Asia opinion travel

Getting Sick/ Injured in Korea


Throughout the two and a half years that I lived in Korea, I had a streamline of health issues. Normally I’m a pretty healthy person, and have never had any really serious medical issues. Something about Korea just seemingly did not agree with my body. Some of the food had an averse affect on my stomach, the air quality wasn’t the best, and I’d often get sick from that, I had a slip and fall, and lastly thumb surgery.

Luckily, healthcare was made available to me through my job. The National Health Insurance, system in Korea is mandatory for all residents. Everyone is eligible, regardless of occupation, or citizenship. For foreigners, once you receive your Alien Registration Card, ARC, you’ll also receive health insurance. An insurance card will be sent to you, but you really only need your ARC card to see a doctor. 50% of the cost was taken from my monthly paycheck, and my employer paid the other 50%. Visits to the doctor were incredibly low compared to America. I remember paying about $5 to see a dermatologist when I broke out in hives once.

The first time I’d ever been to the ER in my life, was because of medicine. It was spring of my first year in Korea, and I’d gotten a nasal infection, (yellow dust gets pretty bad every spring, and I also got sick every spring). I went to an ENT in my neighborhood, he didn’t speak any English, a friend and I tried our best to communicate with a mixture of Konglish, (Korean+ English). The doctor ended up giving me an antibiotic that was too strong for me, and I ended a few days later I was in the ER for severe dehydration. I was released after getting an IV, and paid less than $50 total for the visit.

IV’s are called ‘ringers’ in Korea. This literally brought me back to life!

The next major health event that happened to me was a slip and fall down a few stairs at school. I had a free period, and was going downstairs to my classroom to lesson plan. In Korea everyone has a small locker at the entrance where you switch from your outside shoes, into slippers. The slippers I had didn’t have much of a grip on them. I ended up falling down some stairs, broke my left talus bone, and injured an ankle ligament. This landed me in the hospital for a night. I was quite nervous to find out what the bill would be, and to my absolute surprise, it was like $50!

The last major health event that I’ll tell you about, happened right before I came back to America. I had injured my right thumb maybe two weeks before leaving for Korea, and continued to have issues with it throughout my time there. Long story short, I needed to have surgery to remove some bone spurs, and to repair a torn thumb capsule. I spent 3 nights, and 4 days in the hospital, and only paid about $700, and I was later refunded about $150 from the insurance! I wouldn’t have been able to afford to have had that surgery done in America, so it was a huge blessing to be able to pay my medical bill up front.

Doctor’s initials to make sure he performed surgery on the correct thumb.

Affordable healthcare is one thing that I really do miss about Korea. Costs were low, so getting proper medical treatment was never an issue. Many of the doctors are able to speak medical English, and some bigger hospitals, (like where I had surgery), have a translation department for several languages. The doctor who performed my surgery spoke English, so I didn’t need to use the translation department, but it is available at certain hospitals. Health is very important to me, and was one of my concerns prior to moving overseas, so it put my mind at ease knowing that I could get the care I needed, and not go into debt.

For a more detailed story on how I broke my talus bone, and the fun journey afterwards, you can watch the video below:

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