Travelers seek beauty in Gangnam
Published : Apr 6, 2011 - 16:01
Updated : Apr 6, 2011 - 16:01
Half of Seoul’s plastic surgery and skincare clinics located in the district

This is the first of a three-part article on medical tourism in Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul. ― Ed. 

Jenny Cheng, a Chinese-American living in Las Vegas, stopped over in Korea last month en route to China.

It was a brief stay of less than six hours, but enough to receive laser wrinkle-removal thanks to several online consultations while in the U.S.

After the treatment, she went straight to the airport.

“There are a lot of Chinese people who are interested in plastic surgery and skincare clinics in Korea. I also learned about it from a Chinese patient who was treated in Seoul,” Cheng, 45, said in an email.

“I’m very satisfied with the outcome.”

More than 80,000 short- or long-term visitors received medical treatment last year in Korea, largely driven by the nation’s skillful doctors and relatively low costs. 
A foreign patient receives a consultation at Arumdaun Nara Beauty Clinic in southern Seoul. (The Korea Herald)

The growing popularity of K-pop in Asia, in particular, has boosted the numbers of those who seek plastic surgery and other aesthetic treatments.

And many of them are flocking to Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul, where more than half the plastic surgery and skincare clinics of Seoul are located.

In addition to its abundant shopping and fashion attractions, the road stretching from Sinsa-dong to Apgujeong-dong is called the “beauty belt” accommodating 430 clinics within the district.

Cheng also received treatment in the Arumdaun Nara Beauty Clinic, a Gangnam clinic which has seen a 20 percent increase in foreign patients every year.

“Some 200 foreign patients visit the clinic in a month. Affected by the Korean Wave in Asia, most of them are Japanese and Chinese people. There are a growing number of visitors from Central Asia and Eastern Europe as well,” said Lee Sang-jun, the clinic’s chairman.

“Young people prefer to have a major facial lift, while business travelers favor anti-aging treatment that little affects their daily activities,” he added.

A couple from Kazakhstan also received removal surgery for bags under their eyes at the clinic.

“We were a little worried before the surgery. But coordinators at the clinic helped us a lot and we feel great now after the treatment,” said the husband, an eye doctor.

Lee said “trust-building” is the key to treatment of foreign patients.

“Other than medical technique, which is the very basic thing, we try to relieve concerns of foreign patients in the whole process of procedures here,” said Lee.

Like major medical institutions in Korea, the clinic has participated in the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s pilot program “U-Health,” which offers a variety of medical services before and after the treatment both for domestic and overseas patients.

The language issue may be the most important concern when a foreign patient considers visiting Korea for medical purposes.

Major clinics have already hired “medical coordinators” fluent in foreign languages, including native speakers, who are trained for serving foreign patients.

Lee’s clinic, which has run its multiple-language website, offers interpretation services in six languages, including Chinese, Japanese, English, French, Spanish and Russian.

In an effort to better help foreign visitors, Gangnam-gu Office also dispatches its 47 special coordinators when there is a request from a clinic within the district.

One of them is Seo Do-young who has worked at the district’s community health center since last May.

“We try to assist foreign patients from their arrival here to departure to their home country. After the medical treatment, we sometimes help them with sightseeing and shopping in the city,” said Seo, who studied the Chinese language and medical tourism in China.

“Chinese patients show trust with the quality of Korean medical techniques. Their concerns are more about cultural differences such as food. We try to make them feel comfortable,” she said.

Cho Mi-kyung, chairman of S&U Clinic in Apgujeong-dong, has just started treating foreign patients, holding promotional events abroad together with local agencies.

Still, most of the clinic’s clientele are overseas Koreans. But more Japanese and Chinese patients are visiting the clinic, she said.

“Japanese patients are very careful. It felt rewarding when a Japanese mother who was treated at our clinic visited again together with her daughter,” she said.

“Amid an aesthetic boom among foreign visitors here, it would not be easy for them to find quality institutions. For them, the Gangnam-gu Office’s website offers a useful tip,” she added.

According to Cho, who is also a member of a Gangnam hospitals’ association targeting foreign patients, the district office introduces a list of quality clinics on its multi-language website at

By Lee Ji-yoon (

<한글 요약> 

외국인 관광객 한국 성형외과로 몰려

지난해 약 8만명의 외국인 관광객들이 한국에서 의료시술을 받았다. 

그리고 최근 한류열풍으로 한국에서 성형시술과 피부관리를 받는 관광객들의 수도 늘었다. 

이들 중 대부분은 성형외과와 피부과가 밀집한 강남을 방문하고 있다.

실제 신사동에서 압구정까지 약 430개의 의원이 밀집해 있으며 이 거리를 '뷰티벨트'라고 부르고 있다. 

강남구청에서는 병원을 방문하는 외국인 관광객들이 편안히 시술을 받고 한국관광도 즐기는데 도움을 주기 위해 스페셜 코디네이터들을 배치하여 병원에서 요청이 있을 경우 파견하고 있다. 

강남 소재 아름다운 나라 피부과에 의하면 약 200명의 외국인 환자들이 매월 미용 시술을 위해 방문하고 있다고 한다.  또한 여러 의원에서는 외국인 관광객들을 위한 프로모션 이벤트도 진행중이라고 한다.