By Lee Hyo-jin
Foreign students who stay in Korea for over six months will be included in the mandatory state health insurance program starting from March, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the ministry announced the planned implementation of compulsory registration for international students to the state healthcare system.
So far, foreign students here have usually been covered by private medical insurance programs matched by their host university or educational institution.
The government changed this in July 2019, making it mandatory for all foreign nationals, including students, who stay longer than six months, to sign up for the state program run by the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS).
But the scheme faced a backlash, as students would have to pay a higher monthly premium for the state-run insurance than that of private insurance programs. So the government exempted international students from the plan until Feb. 28, 2021.
Following the expiry of the exemption period, starting March 1, foreign students who enter the country planning to stay more than six months and holding a D-2 visa or a general trainee D-4 type visa should sign up for the state health insurance.
Considering students do not earn money but are here for the purpose of learning, the government has allowed them to pay 50 percent of the average monthly insurance premium fee for the state-run program.
This year, students will be allowed to pay 30 percent considering the economic difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The government plans to increase the rate steadily to 40 percent from March 2022 to 50 percent in March 2023.
As to when they should sign up for the state insurance, the ministry said the timing may differ depending on visa types and intended period of stay.
International students who plan to get a degree by taking a course of two years or more, and elementary, middle and high school students should register from the day of entry in order to prevent gaps in medical services.
Others who plan to stay shorter, such as for a language course, can sign up after they have been in the country for six months.