Nearly 50,000 foreigners have come to South Korea for a beauty makeover last year, spending 215 billion won ($188.3 million) and making the plastic surgery sector the country`s most lucrative revenue source from medical tourists.
According to a report by the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Thursday, 48,849 foreigners visited Korea in 2017 for cosmetic surgery, up by 968 from the previous year and making up 12.3 percent of all medical tourists in the country.
They spent a combined 215 billion won, accounting for 33.6 percent of total revenue from foreign patients. Tourist spending in cosmetic surgery has jumped nearly fourfold from 2012.
While plastic surgery tourism has been on the rise, the total tally of medical tourists to Korea fell 6.5 percent on year to 397,882 in 2017. They also reduced their spending by 25.6 percent to 639.9 billion won.
In patient counts, internal or general medicine had the most visits from non-Korean residents with a share of 20.2 percent. Cosmetic surgery and dermatology followed at 12.3 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively, showing that one fifth of medical tourists come to Korea for cosmetic purposes. Medical examination came fourth at 9.8 percent.
When looking at the medical expenses per capita, cosmetic surgery was the highest at 4.4 million won, followed by general surgery at 2.98 million won, pediatrics at 2.77 million won and neurosurgery at 1.95 million won.
Korea, a highly image conscious society with a booming beauty industry, has emerged as a global cosmetic hotspot. The Korean pop culture phenomenon, or the Korean Wave, has been also partly attributable to the growing visits by foreigners wanting to receive cosmetic surgery in Korea as they aspire for the physical perfection of Korean singers and actors.
By Sohn Il-seon and Kim Hyo-jin
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]