As a part of coming to Korea to teach English, all foreigners are required to undergo a mandatory medical exam to prove their state of health. Unfortunately, those with problems the government or your school considers to be “dangerous” will be asked to leave, so it’s a good idea to go over things before hand, to make sure you’ll be alright before you hop on a plane. While yours may vary slightly, here is my experience with the teacher medical exam in Korea.

 

Getting There

The medical clinic will be most likely located in an office building designed for health sciences. Looking like any other building, you’ll take the elevator to your designated floor, hand your ID, a photocopy of it, and three passport-sized photos to the front desk staff (who most likely won’t speak much English). In return, they’ll hand you a set of keys and direct you to the locker room.

 

Getting Changed

Once in the locker room, you are required to strip off all clothes, and basically wear only the scrubs that are provided for you (you can keep your underwear on). Once you’ve done that, you can lock up your personal items, put on the provided slippers, and head out into the waiting area.

 

Blood Pressure, Height and Weight

A woman with a clipboard approaches the waiting area and calls out your name; you’re taken across the floor to a blood pressure machine, directed to place your arm through, and the cuff automatically measures what your pressure is. I later had to have it retested three times since it was high; and the staff couldn’t seem to understand why I was nervous about the situation; it’s a bright room where you’re whisked around to various stations with very little English, which decides whether or not you stay in the country after a week – nah, not stressful at all.

After measuring your BP, you’re taken to a scale which measures your weight (in kilos) and your height automatically (in cm).

 

The Hearing Test

Next up is a hearing test. You’re taken to a dimly lit room with a soundproof booth, like an old school telephone booth. The nurse instructs you to sit in the booth, place the headphones on, and press the button when you hear a sound. The test is about 4 sounds, all the same pitch, but very very faint; nice and easy.

 

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The Vision Test

After being directed back to the waiting area, a nurse calls you up to a bench where she shows you the letter C. Looking into a microscope you tell her which direction the C is facing; regular, down, or backwards. This one was a little difficult for me, but mention if you normally wear glasses.

 

Drug Testing

With the vision test complete, the medical clinic required you to pee in a cup and bring them two vials of urine. I caught a glimpse of my chart in which I saw that this was exclusively a drug test. Cannabinoids, opioids, amphetamines and cocaine were all tested for. Quite a few English teachers were sent home for testing positive for the above drugs. If you use them, make sure to give yourself time for the drugs to clear your system before coming to Korea. On a related note, don’t ever think about using drugs here. While they may be legal or tolerated in your country, the punishment in Korea is terribly harsh.

 

The Blood Test

After your urine test, a phlebotomist will withdraw two vials of blood. Before the exam you will be required to fast for 6-8 hours; take this seriously as if you don’t, you’ll need to be retested at your own expense. Catching another glimpse at my chart, one of the vials is to measure general health, so glucose/insulin levels, CBC, everything a doctor would normally do at a physical. The other vial is to test for the anti-HIV antibody. Unfortunately foreigners who test HIV positive, even if currently on antiretroviral therapy are not permitted to remain in the country. It’s my understanding that it’s the belief of the Korean government that HIV is a foreign-vectored disease, in that they think it’s brought to the country exclusively by foreigners. I’m not going to harbour an opinion on that, but the UN has a few things to say. I’ll let you make your own conclusions.

 

The EKG

A nurse will then escort you into a room asking you to remove your top and lay down on a bed. They will then hook up leads (little suction cups) to all your limbs, and six suction cups around your chest. I caught a glimpse at my print out and was able to see that it was looking normal, which was great. For my friends not previously in the health field, they mentioned this test made them the most nervous, since they didn’t really know what was happening. All you’ve got to do is relax, the wires won’t shock you.

 

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The Chest X-ray

In the quickest possible test, I was then whisked into a room, told to turn around, place my chin on a platform, my arms on my hims, push my shoulders forward and hold my breath. The attendant then ran away, took the X-ray, and the entire thing was over in 10 seconds; I wish back home could be that efficient.

 

The Dental Exam

After the chest X-ray, I was instructed to take the elevator to the 5th floor for a dental check up. Once there, I was taken to a small booth where I sat in a standard chair, and a dentist performed a visual inspection of my teeth. No special instruments, just his eyes, a tongue depressor and a flashlight. He jotted some things on my chart – probably my 1000 fillings from my candy-obsessed years, and sent me on my way back to the 7th floor.

 

The Doctor’s Interview

I was then sent into a room where a doctor asked me some basic questions about my health. Noting my increased blood pressure, she asked me if I suffered from hypertension. She asked about diabetes, heart disease, if I had any pain, arthritis, asthma, and a few others I can’t remember.

 

Finishing Up

With my doctor’s interview complete, I was sent to re-do my blood pressure check, where despite it still being relatively high, it fell just within the upper limit of normal. The nurse instructed me that I was finished, and had me go change back into my regular clothes and return the key. With that, my experience at the “medical centre” was finished. While terribly efficient, it’s less of a clinic and more of a processing facility. With the exception of the doctor, patients were treated with very little bedside manner, and more just another piece of meat. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience to have, but it might be a necessary one for that clinic, with the amount of people they see. I’m interested to see if the rest of the Korean health care system operates in the same style.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Comments

  1. Hey Ryder!

    I hope you are well!

    Thanks for writing this up! It is well written. So I’m looking into teaching in Korea this year and looked over this post. I’m concerned about the medical exam.

    I have very mild nocturnal epilepsy and have not had a seizure in many years. In fact, suppose I did have one, It could only occur during my sleep. Do you know if the drug or blood exam, test for anti convulstant medication? I am concerned that they may reject me if they find this medication in my bloodstream, since I take it still. Especially since Korea is very strict about conditions like this. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you,

    Luis A. Delgado

    1. Hi Luis,

      Sorry it took so long to reply! When I applied to my school, I submitted a health form to my recruiter with some basic information. Hopefully, if there’s a problem with your medication, the recruiter can tell you before you buy a ticket to go to Korea.

      Your best bet is to contact your recruiter directly and ask them. If you do find out an answer though, let me know. I’d like to hear it.

      Thanks for reading!

      – Ryder

  2. I’m interested in teaching in Korea but i’m kind of worried about the health test. I had a bit of a medical problem a couple of years ago and i’m now blind in one eye and wear glasses. I’m completely fine though! Do you know if i would fail the medical test?

    1. Hi Emily,

      Thanks for reading! Hmm, that’s a good question. Common sense says you’d probably be fine, but you can never be too sure with these things. You’d probably be best to reach out to your recruiter and see what they say. As far as the eye exam goes, I remember it being a simple “look into this device and read the letters” type of deal, similar to something you would see at the DMV.

      Best of luck!

      – Ryder

  3. I have a hernia in my groin region it’s completely harmless I do martial arts on it I ran track on it till the end of college and I go on through life with it honestly no pain doesn’t keep me out of work. Is this a disqualifying factor on a medical exam should I get it operated on it’s just I’m not a fan of knives going close to nether regions

    1. Hey Sean,

      You’d probably want to consult with your physician back home, and then talk to your recruiter to get some more information on this. They both can probably provide you with the best information for your specific school and condition.

      Best of luck!

      – Ryder

  4. stumbled on your post I am not here to teach but would like to have the test. I am 60 and a Canadian. Do you know any way to pay for the test? thanx

    1. Hi Terrence,

      If you’re referring to the whole exam in its entirety, it’d probably be best to research “medical clinics for expats”, or “medical clinics for foreigners” with whatever city you’re in. I’ve never heard of anyone taking the teacher exam without requiring it (it’s pretty thorough), but any clinic should be able to do most of these tests for you. I never had any problem with the Korean health care system, it’s quite similar to back home.

      Take care,

      Ryder

    1. Hmm… That’s a good question. I don’t think it’s likely that they are testing for HSV, as it’s pretty common in the population (and not too many people in North America test for it either). To be safe though, you should ask your recruiter. Hope that helps!

    2. Did you ever find out about HSV2? I’m currently in the process of applying to teach, however, I might as well give up if this will bea factor…

      1. Hello!

        I have never heard of them testing for any HSV. Very few places in Canada test for it during screenings, since it’s a common virus. HIV was the only virus I heard of them explicitly testing, but I don’t read Korean so I’m not sure. Since I’m not 100% sure though, the best thing to do is talk to your recruiter, who should be able to confirm whether or not they test for HSV. Best of luck with your application!

  5. I have Type 1 diabetes but also have an insulin pump to keep it in control. With me being a diabetic, will this cause me to automatically be sent home?

    1. Hey Karimi,

      The best thing to do is speak to your recruiter before you book flights. They will be able to confirm with the relevant authorities and your school to ensure that having an insulin pump won’t be a problem.

      Best of luck with your adventure!

    1. Hi Nicole,

      The short answer is probably. Times are changing, but tattoos are still not well regarded in Korea since they have “gang connotations”. I knew a few friends who were teachers that had tattoos, but they needed to keep them covered in the classroom. The staff knew about them, but the parents of the kids needed to be kept in the dark.

      It’s best to ask your recruiter about the schools you are applying to. Some may not want any tattoos, some may want you to cover it up. If it’s a small tattoo somewhere well hidden, I wouldn’t worry at all.

      Best of luck!

  6. Is this the standard testing no matter the school? My employer said I would have a blood test, and didn’t mention a urine test. And in the packet she sent me, it says the government suggests they don’t test for thc (which is my worry) but I’m not certain.

    1. Hey Matt,

      Hopefully this response isn’t too late. Some friends I trained with were sent home due to having THC in their systems, so THC testing definitely was done when I was there. The way the medical exam works as I understand it is that all teachers on teaching visas are required to undergo the test, unless they have Korean ancestry (though I may just be confusing that with the HIV test).

      If you’re planning on going, do a bit of searching online. A lot of sources say that holding back for about a month on cannabis use will ensure a clean test result. Best of luck on your new adventure!

  7. I know someone who is interested in teaching, but he takes antipsychotics for a mental issue. He has no criminal history, but I am wondering if this will disqualify him. Not to mention, would he be able to get his medication while he is over there?

    1. Hey Sean,

      For your friend, I would recommend he apply with a recruiter and then bring the issue up with them. They are the in the best position to advocate and determine whether or not this would be a disqualifying factor.

      Best of luck to you and your friend!

  8. Hey, I’m looking to teach in South Korea but I am on Metphormin for high insulin, will this affect my stay??? I am fine and just take a pill after meals with no other health problems.

    1. Hey Naki,

      Talking to your recruiter would be the best way to confirm this for certain. I’m not specifically sure about blood sugar disorders and how Korean immigration deals with them. Best of luck with your application!

  9. Hi,

    I noticed on the self assessment it noted hepatitis. Do they test for Hep B or anything like that? I’d hate to go there to korea and have to go back.

    1. Hello!

      The best thing to do in this case would be to contact your recruiter. Hepatitis might be something tested in the blood tests, but I’m not sure unfortunately. Your recruiter on the other hand can contact the school and confirm what is or is not going to be a problem.

      Best of luck!

  10. Hi,

    I just found this post. Some fo the comments and questions are a bit old so I don’t know if you’ll respond, but here I go.

    I have a mild form of narcolepsy. It’s not like what you see on tv with all the falling down and falling asleep suddenly. I’m just tired during the day, and during the night have sleep paralysis from time to time. I take half of the lowest dose available of armodafinil for this, which is classified in the US as a schedule IV drug (controlled substance). I’ve had plenty of drug test in the US for work in the past and it has never been a problem. However with Korea I’m unsure if my medication will show up on a drug test. My recruiter is aware of my medications and narcolepsy. I’ve been hired. The contracts are signed and sent off. I’d hate for my medication to be a problem. I’ve cleared the amount I’ll bring in with the Korean narcotics devision of the immigration office as well.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      It sounds like you’ve done everything you should have in order for things to go smoothly. Since narcolepsy affects people from all backgrounds, with a bit of digging you’ll likely be able to find a doctor in Korea who speaks English (most do) and can prescribe you Armodafinil.

      Best of luck with your new adventure.

  11. I’m also interested in teaching in South Korea. I have multiple sclerosis but I haven’t had any symptoms or anything that has disturbed me in the classroom or when I’m teaching to students, do you think this would be a problem?

  12. Did they have a test in hepa b?my friend asking about that..She wants to apply as teacher in korea. Thanks for your answer…

    1. Hi Dolce,

      The best thing for your friend to do is talk to their recruiter. They will be able to assist your friend in determining whether or not Hepatitis B is an issue.

      Thanks for reading!

    1. Hi Sarah, None that I have ever heard of. Things may have changed but those tests are more expensive, so they likely don’t do them.

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