When you travel, you’re bound to get sick — right? Well, we already know a bit about getting sick in South Korea. Nick had his first cold a few weeks ago and I’ve recently had a cold and bronchitis. Luckily, we’ve both gotten well again. If you ever plan to travel to South Korea, you’ll want to know what to expect and what to do if you get ill.
You Can Get The Medicine That You Need at a Pharmacy
Like in the United States, Korean pharmacies have many medicines and other health products available for your purchase. Even in the smallest towns, you can find multiple pharmacies. Look for a sign that says 약국 (yak-guk), which means pharmacy. Many signs just list the “약” part. You can get many medications without a prescription, but everything is found BEHIND the counter. This means that you will have to communicate with the pharmacist.
Even in our small town, I found a pharmacist who speaks English well. If you’re traveling to a place like Seoul, I’m guessing you will have even more luck. I was able to ask for medication for my sore throat, coughing, and runny nose symptoms. The pharmacist did recommend that I visit a doctor if my symptoms didn’t improve.
I took the medications, drank lots of water and tea and hoped that I would get better. This didn’t work for me, so I finally gave in and went to the doctor.
You Can Get Medical Care at a Hospital Clinic
Small medical clinics are referred to as hospitals. You can tell it’s a medical clinic by the large green cross on the outside of the building. My co-teacher went with me since it was my first experience visiting. I was expecting everyone to speak Korean, but I lucked out and learned that the doctor spoke some English.
If you’re living and working in Korea, you will need to show your health insurance information or your ARC (alien registration card). My co-teacher helped me sign in and show my documents. Another thing to note about South Korea medical clinics is that you don’t make appointments. If you’re feeling sick, you can just show up. I was seen by the doctor within a few moments.
I explained my symptoms to the doctor. He looked me over, checked my breathing and took a chest X-ray. I had explained that I did have some history of asthma, which was a concern to me. It turns out that I had bronchitis. He prescribed me medication and had me rest in a different room for about an hour while I received an IV with some sort of fluid.
Long story short, 5 days later, I was finally feeling well again. It was a relief no longer waking up with a sore throat, runny nose, and deep cough. Nick and I have chosen to invest in an air purifier with a HEPA filter so that we can improve the air quality in our home. We’re hoping that this makes an improvement so that we can stay healthy.
Korean Medical Care is Affordable
After seeing the doctor, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came time to pay. In my mind, a chest X-ray and IV are very expensive! I ended up being charged ₩12,000 for my medical care. This is about $11. They also pointed to the pharmacy across the street to let me know that I needed to pick up my medications. I picked up some liquid medication and pill packs, all which were less than ₩3,000 — less than $3.
The good news is that if you become a teacher in South Korea or choose to move here for work purposes, you will be able to get the medical care that you need at a low cost.
There Are Many Helpful Resources
There are many resources available to help foreigners communicate their medical issues. Medline Plus is one website that offers translations for common medical terms and symptoms. This can help to make it easier to communicate even with a language barrier. It’s a good idea to spend some time looking through this website before going to a doctor or pharmacy.
In larger cities, there are also international hospitals. We visited one of these hospitals when we first arrived because we needed a health and drug test in order to start teaching. This is a great type of hospital to visit if you need special care.
Well, that’s a small look at what to do when getting sick in South Korea. Here’s to hoping that we both stay healthy!