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Sustaining Medical Tourism in South Korea


South Korea’s breakthrough in the medical tourism industry launched during 2007 with 16,000 foreign patients. In the year 2010, 60,000 foreign patients are expected to travel to South Korea for medical services. Anticipating 100,000 foreign patients by the year 2012, this rapidly growing trend will solidify South Korea’s prominent role in the medical tourism industry. Interest in medical tourism has been steadily progressing among patients, particularly with mounting health care costs in countries such as the United States. The global medical tourism industry is expected to gross $100 billion by 2012. Clearly, there is profit to be made by providing medical care to foreigners. South Korea is cultivating this lucrative business while competing among other Asian nations to further expand its comparative advantages. This paper will explore Korea’s fledgling-but flourishing-medical tourism industry, as well as the challenges that will need to be effectively addressed for Korea to be competitive in this specialized niche industry.

Kristen Handley is a second-year M.A. student at SAIS, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She earned her B.A. in Hispanic Studies and Psychology from Scripps College. Prior to SAIS, Kristen worked as a Foreign Affairs Legislative Assistant on Capitol Hill. In this capacity, she was appointed as a delegate by the Meridian International Center and U.S. Department of State to travel to South Korea as a U.S. Congress-Korean National Assembly Youth Exchange Ambassador. Kristen’s academic focus includes Korean history and U.S. foreign policy in the Korean Peninsula, which led her to write her American Foreign Policy thesis entitled, “From Deadlock to Compromise: the Role of the Threat of Nuclear Warfare to Reach the Korean War Armistice.”