Moving to Korea > Health and Medical Services

Medications and Prescriptions

Medications and Prescriptions

THE MEDICATIONS you know are generally available in Korea, albeit maybe under another brand name. Depending on the medication, you may have a choice between imported and/or domestic brands.

Medication is generally prescribed by a physician and dispensed by a pharmacist. This is a relatively new phenomenon in Korea in that until the late 1990's you could obtain any medication directly over the counter in every pharmacy. However, this is no longer the case. In fact, many of the medication that is available off-the-shelf in many countries require a prescription in Korea these days.

Non-prescription or Over-the-counter drugs are generally found in pharmacies only since Korea's pharmaceutical law gives pharmacies exclusive rights to manage pharmaceutical products, including OTC drugs. . However, as of July 2011, the governments reclassified 48 items that don't have safety issues so that they can now be purchased in (some) convenience stores and supermarkets. To prevent drug abuse, restrictions are being put on  their sale - the display and purchase method as well as the age of consumers who can purchase them will be strictly limited according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Of the 48, 18 are digestive aids, 11 are intestinal drugs, 5 are ointments, 2 are pain relief patches and 12 are drinks products. (Painkillers Tylenol and Aspirin, cold remedies such as Pancol, digestive aids Bearse and Festal, and medicated patches are among them.)

Pharmacists dispense pills and ointments that are already prepared and do not mix their own. They will, however, prepare little packets containing each dose of the combined medication prescribed by your physician so that you don’t have to try and remember what you’re supposed to take when. Because over-prescribing antibiotics is still common, some bacteria have become resistant to treatment.  Although sometimes under another brand/product name, all medications can be found in Korea. The pharmaceutical industry is quite advanced and many drug products are also imported.

Getting a prescription for the medication you currently take is quite easy. You have a number of options. You can
(i) take a copy of your prescription to any doctor,
(ii) bring a sample bottle/tube of your medication, or
(iii) give the doctor the name of your medication.
He/she will charge you a fee (anywhere from W5,000 to W25,000 – expect higher fees in the international clinics) and write you a prescription.(Note: If you have National Health Insurance, you will pay the lowest fee.) You can get as much as you can safely store on the one prescription in most cases. 

There are no repeat prescriptions here. Each time you want a refill on the medication, you will have to return to the doctor for a new prescription.  For certain types of drugs, the doctor has to conduct a physical examination and/or conduct tests on the patient, but for most it is not necessary.

Medication is not commonly labeled with dosage and usage instructions as may be the case in your home country. And even when there is a label, it is unlikely to be in English. Therefore, you'll want to write your physician's instructions and have her/him confirm that you've understood them, before you leave the office with your prescription. Failing that, ask the pharmacist to write them for you  - if s/he speaks English.


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Last Updated on 2021-09-24

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