Why I Cancelled My Medical Insurance And Pension in South Korea

When I was teaching English in South Korea, I chose to cancel my medical insurance and pension contributions, meaning that I had to sort out my own insurance to cover possible medical bills. This is something that most schools will not tell you about because it may lead to complications, but the reason I did it was to save myself quite a lot of money and to provide myself extra cover incase things went wrong. This is particularly relevant to citizens of the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, but not to citizens of Canada or the US (this is explained below).

How Much Money Did I Save?

“I saved myself 1M won by opting for travel insurance”

From every pay check, I had to pay the following (and so will you):

  • National Pension-Plan Contributions: 4.5% of salary
  • National Health Insurance Premiums: 2% of salary

My salary was 2.2M won per month (26.4M per year), meaning that over the course of the year I would have had to pay 1.716M won. That’s three and a bit weeks’ salary that I don’t see. As a British, Irish, Australian, New Zealand, or South African national, you are not able to touch those pension contributions for many years (if ever). Essentially that means that you have lost the money.

I wasn’t able to cancel my pension contributions without also cancelling my medical insurance, so I cancelled both and purchased travel insurance for the year which cost me around 0.7M won. This meant that I saved over 1M won during the course of the year. The travel insurance covered my major medical expenses and, even better, covered me for anything else that might go wrong with flights or personal belongings. As such, I actually had more cover and more money by cancelling my medical insurance and pension contributions to opt for travel insurance instead.

Which Travel Insurance Should I Get?

If you wish to do this, I personally recommend World Nomad’s Travel Insurance (try out the no obligation, instant quote generator below) and I have used them for years. They allow you to start a policy outside of your home country, offer customisable cover dependent upon the activities that you will be undertaking, and have never messed me around. When I split my head open in Korea and had medical bills of around 0.3M won, they paid very quickly, less my policy excess of 0.065M. They are not the cheapest policy, but for the little bit extra that they cost, I genuinely believe them to be the best travel insurance policy provider available and if they ever become unreliable, I will change my recommendation.

Is There Any Risk To Doing This?

As with everything in life, yes there are risks. World Nomads’ Travel Insurance (and most others) will not pay out for any of the following:

  • Medical conditions that exist before you travel
  • Deliberately putting your life in danger
  • Anything that involves alcohol or drugs
  • Personal liability whilst working (for example, if you accidentally injure a student or damage property at your place of work)
  • Anything listed in the GENERAL EXCLUSIONS in the policy wording

By contrast, the medical insurance would cover you for most of the things mentioned above (not personal liability), but I decided that the travel insurance offered me more of the cover that I was looking for at a more reasonable cost – this is partly because Korean medical insurance reduces your medical bills rather than covering them. In essence I decided that for serious injuries, travel insurance would offer much better cover. I am not advising that others do the same (nor am I saying you shouldn’t), I am simply explaining why I cancelled my medical insurance and pension contributions in South Korea, and why I opted for travel insurance instead. You can use this information to make up you own mind about what is best for you.

A Note To Americans and Canadians

If you are American or Canadian, your employer will match your pension contributions and you will be able to withdraw it as a lump sum at the end of your contract, due to awesome agreements that your countries have made with South Korea. If I was American or Canadian, that would have meant rather than losing 1.716M won over the course of my contract, I would have actually gained 0.66M won whilst being insured medically. And as I would have been paying into the pension fund, it would have been like a savings account I couldn’t touch, helping me to save money. For this reason, it makes sense to keep paying your pension and medical contributions in South Korea, thus why most of the content on this page is not so useful for you. However, please note that whilst you have medical insurance, you will not be covered for anything else that goes wrong (liability, theft, etc), or during the time that you are travelling to / from South Korea, thus I would still recommend getting travel insurance anyway. It is the one thing I never travel without. I broke my back a few years ago and would have been financially screwed if I wasn’t covered.

More About Teaching English in South Korea

As I taught English in South Korea for a while, I compiled quite a bit of knowledge that I am passing onto others. Here are some more pages that you will probably find useful:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this page are entirely my own and based upon my experiences of teaching in South Korea. I share this information freely for your learning, but if you decide to cancel your medical insurance and pension contributions, that is your choice, and I take no responsibility for your doing so. The link to World Nomads’ Travel Insurance is an affiliate link, meaning I will get paid a small commission if you buy travel insurance by clicking my link. It will not cost you any extra, it will help to support this site, and I only recommend them because I use them myself.

By | 2017-01-20T00:08:19+00:00 January 19th, 2017|Advice, Thoughts and Inspiration|2 Comments


  1. Georgie 29/01/2017 at 16:22 - Reply

    Hi Jamie,

    What happens with regular trips to the doctor? You’ve explained why you cancelled your medical insurance and that you had travel insurance for emergencies. But are you able to shed any light on whether or not one would need to pay for a regular trip to the doctor for ‘minor’ ailments’?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Jamie 01/02/2017 at 01:18 - Reply

      I believe that you will be required to pay for these. However, I went to the hospital (as it was the only place I could find an English speaking doctor and I’m not sure if there is the same doctor surgery setup that we have in the UK) for an eczema prescription and didn’t get charged for it. In short, I’m not completely sure! Sorry I can’t be of more help.

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