So you’re getting ready to move abroad, and you’re wondering if your prescription will be available, if you need any shots, and how much it’s all going to cost. For some, these questions are wandering thoughts that never receive much attention, but for others these can be pressing questions essential to their health.
As you may have guessed, I’m not a doctor, so this is just a starting guide for preparing to live in Korea. It’s a good idea to visit your doctor before you go for a general check-up and to ask further questions about these topics 3-6 months before departing. This will give you enough time to get any shots in order, and to find alternatives to prescriptions if necessary. Also, I recommend going to your family doctor if you have one, as they won’t charge massive fees and push unneccessary vaccinations on you the way travel clinics do.
The beauty of Korea is that it doesn’t require any vaccinations to enter the country. However, The CDC recommends getting Hep A and Typhoid, in addition to staying up to date on routine vaccinations like MMR, diphtheria, and polio.
If you’re planning on travelling outside of Korea while you’re there, I recommend getting vaccinations in Korea rather than at home before you leave. They tend to be very reasonable in cost and accessing medical care is fast and efficient. Keep in mind that some of these require multiple shots though, so start preparing early so you’re covered for your trip.
The first thing that many people will think of when preparing for a year abroad is accessing any prescriptions. The beauty of Korea is that pharmaceuticals are widely available, and very reasonably priced. My birth control for example, is available here over the counter for $8 CAD a month, compared to being about $30 a month without insurance.
Pharmacies in Korea are called 약국 and can be found on every street corner in Korea.
There’s a good chance your prescriptions will be available in Korea, but it may be under a different name. Find out what the scientific or common names of them are rather than the brand, and you should be able to discern its availability. For example, the birth control I bought at home was called Linessa, which is not available in Korea. But I looked up the common name (desogestrel – ethinyl estradiol) and found that Mercilon pretty much equivalent.
Another option is to call the International Clinic at Yonsei University. They may be able to give you more information about what prescriptions are available in Korea. Otherwise, it may be possible to stock up for a year’s supply at home, and if you have the insurance to cover it, it’s not a bad idea.
On the topic of prescriptions, one thing to be conscious of in Korea is the tendency to over-prescribe. I’ve been lucky to not really need much medical care since being here, but many of my friends have told me stories about being prescribed antibiotics for illnesses that didn’t need them, or were recommended doses way higher than necessary.
As I mentioned, birth control is over the counter and it’s cheap. Condoms are also readily available, and can be purchased at convenience or department stores. It’s possible to get an IUD, which can be a great long-term option. Other than these, options are fairly limited. Sponges, spermicide, female condoms, etc. are not available in Korea, so if those are the contraceptives you prefer, they’re definitely something to hoard before coming.
As a Canadian, paying for healthcare can be a bit frustrating. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the low-cost of doctor’s visits here. I’ve visited the doctor twice since being here, both due to the same issue. The first visit required a few tests, and amounted to about $30 CAD. The second was a follow-up, and costed a whopping $6 CAD. Not only is it cheap, but its fast and efficient.
Beyond basic doctor’s visits, I highly recommend taking advantage of the incredibly low costs of visiting the dentist. Getting your teeth cleaned by a professional can cost as low as $6 CAD, and getting dental work such as implants and cavities can be half as much as the cost in Canada.
Overall, my experiences with medical care in Korea have been cheap and efficient. There’s no need to worry about poor healthcare. In fact, the doctor’s here are perhaps a little too thorough.