National Health Insurance was introduced to South Korea in the late 1970’s and has since become mandatory for all Korean and foreign workers who a) work more than eighty hours a month for one employer and b) work for an employer who employs more than five foreign workers. This means that depending on your profession and how many hours you work, in rare instances your employer does not have to cover your health insurance. Some expats don’t mind this, but there have been deaths and accidents involving expats who were not insured by their employer and it caused their families much grief and financial strife to attempt to pay their astronomical health bills.
Even if your employer is not required to cover your health insurance, or if you are self-employed, you can still get National Health Insurance if you possess an alien registration card. You must either submit an application to your employer who is, by law, required to make the application for you; or, if self-employed, make your application at your nearest National Health Insurance center. You can visit the National Health Insurance website (http://www.nhic.or.kr/) or call 390-2000 for more information. There is an English version of the site, and/or you could visit the Korean pages with a Korean associate.
While supplemental insurance is not necessary under National Health Insurance coverage, many expats choose to carry it as major hospital stays can be expensive. Many clinics in Seoul, however, will not bill your private insurance company directly – you will have to pay the fees upfront and then arrange reimbursement from your insurance company. If you plan to travel while in Korea, know that you will need to purchase travel insurance as your National Insurance coverage will only be available within South Korea.
For the majority of foreign workers, your employer will sponsor you for the National Health Insurance. Typically, you contribute 50% and the company meets you with the other 50%. This means that your 50% will come out of your paycheck each month. The amount will vary depending on your income, so you should ask your employer exactly how much you will be paying. Also once you receive your ARC card (and your employer registers you with the National Health Insurance) you will be automatically covered. You will receive a card eventually, but in the meantime, should you need coverage you can simply show your ARC card at the registration desk. You should know that, with your health insurance coverage, simply going to the doctor and getting a check-up will cost you about 2500 won, which is inexpensive by Western standards. If you go to one of the larger hospitals for treatment, it generally costs from 40,000 won for a sore throat or flu treatment to five million won for a broken leg. In most instances, your company will pay 50% of that bill.
National Health Coverage is sufficient for day to day bumps, bruises, and illnesses. If you have a major accident or serious illness then you will find that this insurance isn’t very helpful. Also, in the case of a hospital stay this insurance only covers an eight-person room. If you want a room with fewer people or something private, then you will need to pay extra; a lot extra. Again, you might be able to work something out with your employer, but in these extreme cases, you most likely will pay a hefty medical bill. Still, you can rest assured that even if you do have to pay the full bill it will still not be anywhere near what you might pay in your home country, especially in the United States. Again, purchasing supplemental insurance will decrease the costs associated with a major medical problem.
Dental and eye procedures are not covered by National Health Insurance. You will have to pay for these out of pocket, but you may be able to convince your employer to pay a portion. However, they are still inexpensive compared to what you may be used to (a teeth cleaning is 60,000 won and an eye exam is free).
Affiliating yourself with one of the main hospitals in Seoul upon your arrival is not necessary. Remember, health care in Korea is up to Western standards and, in some cases, superior. If you want to build up a relationship with a doctor upon arrival, this doctor will be able to treat you and your family more accurately. Also remember that larger hospitals in Korea are always extremely busy and you will be waiting for a long time to see a doctor. It’s often better to affiliate yourself with one of the small, privately run clinics that you’ll find in every neighbourhood in Seoul. Almost every doctor in Seoul will speak enough English to be able to diagnose and treat you for any malady you may be experiencing. These clinics are often less busy than the larger hospitals in Seoul.
If you want to play it safe and supplemental health insurance for your time in Seoul, there are a few options for international health insurance & you can obtain a quote for global medical coverage via our site: