On 16 July 2019, the government of South Korea will implement an amendment to the National Health Insurance Act. The Act will mandate foreign nationals living in South Korea for six months or more to enroll and pay monthly premiums to the Korean National Health Insurance Service (NHIS).
Prior to this amendment, enrollment in the NHIS was optional for foreign nationals regardless of their length of stay. South Korea’s healthcare system and hospital facilities have been ranked as some of the best in the world. Therefore, the government aims to prevent foreign nationals who are staying for a short period of time from taking advantage of the affordable state health coverage to get expansive and high-quality treatments.
The monthly premiums are paid via payroll taxes for employees and based on income and assets for non-employees. Reduced premiums apply to refugees, religious workers and humanitarian foreign visa holders. Foreign nationals who do not comply with the new requirement may get their visa extension or future visa application rejected.
Mandatory enrollment may not apply for:
- Foreign nationals covered under a public or private medical insurance plan in their home country, so long as the coverage extends to Korea and the amount and scope are comparable to those under the NHIS.
- Foreign nationals of countries that have signed social security bilateral agreements with the Korean government.
- Foreign employees covered under a local or an international employee medical insurance plan.
Employers may apply for an exemption for their foreign employees who are covered under a company insurance plan. It is still unclear whether such employer exemptions will be accepted, as the government hasn’t published any regulations on this matter yet.
The Korean health ministry is expected to provide further guidance on the entire exemption process before the end of 2019.
Employers should monitor the implementation timeline of the change and ensure compliance with the new requirement by 16 July 2019. Employers may apply for an exemption on behalf of their foreign employees prior to the introduction of the exemption guidelines. However, employers should be aware that the exemption might not be granted prior to further guidance from the Korean government.