So, very specific post coming up, but because of the week I have had it feels very relevant. I’m currently recovering from a SERIOUSLY long bout of feeling kinda ‘meh’ mentally (which in actual medical terms means I’ve been fluctuation between feeling mildly depressed, mildly anxious, mildly anxious and depressed and then just kinda coping) and then this week I caught the most brutal cold which even caused me to my first ever class cancellation. But, I’m getting fed up with feeling rubbish so I’m going to post instead, as well as trying to be as productive as possible.
One thing that has really helped me this week is finally understanding how healthcare works in Korea, or at least how it works for me. Before moving here, I’d only ever known the British healthcare system, the NHS. Because of how the UK is governed, most procedures are free, appointments are free and medicine and prescriptions are either free or very cheap. The healthcare system here is completely different. I think it might be similar to how healthcare works in the USA but again, as I’ve never accessed healthcare in USA, I don’t know for sure.
Before I continue with this post, I want to take the time to thank the many MANY people who have helped me to navigate healthcare in Korea, because I know it must have been like trying to explain astrophysics to a toddler. So to my friends, my colleagues, my doctor and specifically my friend Agnes Lee, who is a doctor here and helped to get the ball rolling, thank you for your patience and your kindness in helping me figure out how I can access healthcare. U da best <3
So, basics first. Insurance. You don’t NEED insurance to access healthcare, however it helps a lot. It greatly reduces the cost of any procedure, consultation or prescription. With insurance you only need to pay up to 30% of the total cost, your insurance pays for the rest, which is paid through taxes. AND whatever medical bills you do pay, contribute to the tax refund you get the next year. So, if and when you get a job in Korea you should find out about your insurance information as soon as possible. It too a while for me to find out this information, for multiple reasons, and it was very frustrating for me and for those trying to help me. These reasons are also things you need to bear in mind when accessing healthcare in Korea.
Firstly, it took a while to get my ARC (alien registration card) which would allow me to officially and legally start working and live in Korea, as well as accessing the benefits of Korean healthcare. And because this took so long I couldn’t get my official contract, I couldn’t get my insurance and therefore I couldn’t get healthcare. So, make sure you get your ARC from immigration.
Secondly, because my Korean isn’t perfect (who am I kidding, it’s barely passable) I relied completely on other people who are fluent in Korean to help me find the information. This meant that I could only find things out when these people were available to help me, which of course they weren’t always because y’know they have jobs or classes or social lives. So without the help of Korean speaking friends, I couldn’t book appointments, ask questions or have them answered nor could I understand what I needed to do or where I needed to go. I really hope you can find someone who can help you to navigate the difference in language, of course try and learn as much Korean as you can, but it really important to make sure you feel you can communicate well when it comes to healthcare.
And thirdly, and finally, my job contract hadn’t been finalised or explained to me. I didn’t know what was or wasn’t included in my insurance plan, I didn’t know if my taxes were paid by the university when my wages were paid or if I needed to pay them separately. I didn’t know, so I didn’t want to do anything in case I did something wrong. Try to understand and confirm your job contract as soon as you can, preferably before you arrive in Korea. I couldn’t do that and it honestly stressed me out to no end.
To conclude, when it comes to healthcare, you need to know you can trust your healthcare provider. I’m lucky to know doctors here in Korea, and I’m lucky that I have friends and a community who I can communicate with and who can help me if I don’t understand. Lovely, kind people who offer to take me to the doctors or to come with me for support (or simply to make sure I don’t get lost). I hope that if you need to find healthcare, for whatever reason, you have people who can help you, but if you don’t I strongly recommend asking you employer for clarification and assistance, and failing that find an expat group to join on Facebook because we foreigners have got to stick together! Trust me, there will be someone who will be more than happy to help you.