How to Stay Healthy While Traveling in South Korea

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South Korea is a well-developed country with plenty of top-notch hospitals and clean drinking water, but it still has a few bugs which can make you ill. Find out how to avoid them here.


Vendors are selling kimchi at local market in South Korea Photo © iStock/hanhanpeggy

Vaccinations recommended for South Korea

Check with your travel doctor at least 8 weeks before traveling to make sure you are up to date with routine booster shots, or to see if any vaccinations are essential.

The CDC and WHO recommend the following vaccinations for travelers to South Korea: Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia and influenza.

Medical treatment in South Korea

Medical services in South Korea are of a high standard and very efficient. But they can be expensive depending where you go, with some requiring payment upfront before treatment. If you're not flash with your Korean speaking skills, the larger hospitals tend to have more English speaking staff than other facilities.

Not all medications are available in South Korea, so like any trip it's worth packing what you usually take along with the doctor's letter to save yourself the drama of running out. Some medications are also considered controlled or prescription in South Korea, so you may need to get a permit from the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety

Health issues in South Korea

Yellow Dust

This common springtime malaise may feel to people who suffer from seasonal allergies that they have stepped into a little private hell. Yellow dust looks a lot like pollen, but it is actually dust from the Mongolian deserts that rides the wind and blows through South Korea's cities like a scratchy, unbreathable fog. Bring a dust mask or prepare to be miserable. If breathed in, yellow dust can cause throat irritations and may exacerbate cardiovascular or respiratory problems.

Hepatitis A

There are frequent cases of Hepatitis A from the food or water in Seoul or other Korean cities. It is recommended that you make sure your Hepatitis A vaccine is up to date.


Travellers to rural areas in South Korea may be at risk for contracting malaria. Mosquitoes carrying the disease are located around the DMZ (demilitarized zone) at the border with North Korea as well as in the northern areas of the Gangwon and Gyonggi provinces. Additionally, there are a few other insect-borne diseases that may become problems; these include Japanese encephalitis, filariasis and typhus. Cases in travellers are rare.

Traveler's diarrhea

The bane of every traveler's existance, it can either stuff your plans up for a few days or at worse, put you in hospital. Lots of people drink the local tap water in South Korea and have little trouble. Apparently, it is of a higher quality than water in the United States. But if you aren't a fan of the taste, stick to treated or bottled water.

You can avoid catching traveler's diarrhea by practising good hygiene and watching what you eat and drink. Korean cuisine is varied including raw, uncooked, pickled, partially cooked and other delicacies. Meat and seafood are often found in many dishes. So whether it's a street food cart or a restaurant; make sure the place is busy, is clean and foods like meat are kept chilled. 

It's also handy to carry some antibacterial gel around with you, especially if you aren't in a position to get to running water and soap.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

A disease commonly found in Asia, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFDM) is a seasonal, symptomatic virus most common in the summer months. If you are travelling with young children under the age of 10, be sure they take good care of their hygiene and their health. HFDM most commonly affects young children and even young adults. Just don't share fluids with anyone.

Toilets in South Korea

Public toilets are generally very bare and sparse, so it's a good idea to carry some toilet paper with you. Nothing feels worse than being in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, alone, and without toilet paper.

Public toilets in many major cosmopolitan areas can a mix of the Asian squat style and Western throne style. However the more rural you go; the more likely it'll be a squat style. You might want to practice not sitting down before you head to South Korea.

You might want to pack some anti-bacterial hand sanitiser as well, as many of the public toilets will be without soap to wash your hands.

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  • Brian said

    You don't have to worry about being sold dog meat at any street vendors. While the practice of eating dog is prevalent among Korean men the meat is expensive (compared to beef and pork) and is only served at dog meat restaurants. <br><br>Toilet paper is a must as most public toilets don't have them. You should also invest in hand sanitizer as soap is virtually non-existent along with paper towels.


  • Nic said

    You're less likely to get food poisoning from a street vendor than you are from the hotel restaurant...street food is great in Korea!


  • Maya said

    As a Korean, I am surprised to learn that we have malaria! worry about diseases that mentioned here. But I totally understand how foreigners feel about the risks as I first so scared about malaria planning for for a trip to Thailand. It turned out that I didn't have to worry too much about Malaria in Thailand.

    Other diseases seemed to be similar, too. I would say do not over anxious. Most Koreans don't even think about those disease unless they are on the news!


  • seriously? said

    Are you serious? What do you mean we don't have public toilets?
    They are free and very clean. and also they wouldn't be traditional squat style.
    I have no idea when the writer visited Korea, but I have never seen a public bathroom of that style.
    Also, toilet papers are mostly there... yeah.. and no soap? which places did
    the writer visit? I... puff..


  • In Response To Seriously said

    You clearly do not live in korea or travel it much (staying in newer/wealthier developments). Public bathrooms certainly are in abundance, but they do tend to be quite dirty, and it is not uncommon to find squatting toilets, but at there typically is an option, unless you are in a coldwar era building. Ive def come across a few squat only bathrooms, i dont trust my aim so i building hop until i find a modern toilet. Realistically you dont have to worry too much, chances are some building has a normal toilet, and almost all commercial/retail apartments have public bathrooms.

    No serious need to worry about malaria, i was surprised i couldnt donate blood for a while in Canada after living around seoul becauase of Malaria fears, literally never heard of anyone getting it in korea (although im sure it does, just rare)


  • Natasa said

    Please, I would appreciate some more and fresh news on possibilities of diseases in Korea. I travel in a month, end of June- first half of July, probably Seoul. I stil don t have a final Trip agenda and concrete route (possibly some additional trips) and probably a good accommodation conditions.
    Do I really need some vaccines (I have rather weaker immune system and I am not very fond of irritating it if not necessary) and which ones?


  • Charles Blancet said

    I was in ROK, while in the US ARMY . I was there February 1975 to December 23 ,1976 . I have been back to visit several times since .Summer of 1979 , I traveled around , Revisiting areas I knew from prior service. In 1982 ,I had my wife meet me in ROK ,I had gotten 2 weeks earlier . I had talked my good friend in taking a job in Seoul as an International lawyer , as he had recently got the law degree , and had been offered a job . My last visit was to see 1986 Asian games . I am returning 31 years later . I am already , amazed by things I have read , or googled about growth and modernization


  • Alice said

    We were just in Korea from December 16th - 28th 2017 and I have no idea where this bathroom issue comes from. We never encountered any problems. All bathrooms were clean and believe me we needed bathrooms often as we have a 16months old traveling with us. Was this article written like 20 years ago?
    On a side note our hotel even had a bidet for our toilet with a seat that heats up. Apparently this is common in all Korean hotels. How cool is that? Need more of these in Canada.


  • Babette said

    Have been to South-Korea last October and have to say felt spoiled with all the public bathrooms. So any one worrying about that really shouldn't. They were plenty, free and most of them were really clean, even the ones in subway were decent. But carrying some extra paper never hurts. You'll honestly have a much harder time finding public bathrooms in Europe than you will in South-Korea.
    Had no clue there was malaria in S-K as no one not even my doctor spoke of it. So obviously didn't take any precautions. I guess it's a relieve it's so rare.


  • John said

    I lived in busan for a few months..very common to get Salmonella- had salmonella st least 2-4 times a not go to korea, it’s very dirty and food quality handling is by far the worse. What locals and other expats say is a bunch of bs.


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