Tax rebates and price transparency to encourage medical tourism to South Korea

Foreigners who have cosmetic surgery or cosmetic treatment in South Korea will receive a value added tax refund.

The tax rebate will be given at booths in the country’s international airports when foreign patients submit a certificate issued by authorised medical institutions or dermatology clinics.

Cosmetic operations and services including liposuction, nasal surgery and eyelid surgery undertaken between April 1 2016 and March 31 2017 are subject to the tax refund. The idea is to boost South Korea’s medical tourism sector.

Fifty Seoul clinics and hospitals have published price lists to provide a better service to foreign patients and to stop illegal brokers ripping off customers by claiming prices are higher than they are. But only selected prices are published.

The long-term aim of the Ministry of Health is to have all hospitals and clinics publish fees so customers can do easy price comparisons. Government is getting resistance from hospitals that regard prices as secret and commercially sensitive.

Both moves are part of the campaign to rebuilt trust in the true cost and safety of cosmetic surgery in South Korea. Most cosmetic surgery customers are from China, where the media has been exposing over charging and unsafe practices in Korea.

Seoul has launched an airport pick-up service for medical tourists and the Ministry of Health has opened a Medical Korea Information Centre in central Seoul. It offers interpretation services, medical consulting and legal advice to sort out medical disputes.

Korea accepts it has to do more to help customers when they get there. In a recent survey of 200 local clinics, interpretation services were needed in many to attract foreign patients, as was counselling support on visa issues.

South Korea plans to boost support and offer more medical tourism packages, with the aim of attracting 400,000 medical tourists in 2016.