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South Korea Elder Care for Expats

by Leona Small
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Previously known as the Republic of Korea, South Korea is considered a prime destination for many expats. If you plan to spend your senior years there, know what South Korea elder care looks like. It’s a developed nation, providing many of the creature comforts Westerns have become accustomed to, but it can be difficult residing there in your elder years. The cost of living is reasonable, but is moving to South Korea all it purports to be? Let’s see. 

South Korea’s Residency Requirements

South Korea has a pretty unique way of acquiring a citizen visa. This method involves investing $100,000 US dollars in the country to apply for a business investor visa. A business investor visa will allow you to gain permanent residence as long as you have been living in South Korea for at least three years and have invested at least $500,000 US dollars total into the economy over that time. However, this process can be skipped if $5 million US dollars is invested at the onset. In this case, the investor will be granted immediate permanent residency in South Korea.

There are other ways, of course, arguably more straightforward and less expensive than the investor visa. Citizenship is also available through naturalization. To be eligible, you must live in South Korea for at least five years, have a basic understanding of Korean culture, and speak basic Korean. This process can be shortened by around two years if you are married to a South Korean citizen. 

Cost of Living

Generally considered a fair cost of living, South Korea has relatively low expenses compared to some Asian countries such as China, but not quite as expensive as Singapore. If you plan on living in the capital of South Korea, Seoul, prices will be the highest. Living in the capital will cost you around $600 US dollars per person per month, excluding rent expenses. Rent varies depending on the size and area, but generally apartments in the capital will cost about $600 US dollars per month for a single bedroom apartment.

Of course, you could find a less expensive lifestyle and living arrangement in an area without many other expats. If you instead choose a place on the outskirts of any city your expenses would be about $500 US dollars per person plus rent, which is another $500 US dollars per month.

South Korean Healthcare

South Korea has a universal healthcare system and healthcare safety net, although most healthcare in the country is privately funded. You can apply for health insurance and healthcare after living in South Korea for six months, using the same documents required for nationality/residency. You’ll need to present your passport, employment contract, and bank statements when applying. You’ll need options, because Medicare does not work for expats.

Healthcare in South Korea is rated among the highest globally, as it is accessible and considered of high quality. It has also been ranked as the fifth-best in the world in terms of efficiency by Bloomberg. The country first had national health insurance in 1977. Health insurance in South Korea will cover up to 60 percent of total medical costs.

However, health insurance is not free. The total cost of health insurance is nearly $2,500 US dollars per year, almost three times as much as the global average, so definitely on the high end in terms of price. You might do better to search out a private health care insurance provider that is accepted in South Korea.


Transportation in South Korea is typically through railways, roads, bus routes, ferry services, and even air routes. There are even six cities that have a subway system to get around. A one-way bus ticket might cost you about $1.14, while a taxi might cost about 80 cents per kilometer, depending on local fares. 

Travelers generally use a rechargeable T-Money Card to pay for bus, taxi, train, and subway rides. The main issue with a local commute is communicating with the drivers since very few speak English. It might help to write or have someone else write your destination in Korean on a piece of paper. Tourist destinations will have more English speakers than in other areas. 

Korean Language

That brings us to the most significant deterrent to moving to South Korea. The country shares the same language as North Korea, Korean. However, the two countries speak different dialects. In general, North Korea uses the Phyong’yang dialect, and South Korea speaks the Seoul dialect. Within those dialects, there are several sub-dialects spoken in both countries. 

Korean is moderately challenging to learn, considered harder than French yet easier than Arabic. Be prepared to spend at least 1200 hours of study for a basic understanding of the language and at least twice that for an intermediate grasp. The grammar is challenging for English speakers, and the writing system is complicated. 

The writing system is known as han’gul and consists of 24 letters: 14 consonants and ten vowels. Korean verbs have tenses that distinguish the inferior, equal, or superior status of conversation participants. Learning the correct tense to use in each situation is imperative so as not to offend. 

South Korea Elder Care

The country has a high life expectancy, with an average age of 92. In fact, statistics show that the country is aging faster than any other country. Unfortunately, approximately 3 million seniors in the country live in poverty. South Korea has the worst senior poverty rate among developed nations. Just 35 percent of the total senior population receive a pension of $250 per month, which isn’t enough to cover necessary living expenses. 

South Korea has long term elder care insurance that was first established in 2008. The way to apply is through the caregiver, who would present a document with a statement with a doctor’s medical opinion to the National Health Insurance Corporation. Afterward, the form will be reviewed by a nurse or social worker. The type and duration of assistance is granted based on the senior’s current condition. 

South Korea established a Comprehensive Welfare Program in 2012. Seniors who are unable to complete daily living tasks are assisted. Meals are provided at dining halls or delivered as well. The Community Care Program was created in 2019. It offers in-home care services, food deliveries, public housing, and daycare. 

Even with these services, many elderly support themselves through cleaning, trash-picking, or even through prostitution. The poor conditions many seniors find themselves in leads to a high rate of senior suicides

Life Satisfaction and Personal Relationships

South Korea has a below-average satisfaction percentage, that number being 5.9 out of 10, and the world average is 6.5 percent, according to EOCD. Around 67 percent of people between the ages of 15-64 have a paid job, and more than 11 percent of these employees are working long hours.

Climate and Pollution

South Korea has a temperate climate with all four seasons. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant. Winter is long and dry. Summer is relatively hot and humid. Unfortunately, South Korea’s air quality is not as pristine as one would hope. Historically, environmental health was a secondary priority compared to the need to grow its economy. 

Recently, the South Korean government has been approving more laws to protect the environment. Despite this, South Korea is still considered to be among the countries with the worst air pollution in the world.

Further Reading on South Korea

All in all, if good healthcare is what you’re after, South Korea will treat you well. Korean isn’t as hard as some languages to learn, but still a challenge to achieve fluency. With a relatively average cost of living, you won’t have to squeeze every penny from your pocket to get a comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately, these incentives are brought down because of the large amount of pollution in the country and the high senior poverty rate. These factors have many Koreans giving the government a below-average satisfaction level.

If you want to read more on life in South Korea, consider the following titles:

Wondering about elder care in other nearby countries? See these articles:

Do you have information on South Korea or personal experience? Let us know in the comments section.

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