April 25, 2023
SEOUL – Foreigners are returning to South Korea to undergo medical treatment or get cosmetic surgery as the COVID-19 pandemic has eased in most parts of the world, government data showed Monday.
The number of medical tourists visiting Korea shot up 70.1 percent year-on-year in 2022 to 248,000, up from 146,000 in 2021, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
The industry has seen a rebound, with the number of medical tourists reaching a cumulative 3.27 million since 2009 when the ministry began tracking the data.
Medical tourists came from 192 countries in 2022, with the US accounting for the largest proportion, followed by China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.
Visitors from the US and China accounted for 35.5 percent of the total, and those from Japan 8.8 percent, and Thailand 8.2 percent.
Just over a quarter, or 26.4 percent, sought care in integrated internal medicine, followed by 15.8 percent in plastic surgery and 12.3 percent in dermatology. Integrated internal medicine includes the areas of general internal medicine, infectious disease, endocrine and metabolism, rheumatology, gastroenterology, cardiovascular disease, nephrology, allergy, hemato-oncology, pulmonology and family medicine.
By region, Seoul drew the most tourists at 59 percent, or 146,000 foreigners, followed by Gyeonggi Province with 16 percent, Daegu with 5.6 percent, and Busan with 4.7 percent.
Korea is seeking to boost the number of medical travelers to around half a million. The Health Ministry in March unveiled a five-year plan aimed at drawing 500,000 medical tourists every year, including offering overseas medical training opportunities for medical staff to upgrade their skills.
An official from the ministry said Korea sees medical tourism as a future growth engine and it will continue to foster growth in the industry.