One of my chief concerns when I moved to Korea was my feminine health: Will I be able to get birth control? See a gyno? Buy condoms? Use tampons? I had heard that tampons were hard to find and very expensive. I had also heard that birth control was over the counter, but had absolutely no idea what brands Korea offers or how to ask for them. I entertained this horrific image of me carrying a suite case filled with a year’s supply of tampons, birth control pills, and condoms through baggage check. In this nightmare, the airport attendants scanned the contents of my bag with judgement in their eyes and wondered what must be wrong with this obviously promiscuous girl. Luckily, I have gleaned from my time in Korea some tips and tricks for taking care of yourself during “lady time”, how to acquire the pill, and the scoop on Korean condoms. Read on for all the juicy details.
Tampons and Pads: Pads are EVERYWHERE in Korea. You can find them at grocery and convenience stores such as 7 Eleven and Family Mart. However, if you want tampons you will pay a higher price than in the States or Canada and they are, indeed, more difficult to find. Trick: If you don’t want to pay the extra money and would rather not stuff your luggage with Playtex, I highly recommend investing in a Diva Cup. This menstrual cup is PERFECT for travel and, due to it’s reusable nature, is eco-friendly. I purchased one just before I left the states and my periods have never been happier!
The Pill: Many generic and name-brand contraceptives are over the counter in Korea (Yeah, the U.S. needs to get with the program). However, there are some popular pills like YAZ, which you will need a prescription for. Not to worry. Your school will supply you with EXCELLENT insurance, which will cover a visit to the gynecologist and birth control. Trick: If you do not want the hassle of going to the gyno, try this over the counter oral contraceptive that is very popular in Korea: Minulet. Luckily, most pharmacists in Korea speak a bit of English and know the English pronunciations for most name-brand drugs. However, if you run into a language breakdown, merely say “pim”, the Korean word for “pill”. The pharmacist will know exactly what you’re asking for and; as an added bonus, they don’t judge you: Korean’s are fairly open about periods and reproductive health. In fact, I’ve seen many Korean men buying their girlfriend’s/wife’s contraception or picking up pads at the store.
The Lady Doctor: Finding a gynecologist in Korea was very easy. Women’s Health is a priority here and, from my experience, Korean doctors are well-trained and highly educated. An added bonus: many of the doctors in Korea speak English. My gynecologist, dentist, general practitioner, and acupuncturist ALL happen to speak fluent English. Furthermore, if you have health insurance, this makes visiting the doctor EXTREMELY cheap. Most visits have a co-pay between $8-$15 USD (or zero money, depending on your plan) and medication such as antibiotics, birth control, asthma inhalers, and cold medicine, are far cheaper than in the states. Trick: Talk with female co-workers who have been in the country for awhile, or the Korean staff at your school. They may be able to recommend a good gyno.
Condoms: Anytime you are a sexually active and traveling, I recommend that you practice safe sex at all times. You can easily purchase condoms in grocery and convenience stores throughout Korea. Keep in mind, they do tend to be smaller than the condoms distributed in the United States. As such, if you have a brand that you’re particularly fond of, I recommend bringing along a box or two. Trick: If you find that you’ve run out of your favorite Trojans, you can always have a good friend ship you a box from back home.
So in conclusion female and male readers - enjoy your time in Korea. Be safe and take care of your body by following these simple and convenient tips and tricks. Questions? Leave a comment, and I'll get right back to you.
After receiving her degree in Secondary English Education from Indiana University, Hope Gately wanted to experience Korea's famous educational system, which is currently ranked #2 worldwide. She began teaching at the Pohang-Namgu branch of ChungDahm Learning in Korea last year, after being recruited by Aclipse. Since Hope is an avid hiker, foodie, and fashion enthusiast, she loves living in Korea and enjoys the mountains, cuisine, and "Kill-Heels." Questions about teaching in Korea? Follow Hope on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AclipseHope and email her at Aclipsehope@gmail.com!