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Medical tourists to Korea rises to record high of 606,000

Japanese tops list, followed by Chinese and American

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : April 29, 2024 - 13:40

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South Korea attracted a record number of 606,000 foreign national patients in 2023, mainly for dermatological treatments and plastic surgery, the Health Ministry said Monday.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced that the number of foreign national patients visiting Korea has hit a record high at 606,000, up 2.4 times from a year earlier, 248,000.

This is the highest ever since 2009 when the ministry started to compile the number of foreign patients. Also, this figure is 1.2 times higher than the previous high recorded in 2019 when 497,000 international patients were treated in Korea. The number declined following the outbreak of COVID-19, with the figure dropping to 117,000 in 2020.

Over half of foreign national patients sought dermatology or plastic surgery in 2023.

Specifically, the percentage of foreign national patients undergoing dermatological treatments rose from 12.3 percent in 2022 to 35.2 percent in 2023. Similarly, the percentage of those seeking plastic surgery also increased from 15.8 percent in 2022 to 16.8 percent in 2023.

By country, Japanese nationals topped the list of patients of foreign nationality who visited Korea in 2023, making up 31 percent of the total with 188,000 visitors, followed by those from China, the United States, Thailand and Mongolia.

“The Korean government aims to boost its medical tourism industry as a key driver of future growth, with a target of attracting 700,000 foreign patients annually from 2027. To become the center of medical tourism in Asia, the government will continue to improve unreasonable regulations and expand support,” said Jung Eun-young, director of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Health and Health Industry Policy Bureau.

The government views medical tourism as a potent economic catalyst due to the substantial expenditure of medical tourists, which surpasses that of conventional tourists by 10-fold. The global medical tourism market is projected to surge to $346.1 billion by 2032 from $115.6 billion in 2022.