If you have National Health Insurance in Korea, you are required and entitled to a FREE* general health exam (screening) once every other year according to your birth year. The screening is, for the most part, fully covered by NHIS.
* Technically, it’s not 100% free as you (and potentially your employer) still have to pay for your insurance, but you won’t have to pay anything additional to your monthly insurance cost in most cases.
It’s worth mentioning that the NHIS health screening or check-up is not to be confused with the health check-up required for foreign teachers living in Korea. I have no idea what that one entails since I am not a teacher, so I’ve only heard rumors. This is in regards to the NHIS health screening only.
I’ve taken the general health exam twice now at different hospitals, so here is what I know about it! I am by no means an expert on this subject, however, since there’s so little information available about the general health screening in Korea online in English, I thought I’d share.
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What Does the NHIS Health Exam Include
According to the official guidelines, the health screening will include the following:
- General diagnosis and consultation, height, weight, waist circumference, body mass index, vision test, hearing test, blood pressure, liver test [AST(SGOT), ALT(SGPT), Gamma GTP], fasting blood sugar, kidney test [urine protein, serum creatinine, glomerular filtration rate (e-GFR)], and hemoglobin levels.
- Chest x-ray
- Oral checkup
They will also include the following additional tests, depending on your age and/or gender:
- Cancer screening, e.g. pap smear for women
- Hepatitis B test (40 years old, excluding carriers and immunized persons)
- Dental plaque test (age 40)
- Osteoporosis (54 and 66 years old female)
- Men over 24 and women over 40, every 4 years (men ages 24, 28, 32, and so forth or female ages 40, 44, 48, and so forth only) will take a dyslipidemia test (total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides)
- Mental health test (depression) once every ten (10) years
- Lifestyle assessment (40, 50, 60, 70 years old)
- Elderly physical function test (66, 70, 80 years old)
- Cognitive function test (66+ years old, once every 2 years)
As a 30-something-year-old female, my last general check-up routine went like this:
- Urine Test: pee into a plastic cup with lid, fill 1/4 of it, and leave it on the shelf in the bathroom
- Bloodwork Test: you sit down and they draw blood
- Ears and Eyes: read numbers out loud for the vision test, and press the button when there is a beep for the hearing test
- Pap smear: go into a small room and get into the stirrups
- Chest x-ray
- Height and weight
- Waist measurement
- Teeth check: they check your teeth for any major issues and usually recommend that you follow up for treatment (you don’t have to)
When Do I Take the NHIS Health Exam
You take it every other year according to your birth year. For example, it’s 2022, so those with a year that ends with an even number are eligible, e.g. those born in 2002, 1990, 1988, and 1986, and they will be eligible again in 2024. If you’re born in an odd-numbered year like 1991, you will be eligible during odd-numbered years, e.g. 2023, 2025, and 2027.
There’s no rush to take it during the calendar year, but I generally like to get it over with earlier in the year. I’ve also heard that it tends to get busier later in the year as everyone rushes to get it done before it’s too late.
How Much Does the NHIS Health Exam Cost
According to the NHIS website, the general screening is fully covered by NHIS, so you won’t have to pay much (or any money) out of pocket unless you opt for additional tests.
Any cancer screening part of your general health exam is 90% covered by NHIS and the remainder 10% will have to be paid for by you. Uterine cancer screening (pap smear) and colorectal cancer screening are 100% covered by NHIS. If you’re a woman over the age of 20, the pap smear (cervical cancer screening) is included and should be taken every two years.
Who Can Get a Cancer Screening
You should check to see if it is required and/or you are eligible for certain cancer screenings below. The cancer screening includes five (5) common cancers: stomach cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, and liver cancer. South Korea has some of the highest rates of stomach cancer, so it’s no surprise that it’s a top priority here.
The following people are eligible for the cancer examination as part of their NHIS health check-up:
- Females at the age of 20 or above: cervical cancer screening (pap smear)
- Persons at the age of 40 or above: stomach cancer and/or breast cancer screening
- Persons at the age of 50 or above: colorectal cancer screening
Just a reminder that the pap smear is covered fully every two years by NHIS if you’re over 20 years old, so you won’t have to pay for it as part of your health check-up. If your pap smear comes back abnormal and you need to take it every year instead of every two years, NHIS will partially cover the extra tests.
What Does the Oral Exam Include
If you have NHIS, you’re also entitled to a yearly cleaning with a co-pay of around 20,000 KRW or less depending on the hospital or clinic. At the general health screening, when you’re visiting the dentist there, they’ll probably ask whether or not you would like to go beyond the basic oral health exam (free) and get your teeth cleaned and/or get any filings done. If you say yes, you’ll have to pay for the extra treatments. Only the oral exam itself is fully covered by NHIS during the general health exam. I usually opt for no as I prefer to go to my usual dentist for that kind of stuff.
Also, just want to reiterate that YES, foreigners under NHIS are eligible for the reduced-cost annual cleaning just like any other Korean citizen who has NHIS. You can get this once a year and your dental clinic should not be charging you more than 20,000 KRW. If they do, run for the hills.
Where Can I Get the NHIS General Health Exam
“The examinee can get the health checkup from any designated hospitals (clinics) and public healthcare centers, according to the Framework Act on Health Examination.” You’ll receive a list in the mail from NHIS with a list of clinics in your area. The list is in Korean. This is probably the easiest ways to find a clinic if you don’t know of any in your area.
For those who read zero Korean: If you haven’t learned this trick yet, and you’re unable to speak or type in Korean, there’s the Google Translate app on iPhone and Android. You can use Google Translate to scan an image and retrieve the text in Korean and English. Open the Google Translate app on your phone, click camera, hover over the object that you need translating, make sure to select Korean to English translation, click the circle button at the bottom of your screen to snap a photo, select the translated text (now in English), and then press ‘Send to Translate Home’. Now, the original Korean text will appear at the top and the English translation will appear at the bottom. If you need to copy & paste the original Korean text into other apps like Naver Maps, it’s now possible to do so without typing it manually.
If you don’t receive a list in the mail, you can call NHIS and ask them to help find a clinic for you, too. I called them the first year that I was here because I didn’t get this letter. However, they’re not really going to know which clinics speak English and which don’t speak English … And sometimes, it may not matter whether you go to an English-speaking clinic as many doctors and staff will be able to speak at least some English while doctors in Seoul, South Korea tend to be more fluent.
There’s also a searchable map available online (in Korean) on the NHIS website.
The map can be a bit overwhelming in my opinion. I usually just check the list of clinics received in the mail, check which ones have everything I need via the circles, and then see if I can look up the clinics on Naver Map.
How Do I Make an Appointment
If you simply need to make an appointment with any hospital for the general exam, you can go through the list that offers the NHIS general exam and:
- Call them (potentially tricky for those who do not speak Korean)
- Email them (easiest, to be honest)
- Send them a message over Naver Talk (if applicable)
I usually just email them in English. It may require a bit of digging to find an email address for them. I usually look up the clinic on Naver Map and then find their website. There’s usually a contact page somewhere, and they’ll typically respond within 3-5 business days. It’s also a good way to weed out clinics with zero English language ability since in this case, they probably won’t respond. Once you hear back, they’ll usually ask for your ARC # and contact information to confirm the appointment.
Why I Wouldn’t Stress Too Much About an English-Speaking Clinic
Honestly, it’s kind of a pain to find a health clinic or hospital in every region of South Korea where everyone speaks English. We are, after all, not in an English-speaking country where the English-speaking population is a tiny fraction of the general population. You have to manage your expectations. Yes, many major hospitals do have international clinics with translators, but you often have to pay a higher cost at major hospitals or be located in a foreigner-friendly area that caters to expats like Itaewon.
Most of the English-speaking hospitals that fellow expats recommended to me were on the other side of the city (usually Itaewon), and so I had to weigh how important it was to actually travel 40+ minutes just for English-speaking staff around me during the general health screening.
What I’ve come to realize is that you can probably get away with going to any big hospital near you if you don’t have any major health issues, and just want to tick your general health exam off your list. Truth be told, at least one doctor at a big hospital or clinic in Seoul will probably speak some English, and the consultation will probably be very basic.
If you’re young and relatively healthy, they’ll probably tell you at most to lose some weight, drink less, and/or stop smoking (if applicable.)
I’ve always just assumed that if I get flagged for something alarming, I can then go back to another English-speaking clinic — probably somewhere in Itaewon (Yongsan-gu) where English is more widely spoken — with a more in-depth consultation.
Side note: I wouldn’t take the BMI too much to heart in Korea if you feel like you’re generally very active and on the muscular side. You can read this article from NPR, “Top 10 Reasons Why The BMI Is Bogus”. From what I’ve heard, the overweight threshold in Korea is even lower due to Koreans having smaller body frames.
What the Health Screening in Korea Is Like
I was a little overwhelmed the first time I took my general health exam in South Korea, expecting a 1:1 consultation with a general practitioner (GP) like in the U.S. and to basically be handheld through it. What I didn’t expect was being shuffled from room to room, wearing a poorly-fitting uniform and slippers, and being completely confused. But now, I understand now that it’s pretty normal.
My anxiety tends to heighten when I’m put in uncomfortable situations where I don’t know what to expect. Just put on your brave face, get through your first health screening, and you won’t even bat an eye at your next one.
The second time I had to take an exam, I went to Mediflower in Seocho-gu. I emailed them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mediflower also has an international clinic and is a popular gynecology/obstetrics clinic among expats.
Like all doctors’ appointments and health exams that I’ve had in Korea, the exam was over relatively fast. I made an appointment early in the morning and had to wait approximately 20-30 minutes before starting. There is a locker room behind the reception desk where you switch your clothes and put on slippers. I took pictures of the pants that I was given only because they were comically short on me as someone who is 5’10 ft. It wasn’t my sexiest moment, I admit.
They bally, bally (hurry, hurry) everyone through one room to the next. Most of the staff for the general health exam didn’t speak much English, but it was totally manageable. They’re friendly albeit rushed.
You can get your results back in Korean either via email or KakaoTalk depending on whichever you choose.
Recommended Clinics and Hospitals to Get Your Health Check-up
These are a few clinics and hospitals where I’ve been and/or have been recommended to me for the NHIS health check-up. If you have any other places or experiences that you’d like to share, please drop a comment down below!
SoonChunHyang University Hospital Seoul
Address: 59 Daesagwan-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
International Clinic Phone: 02-709-9158
International Health Care Center Email: email@example.com
An expat favorite for its gynecology department and a go-to for a lot of women who need a quick STI test (FYI.)
Address: 2nd floor, Lotte Castle Medici, 110 Seochojungang-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul 06634, South Korea (Gyodae Station, Exit 13)
Seoidream Internal Medicine
Address: 4th floor, 157 Saimdang-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul (Lit Tower, Seocho-dong)
SNUH Gangnam Center
Address: 152 Tehran Street, Gangnam-gu, Seoul 38F~40F, Zip Code: 06236
Phone (Korean): 02-2112-5500
Phone (International): 02-2112-5503
Hanaro Medical Foundation (Jongo or Gangnam)
National Health Insurance Service checkups cannot be made on the website, so please make a reservation by phone through the call center.
Tel +82-2-590-1111 ARS #3 → #2
Contact Name: Judy Lee
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Address (Gangnam): 06211 7~11F, I Tower, 326, Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Address (Jongno): 5F, 1TOWER, GRAN SEOUL, 33, Jong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Address (Main): 54, 23-gil, Sejongdaero, Jongro-gu, Seoul
Address (Gangnam): 411, Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Address (Yeouido): 24, Gukjegeumyoongro 2-gil, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
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