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Seoul

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South Korea / Seoul
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OVERVIEW

As the largest city in South Korea, Seoul has fantastic and varied medical services. Contraceptives can be purchased at pharmacies over-the-counter though you need a doctor's prescription for emergency contraception. While many facilities offer STD tests, it is important to exercise caution and choose anonymous testing centers. If you are a foreigner and test positive for HIV/AIDS or syphilis, you will most likely be deported from South Korea. While abortion is illegal, there are accounts of women secretly obtaining abortions. If you are pregnant and have the means to travel, it is advisable to seek abortions elsewhere, such as in mainland China, Hong Kong or Japan.

For women seeking counseling or shelter, there are many resources available in Seoul (see below for details). Also, with its large expat community, Seoul and South Korea in general has many resources available to English speakers and foreigners.

Contraception (Birth Control)[edit]

General Note: There are many types of contraceptives, also known as "birth control," including IUDs, oral contraceptives, patches, shots, and condoms, etc. If you would like to view a full list, click here.

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

Contraceptives are completely legal in South Korea and can be purchased in a pharmacy. You can buy many birth control brands, like Mercilon, without a prescription at pharmacies (if you ask the pharmacist for it). However, some contraceptive brands may require a prescription. For example, a female backpacker said that South Korean pharmacists told her that she needed a prescription for Yasmin.

In 2012, President Pak Geun-Hye and his conservative government announced that the Korean Food & Drug Administration was considering reclassification of birth control pills, which would make the pills prescription-only. This caused public outrage and wide online discussion of the issue. Three months later, the proposal was dropped. It was decided to put the reclassification on hold for three years -- and, to this day, it seems to remain on hold. As reported in Korea Bang, "Asides from the 'woman’s right to choose' argument, one of the reasons Korean women get upset over the issue is perhaps cultural: unmarried Korean women rarely visit a gynaecologist. Even when seriously ill, a visit to a gynaecology clinic would be reluctant for fear of the disapproving stares around them. That’s not to mention the social pressure on Korean women to remain sexually naïve."[1]

In 2015, it was estimated that 78% of South Koreans use some form contraception.[2] However, only 2.8% of Korean women use the birth control pill.[3] Many men and women also underwent the forced sterilization programs of the 1970s and 1980s.[4] Condoms also appear to be more popular than oral contraceptives.

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

In Korean, birth control pills are 피임약 (pronounced "pi-im yak"). The most popular brand in Korea is Mercilon (머시론). You can purchase condoms in convenience stores, pharmacies, Olive Young, Watson's, and sometimes in subway vending machines. There's also 에이리스, which is a low hormone option, costs about 10,000 won for a 21-pill pack. Another brand is 멜리안정 (me-li-an-jung), but some users have reported loss of sex drive. There's also 센스리베.

It appears that you can get the Nuvaring in South Korea, but we don't have much information on this (anyone?).

As for IUDs in South Korea, one poster on Reddit wrote: "IUDs are great, but the general consensus over here, unlike in the US, is that they're bad for unmarried women, so she may have trouble getting a doctor to consider it here. I had a hospital gynecologist here who tried very hard to convince me to have mine taken out.[5]

Recommended Clinics/Pharmacies:

  • MediFlower Clinic near 교대 is great

Costs[edit]

Birth control pills are 6-8,000 won for one month’s supply.

Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill)[edit]

Important Notes: Emergency contraception may prevent pregnancy for three days (72 hours) and sometimes five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. Take EC as soon as possible after unprotected sex. If you don't have access to dedicated EC, oral contraceptives can be used as replacement EC, but remember the following: 1) Only some contraceptives work as EC 2) Different contraceptives require different dosages and time schedules to work as EC 3) You must only use the first 21 pills in 28-day packs and 4) They may be less effective than dedicated EC. For general information on emergency contraceptives, click here and here.

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

Morning after pills (사후 피임약) are only available with a prescription. As explained by the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception, "EC currently still requires a prescription. Although in August 2012 the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) decided to repeal an earlier initiative that would have approved EC for over-the-counter use, due to intense debate within the country among various stakeholders, the KFDA abandoned the reclassification initiative."[6]

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

Note: The longest-lasting EC is currently ellaOne. It lasts up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. Check to see if your country carries ellaOne. If your country doesn't carry ellaOne, copper IUDs may also prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex. If none of these options are available, and it's been over 3 days since you had unprotected sex, you can still take EC, which may work up to 5 days. Note that EC pills are not 100% effective and should be taken as soon as possible.

To get an EC prescription, you will need to go to a doctor. It is recommended to visit a women's clinic for the prescription rather than a hospital. You will find it especially difficult to secure an EC prescription at a Christian hospital. When you are seeking EC, it is customary that the doctor will ask some questions about your cycle, last period, etc. After they have written a prescription, you can bring it to a pharmacy ("yak-guk" in Korean).

For dedicated EC that is anti-progestin, there's ellaOne (take 1 pill within 120 hours after unprotected sex). For dedicated EC that is progestin only, there's After1, Norlevo One and Postinor 1 (take 1 pill within 120 hours after unprotected sex). There's also Levonia, Levonormin, MS Pill and Sexcon One&One (take 2 pills within 120 hours after unprotected sex). If you absolutely cannot secure emergency contraceptives, you can use some oral contraceptives as EC instead. In Korea, there's Minivlar or Sexcon (take 4 pills within 120 hours after unprotected sex and take 4 more pills 12 hours later) or Alesse (take 5 pills within 120 hours after unprotected sex and take 5 more pills 12 hours later).[7]

Costs[edit]

The morning after pill should only cost between 10,000 and 20,000 won. The doctor's visit might cost around 10,000 won.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs/STDs)[edit]

Important Notes - Learn about PEP and PrEP: If you think that you've been recently exposed to HIV (i.e. within 72 hours), seek out PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis). It's a month-long treatment to prevent HIV infection after exposure, and it may be available in your city. Take PEP as soon as possible. For more information, click here. If you are at risk of HIV exposure, seek out PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). It's a daily oral pill that can prevent HIV infection before exposure. To learn more about PrEP, click here.

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

The South Korean government does not allow foreigners with HIV/AIDS or syphilis to enter the country. If you come as a tourist to South Korea, you will not be tested for HIV/AIDS. But, if you are a foreign teacher, you will typically be required to take an HIV test before working in Korea. If foreigners are found to be HIV+ or have syphilis, they will most likely be deported. As for locals with HIV/AIDS, there seems to be no special treatment centers in South Korea. There also no known distributors or trials for PrEP. The word for AIDS in Korean is 에이즈, or "eijeu." If you test positive for HIV or syphilis, and if you are a teacher, contact Legal Office For Foreign Teachers (LOFT) to discuss your options.

In Korean society, STI/STD tests do not appear to be common. Many people hold the perception that they are "clean" though they may have never been tested. While STD rates are lower, particularly for HIV/AIDS, than in many other countries, South Korea is certainly not STD-free, and people should always practice safe sex.

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

Larger Hospitals[edit]

Note: These larger hospitals may not do anonymous testing, so they may report your results to Korean authorities.

  • Yongsan Public Health Center: Tests for hepatitis, STD test, blood, and urine tests. If you're not covered by public insurance, Yongsan provides free checks for foreigners. Call 02-2199-8161 (Korean only). Often there is no one at the center who speaks a language other than Korean. You can contact 1339 (medical help line) for assistance while you're at the center. The health center is located in the Yongsan District Office building. Go out Exit 3 of Noksapyeong Station (Line 6, Stop 628). Head toward Itaewon, crossing the street at the light. Right after you cross, turn right, heading toward Banpo Bridge. Walk about 2-3 minutes - the Yongsan District Office is the hug building right by the Crown Hotel.
  • Severance Hospital - Does STD tests and has an international clinic for foreigners. It is one of the oldest and biggest university hospitals in South Korea. Address: 50-1 Yonsei-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea. Phone: +82 1599-1004.
  • Ansan Hospital: May only test for HIV/AIDS. Korea University Medical Center 73, Inchon-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 02841.

Specialized Clinics[edit]

While you can get an STD test at many hospitals, they may not be anonymous. Here is a list of some more specialized places:

  • Korea Federation for HIV/AIDS Prevention (KHAP): Provides free & anonymous tests for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, urethritis. Their HIV test are only for foreigners ("Our Testing both HIV Rapid and STD at any centers is offering basically for foreigners, not Koreans. Koreans are not available."). Reservation required by phone or website. Address: 30-6. Donam 1-dong Seongbuk-gu. 136-890. SEOUL KOREA ㆍTEL.82-2-927-4322 ㆍFax.82-2-927-4017, E-mail:khap@kaids.or.kr.
  • International Clinic: Provides STD tests, supposedly anonymously, and you can pay cash. "International Clinic was founded in 1987 with the goal of providing advanced and personalized health care for expatriates residing in Korea and travelers to Korea. The International clinic is a modern, full-service medical clinic specializing safe and effective natural therapies for medical conditions, including anti-aging programs." Address: 501 Hannam building, 737-37 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea 140-212. Phone Number: 82-2-790-0857. They have a website with an online reservation system but it often seems to be down.
  • Ivan Stop HIV/AIDS Project: Tests for the Korean gay community. Full-time gay staff and volunteers. May also test for women as well. Contact them to inquire. Seoul Center: Nagwon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, 109-1 and Tel.02-792-0083 and Fax.02-744-9118.

Remember: Anonymous testing is especially important in South Korea where foreigners can be deported for positive results.

Costs[edit]

Medications & Vaccines[edit]

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

For nearly all medications in Korea, you need a prescription from a doctor. For yeast infection medication, you can ask for the "Canesten" at the pharmacy (though I believe you need a prescription first), which is similar to Monistat or Lotrimin. Pharmacies should have both the cream and suppository types of Canesten. The word for suppository in Korean is "좌약" (prounounced as "jwa yak"). For UTIs, you will also need to see a doctor for treatment. Be sure to specify that you believe it is a UTI, otherwise the doctors may assume that you have an STI (due to the burning sensation). For herpes (수포진, or "supojin" in Korean), Valtrex is not readily available (as of 2012), but there is a generic version in Korea. Regarding HPV vaccines, the government approved Gardasil for females (ages 9-26) and males (9-15) in 2007. Since 2016, it has been a part of the National Immunization Program, and all children under 12 in South Korea receive the vaccination free of charge. Regarding HIV medication, the Korean government seems to bar foreigners with HIV/AIDS from entering the country. It also requires that all foreign teachers take HIV tests. If foreigners are found to be HIV+, they will most likely be deported. As for locals with HIV/AIDS, there seem to be no special treatment centers in South Korea. There also no known distributors or trials for PrEP. The word for AIDS in Korean is 에이즈, or "eijeu."

Costs[edit]

Menstruation[edit]

Note: In addition to pads and tampons, you can also use menstrual cups and menstrual underwear for your period. To learn more about menstrual cups, click here. To learn more about menstrual underwear, click here.

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

While tampons are available, they are not sold everywhere, as most South Korean women only use them for swimming.

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

Pads are available at convenience stores, often sold in “bulky” sizes. Tampons with and without applicators are available but the brand selection is pretty limited. There are no known sellers of menstrual cups (DivaCup, Mooncup, LadyCup), so it is recommended to buy them online.

Costs[edit]

Gynecological Exams[edit]

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

  • Medi-Flower OB/GYN Clinic - Recommended. Located next to the Seoul National University of Education Metro stop. The female Korean doctor speaks English.

Costs[edit]

Pregnancy[edit]

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

Check out this fantastic list of Hospitals and Birthing Centers in Korea, updated in 2016, and Doulas, Prenatal, Postpartum, and Breastfeeding Support in Korea, compiled in 2013. And here's a list of International Clinics and Hospitals in Seoul.

Costs[edit]

Abortion[edit]

Important Note: There are two main types of abortions: medical (also known as the "abortion pill") and surgical (also known as "in-clinic"). For medical abortions, you take a pill to induce abortion. For surgical abortions, a procedure is performed to induce abortion. For general information about medical and surgical abortions, click here.

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

Abortion is illegal in South Korea, except in special cases. While the original law in 1953 restricted all abortion, this was changed in 1973 under the Maternal and Child Health Law. With these changes, an abortion could be performed by a physician if 1) the pregnant woman or her spouse suffer from a hereditary mental/physical disease specified by Presidential Decree 2) the pregnant woman or her spouse suffer from a communicable disease specified by Presidential Decree 3) the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest 4) the continuation of the pregnancy threatens the woman's life. In all other cases, abortion is illegal and a woman who induces her own abortion may be subject to imprisonment for one year or a fine. Medical personnel who illegally induce an abortion may face up to two years of imprisonment.

However, Misoprostol (the abortion pill) seems to be available as Misel. It's not clear if you need to buy it online or if you can get it in select hospitals. To get abortion pill online, contact Women on Web for instructions. To try to find the pill or other services in Seoul, check out the next section below.

If you're interested in obtaining an abortion in an East Asian country with more lenient abortion laws, you may want to check out Japan, China, Hong Kong, or Vietnam.

If you would like to read personal accounts of getting an abortion in Korea, check out these links:

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

  • Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea (PPFK): Youngdeungpo-gu dangsan-dong, 6ga 121-146 Seoul 150-808. Tel: +82(2) 467 8201, (2)2634 8211 . Fax: +82(2) 467 1394
  • Hosan Hospital: To read a testimonial, please read this blog, which details the experience in two posts. Tel.: 546-3674, Address: 617-5 Shinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul.
  • Mirae Wha Heenang (Future and Hope) Clinic. Tel.: 3446-0011. 532-7 Shinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul.

Costs[edit]

Advocacy & Counseling[edit]

Laws & Social Stigmas[edit]

What to Get & Where to Get It[edit]

  • Emergency Support Centers for Migrant Women ((이주여성긴급지원센터)): Provides 24/7 emergency support and shelter services for all foreign women, regardless of nationality, who have been victims of family violence, sexual assault and prostitution. Counseling services in 11 languages (Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, English, Tagalog, Russian, Thai, Mongolian, Cambodian, Uzebek, and Japanese). Telephone: 1577-1366 (no area code required when dialed from ANY type of phone within South Korea), Address: 3rd Floor, Central Place, Seosomunno, Jung-Gu, Seoul, Email: wm1366@naver.com or wm1366@hanmail.net.
  • Emergency Call Line (Hotline) for Women(여성긴급전화): Tel 1577-1366 (available in English), Operating hours: 9p.m. - 9a.m.
  • Seoul Shelter for Women: Shelter for homeless and intellectually disabled women in Seoul. Under the management of Sister Veronica Kim.
  • Korea Legal Aid Corporation (대한법률 구조공단): Offers free legal advice regarding civil, family and sexual harassment. Tel 02-3482-0132 (may not have English speaker available).
  • Ajou University Sexual Violence Counseling Center: Tel 031-219-1745 (may not have English speaker available). Website in Korean only. Email: helper@ajou.ac.kr
  • Hanyang University Gender Inequality Center: Tel 02-2220-1444, 1783 (may not have English speaker available). Website supposedly has information in English, Chinese but looks to be only Korean on quick glance. Consulting can be done by phone and in person.
  • Kookmin University Sexual Violence Counseling Center: Tel 02-910-4231~2 (may not have English speaker available). Website is in Korean only. Email: sangdam@kookmin.ac.kr. Consulting can be done by phone, e-mail and in person.
  • Seoul National University Center for Sexual Assault Prevention: Tel 02-880-5073 (may not have English speaker available). Website is in Korean only. Email: helpyou@snu.ac.kr , online counseling in English is possible. Consulting can be done by phone, in person and e-mail.
  • Yonsei University Sexual Violence Counseling Center: Tel 02-2123-2118 (may not have English speaker available). Website is in Korean only. Email: helpyou@yonsei.ac.kr. Consulting can be done by phone, in person and e-mail.

Note: Thanks to Korea4Expats[8] for providing much of this information!

Costs[edit]

List of Additional Resources[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Law on Contraceptive Pill Changes
  2. UN Report
  3. Korean Herald)
  4. Learning From Korean Family Planning Advertisements of the 1960s-1980s
  5. Help! Buying Birth Control in South Korea...
  6. EC Status and Availability, South Korea
  7. [http://ec.princeton.edu/worldwide/ Princeton Emergency Contraception Website
  8. Korea4Expats: Women Help Centres - Hotlines