Korean Plastic Surgery Prices – Do foreign patients pay more than Koreans?

I come across forum threads of people expressing frustration when they hear that local Koreans pay less for plastic surgery. And many people ask if that’s true?

The short answer – Yes. And it’s a very common scenario you will encounter. Not all, but many clinics do have different tiers or fee schedules for foreigner and local Korean plastic surgery prices.

Before you scream, “Bloody Murder!” Let me explain why, and if you want some tips on how you can level the pricing playing field check out this thread here. But first I want to say that price should not be the deciding factor for choosing clinics, instead, it should be things like the doctor’s beauty aesthetic, qualifications and skills, quality of service and postoperative care offered.

The Economics of Gangnam Beauty

In business, it’s much cheaper to service existing customers than to constantly seek to acquire new ones.

If you have a grasp of basic business, economics, and finance then all you need to know is the following to understand why there is two-tiered pricing:

  • A Korean patient has a lower present value (worth less now), but higher future value (worth more in the future).
  • A foreign patient has a higher present value (worth more now), but lower future value (worth less in the future).

hospitals-apgujeongA Patient’s Life Time Value

Yes, Koreans pay less per treatment than foreigners, but Koreans have more treatments as lifetime customers who tend to stay loyal to the same clinic/doctor than the one-off foreign patient who will have treatment and then fly back to their home country never to return again. When you add everything up, Koreans pay more to the clinic over their lifetime and will bring in much more referral business than what a foreigner can.

So giving up a local’s surgery slot and their potential forgone future value to treat a foreigner needs to be reconciled somehow. And one way is to have a higher present value or fee schedule for foreign patients.

Clinic saturation lower domestic demand

Well if that’s the case why bother servicing foreigners at all you say? Why not only stick with locals? I hate to answer a question with a question, but have you ever heard about putting all your eggs in one basket?  The clinic’s accounting department needs to diversify its mix of patients to protect itself against risk and changes in demand.

Let’s keep in mind that plastic surgery is a business, and the goal of every business is to make a profit. However, the local demand for plastic surgery is also seasonal and fluctuates like any industry. Sometimes it slows down due to the economy, and even though the international media makes it out as if every Korean is going under the knife – this isn’t actually the case.

When there is lower demand mixed with an oversupply of clinics, then that means dropping prices for Koreans. Lesser prices mean lesser profit margins, so clinics offset this through the ever-increasing demand from foreigners who are willing and able to pay more than Koreans and have a higher present value.

Also, foreigners tend to have a higher price or budget thresholds than Koreans because plastic surgery is usually more expensive in their local country or is not as developed as Korean practices.

Foreigners are expensive

International patients require more time, labor, effort, and administrative output than a native Korean who zips right through the process.

  • Time spent per patient
    • foreigners have more anxiety as non locals and need more consultation time
    • tend to be late or miss appointments since they don’t know the local area
  • Energy output per patient
    • foreigners need more handholding, supervision and assistance than locals who have their family members here
  • Services offered per patient
    • foreigners are offered pick up, drop-off transport, translation services, accommodations, etc…
  • Acquisition cost per patient
    • marketing, working with agencies, advertising, translating ads, website info, IT etc…

Opening doors to foreign patients is an expensive pursuit for Korean clinics. Marketing & advertising agencies in Korea charge a premium to local businesses who need websites, advertising, and materials designed in the English language. Also, clinics need to pass an extra set of government inspections and standards by investing in their facilities, services, and staff to accommodate international patients.

All things considered, this is how Korean clinics justify a separate pricing tier for foreigners.


Is it possible for foreigners to get the local price? Yes, usually for foreigners who are locals, meaning they live in Korea.

What about tourists? If a clinic is really not experienced at all with foreigners and suddenly one walks in they might not have two fee schedules.

However, if that foreigner likes to gossip and publish details of their journey online it won’t be long before the clinic gets flooded with email requests and appointments, and then adjusts itself accordingly to become an “international” clinic.

We asked a clinic manager once and they said, if you insist on getting the Korean price then:

“Please come in and speak fluent Korean, adjust yourself to Korean culture, keep your consultation to the point, don’t go back and forth too much asking for further consultation and bargaining, please have your family ready to assist you after.”

In summary, do not be put off that you’re paying more than a local. If you picked a great clinic and it’s within your budget, then you’re still getting a lot of value and coming out on top.

Nonetheless, the idea of paying more than a local may feel odd, but don’t let that off put you. When I first came to Korea to study 12 years ago at a local Korean University  I had to pay a higher international student tuition fees for taking a seat away from a local student. There’s nothing I could do about that, but if I let that bother me, it would have been waste of time and energy instead of focusing on what I came to Korea for, studying.

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