stars ranging between two and five. There is currently no cooperation between hospitals and hotels. However, there is a project initiated by the government and the private sector to build a medical tourism cluster on the Jeju Island.

Health Care System

WHO ranking 58
Physicians per 10,000 population 16.0 (2003)
Nurses per 10,000 population 19.0 (2003)
GDP spent on health care 5.6% (2004)
Education period of doctors 6 years
Education period of specialists additional minimum of 4 years

Health Care Providers

South Korea has four types of health care providers: clinics, hospitals, general hospitals and tertiary hospitals. Almost all hospitals and clinics are for-profit entities and are owned by physicians. The private medical care sector currently consumes about 90% of total health care resources, particularly when it comes to hospital beds. There are around 30 private hospitals in the country. The number of public hospitals is currently not available.


Individuals are required to possess health insurance in South Korea; therefore, 100% of the population is publicly insured. There are currently no private insurance companies on the market.


There have not been any new reforms implemented in the South Korean health care system since 2000. However, there is a joint project undertaken by the South Korean Government and the private sector to create “The Jeju Healthcare Town”, to be opened in early 2011.

General Medical Tourism Information

In 2006, South Korea welcomed 6,159,000 231 tourists, mostly coming from China and Japan. In 2008, the country treated 40,000 medical tourists, 10,000 of whom came for plastic surgery. To promote South Korea to international patients “The Council for Korean Medicine Overseas Promotion”, a governmental and private initiative, has been created. South Korea is still a young country within the medical tourism sector, but is often mentioned as one of the upcoming countries that will grow over the next few years. For this reason, the revenue from medical tourism is not currently available.


Most medical tourists come from Japan and China, followed by the US and Canada, some are also coming from Europe (e.g. France and Finland). The percentage distribution is not known.


  • No waiting times: South Korea puts much effort in eliminating waiting times.
  • Quality: top rated physicians, modern technology and caring nature attract medical tourists.
  • Holiday destination: mainly for Asian people thanks to white sand beaches and natural landmarks.


The main areas of medical specialisation in South Korea include:

  • Oncology
  • Cardiology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Orthopaedics
  • Dentistry
  • Cosmetic and plastic surgery

Top Facilities

The top facilities have been selected using the following criteria’s, listed in order of importance: JCI Accreditation, ISQua accreditation, international orientation. In general national accreditation systems have not been taken into consideration, due to the fact that there are too many and judging them is out of the scope of this study. Jordan has four JCI accredited facilities. There are 2 JCI accredited hospitals in South Korea, and a national accreditation is present:

  • Severance Hospital, Yonsei University Health System, Seoul
  • Korea University Anam Hospital, Anam
  • Cheongshim International Medical Centre, Beonji
  • Wooridul Hospital, Seoul


Strengths Weaknesses
  • Well developed infrastructure
  • Medical tourism cluster being developed on Jeju island
  • The Council for Korean Medicine Overseas Promotion
  • Introduction of medical visas in 2009
  • World class technology and doctors
  • No waiting times for treatments
  • Only one international airport
  • Cost savings are not offered by South Korea with prices often being higher than in the UK and the US
  • Underdeveloped reputation in medical tourism industry


South Korea offers high quality technology and no waiting times and yet remains a relatively unknown medical tourism destination for Westerners. This is set to change with the introduction of the medical visas, construction of a medical tourism hub on Jeju Island and promotion by the Council for Korean Medicine Overseas Promotion. One disadvantage for South Korea is that medical treatment is expensive, which does not attract Americans for cost savings, but for quality. Medical tourists are currently 40,000 (from Japan and China, followed by the US and Canada) although this is expected to increase to 100,000.

Top Facility Chart

South Korea Severance Hospital Yonsei University College of Medicine Korea University Anam Hospital Cheongshim International Medical Centre Wooridul Hospital
Location and website Seoul www.yuhs.or.kr Anam www.anam.kumc.or.kr Beonji www.eng.csmc.or.kr Seoul www.en.wooridul.com
Accreditations or certifications JCI JCI National accreditation only JCI is being processed
Capacity of hospital beds 3,700 beds 948 beds 251 beds 800 beds
Possible for accompanying person to stay in room Yes, in private rooms Yes, in private rooms Yes, in private rooms Yes, in private rooms
Medical tourists 2,300 annually, mostly from US and Canada (85%), other countries (15%) 940 annually, 40% Mongolia and 40% Japan 20,000, Japan (95%), Russia (5%) 1,000 annually, 30% US, 30% China, 6% Canada, 6% Japan and 28% other nations
Number of medical staff doctors/nurses 975 physicians 2,000 physicians, nurses and administration 16 specialists and 116 nurses 135 physicians, nurses and administration
Type of rooms available (prices) Private single (247) / deluxe (402) rooms and suites (18) Private single (28) / deluxe (46) rooms and suites (1) Private single (40) / deluxe (30) rooms, suites (6) and semiprivate rooms Private single / deluxe rooms
International patient department Yes, they organise all the arrangements Yes, they organise all the arrangements Yes, they organise all the arrangements Yes, they organise all the arrangements
Adaptations to cultures and nations Yes, in food, language and religious habits Yes, in food, language and religious habits Yes, in food Yes, in food and religious habits
Languages spoken by staff English, Chinese and interpreters for Japanese and French English, Korean and Chinese Korean, Japanese, English and Russian English, French, Portuguese and Chinese
Marketing of the facility/USP Part of the Yonsei Hospital Group with internal patients referral system, affiliation with US military and US presidential visits Cooperation with organisations abroad and social programme and charity events Work with partner companies such as travel agencies and small private hospitals who promote them Online and attending conferences
Specialisations Transplant, oncology, cardiology, ophthalmology, otolaryngology and orthopaedics Cryotherapy, cardiology, oncology, colorectal surgery, arrhythmia and electro-physiology Gastroenterology, endocrinology, orthopaedics, psychiatry, health screening and rehabilitation Spine surgery

Price Chart (in €uro)

Treatment Average Price Severance Hospital Yonsei University College of Medicine Cheongshim International Medical Centre
Cardiac bypass 17,369 14,029 N/A
Gastric bypass 6,213 N/A N/A
Knee replacement 13,227 5,344 8,017
Hip replacement 12,325 6,680 10,021
Hip resurfacing 15,298 N/A 8,685
Botox treatment 240 1,336 N/A
Breast augmentation 9,085 8,685 N/A
Facelift 3,340 N/A N/A
Liposuction 4,008 7,349 N/A
Dental implants 1,336 N/A 1,336
Rhinoplasty 4,008 N/A N/A
Lasik eye surgery 4,676 4,676 N/A

Note: All prices are estimates, and may vary widely from source to source depending on services included in the estimate (i.e. doctor’s fees, hospitalisation, administration costs or the patient’s age and medical history). Due to non-disclosure strategies of the various locations, it was not possible to make a clear separation between those factors. All prices given for the specific facilities have been provided by the hospitals/clinics themselves via email or telephone contact. The prices are given in Euros (€).

N/A means either that treatment are not available in the specific hospital, that a price estimation cannot be found or that the medical facility did not disclose the information. For the average prices, printed literature has been used before researching sources on the internet.