As a Chungdahm teacher, getting laser eye surgery in Korea is a viable option and something I am in the process of doing. This is a significant decision, therefore, I want to take my time and do the research and my due diligence before choosing the proper clinic, doctor, and type of surgery for my eyes. Let’s take a look at the different types of vision correction surgery, some clinics and prices, and procedures prior to surgery.
Vision Correction Procedures
LASIK (LASer assisted In situ Keratomilieusis) is a surgical procedure aimed at improving the focusing power of the eye and is considered a refractive surgery. First, a laser (concentrated beam of light) or a surgical blade creates a thin flap in the cornea (clear layer of your eye).
During LASIK, a thicker flap of corneal tissue is cut with a blade or a laser compared to LASEK. Next, an excimer (2nd) laser sculpts the underlying cornea into a new shape to correct the refractive error. The laser literally evaporates/vaporises away some of your corneal tissue beneath the flap to make the cornea a slightly different shape which will correct the refractive error. This allows light entering the eye to be properly focused onto the retina for clearer vision.
The flap is then repositioned and adheres on its own without sutures after only a few minutes. As the flap is placed back over the front of your eye and is not completed removed there is a dramatic reduction in recovery time. The flap serves as a natural bandage.
LASEK (Laser-Assisted Sub-Epithelial Keratectomy) corrects nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. LASEK is better suited for people who have an overly thin or steep cornea.
The corneal epithelium is separated from the underlying stromal layer. However, the surgeon does not completely remove and discard this tissue, the LASEK surgeon pushes an ultra-thin "flap" of epithelium off to one side of the cornea, where it remains attached to the eye (like the thicker flap of corneal tissue created during LASIK surgery).
Subsequently, the epithelial tissue is repositioned on the surface of the eye to cover the lasered stroma, and a bandage contact lens is placed on the eye to keep the epithelium in place as it heals.
The primary difference between LASIK and LASEK, is the hinged flap made during LASEK is created in the epithelial layer of the eye and is much thinner than the corneal flap created in LASIK (which contains both epithelial and deeper stromal tissues).
SMILE (SMall Incision Lenticule Extraction) is the newest laser procedure and may be the best solution for vision correction depending on your needs and eye characteristics.
In the SMILE procedure, the surgeon uses a VisuMax femtosecond laser (proprietary technology of Carl Zeiss Meditec) to create a small, lens-shaped bit of tissue (lenticule) within the cornea. Then, with the same laser, a small arc-shaped incision is made in the surface of the cornea, and the surgeon extracts the lenticule through this incision and discards it.
With the tiny lenticule of (tissue) removed, the shape of the cornea is altered, correcting nearsightedness. The corneal incision heals within a few days without stitches, and sharper vision occurs very quickly.
The primary advantage of SMILE is that it produces virtually the same visual acuity as LASIK for the correction of nearsightedness, without the need to create a thicker LASIK-style corneal flap.
Types of Clinics, Procedures before Surgery, and Price Ranges
The Severance Hospital of the Yonsei University Health System is arguably the biggest hospital in Korea and is an option if you decide to have the procedure done at a hospital.
As a foreigner, the first step is to set up an initial consultation with an ophthalmologist at their International Health Care Center. The first appointment will evaluate the health and stability of your eyes and what procedure will be best suited for you.
If you have Korean National Health Insurance, you have to bring a referral letter from a local clinic or you have to see their family doctor first. One aspect to consider is that the procedures at a hospital compared to a private clinic can be more complicated and take longer in certain respects such as this. Also, I was informed by the nurse that since I wear contact lenses, I would need to not wear them for a minimum of 4-6 weeks prior to just the initial consultation. This is order to ensure my eyes are stable and healthy, but this timeframe is significantly longer than other clinics.
The consultation fee starts at 80,000 KRW and additional tests or prescriptions will cost extra. Most other private clinics will not charge a fee for the initial consultation and examination, and if they do, it will be in the 30,000 range and it will go to the cost of the procedure should you opt for their clinic.
Smile and LASIK surgery costs 1,600,000 KRW for one eye, 3,200,000 KRW for both and LASEK surgery costs 1,170,000 KRW for one eye, 2,350,000 KRW for both. These prices are significantly lower than what I would pay for the same procedure back home in Canada. Also, in Korea the quality of medical technology and service is arguably on par or even higher.
Quick Tip: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to correspond with an English speaking nurse at Severance hospital about vision correction surgery.
A large private clinic such as BGN Eye Clinic is another option.
I was advised to stop wearing contact lenses before the checkup and surgery. (Soft contact lenses – 3 days up to 1 Week before the checkup; Toric lens – more than 10 days before the checkup; Hard contact lenses – 10 days up to 2 Weeks before the checkup). Compared to the hospital, this clinic’s procedure is only 1-2 weeks of not wearing lenses before the examination.
BGN Eye Clinic offers free eye examination to all patients considering laser eye surgery. Additionally, the clinic provides free detailed consultation on the most suitable surgery type for each patient. All procedures will be explained in high details during the in-clinic consultation.
Recovery time may vary depending on a surgery type performed. In the case of Lasik/Smile Surgery, patients’ vision becomes clear starting from the next day allowing them to go back to a normal life routine.
The schedule of follow up checkups is as follows:
*Lasik & Smile: the next day after surgery (highly important and required), in 7 days after surgery (advisable) and 1~3 months (if necessary)
*LASEK: 5 days after surgery to have a band lens removed (a must), 1-2 weeks after having a band lens removed (important), in 1 month and 3 months after having a band lens removed. You may need to see your local doctor a few more times for the follow-up checkups.
One significant advantage at the moment with BGN Eye Clinic is their special promotional pricing for 2019 as shown below. This is not something a hospital will normally engage in.
Quick Tip: Contact email@example.com to receive more information on laser eye surgery options.
A smaller private clinic such as Glory Seoul Eye Clinic is another option.
Eye exam and consultation is free of charge. And follow up check ups are also free of charge.
An advantage of these smaller clinics is the extremely low pricing, but keep in mind this is normally done because of the sheer volume of patients, factory like operations, and lower quality of medical technology, expertise, and service. You don’t want to cheap out when it comes to surgery on your eyes, therefore price and tradeoffs are something to consider in detail.
Pricing is as follows:
IFS LASIK ~ 1,300,000 won (both eyes)
All laser LASEK (Trans-PRK) ~ 1,000,000 won (both eyes).
Bio x crosslining LASIK~ 1,800,000 won
Bio x crosslining LASEK~ 1,400,000 won
Eye drops are bought separately (in case of LASIK need to use for 2 months and it's around 60,000 won, LASEK need to use 4~6 months.)
As you can see, the prices are really inexpensive relative to larger clinics and hospitals in Korea and definitely compared to Canada.
Another thing you will notice about smaller clinics is some of them like this clinic will not offer the latest procedures like SMILE which completely rules it out for me.
Quick Tip: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information on their services.
As a Chungdahm teacher working, playing, and living in Korea, you will have access to world-class medical services and technology at prices that will normally be significantly lower than your home country. I am looking forward to taking advantage of this fact and it is one of the many benefits of being in a great country like Korea.
Brian Lee began his second stint teaching in Korea for ChungDahm Learning in February 2018. He previously taught at the Main Mokdong branch back in 2013 and is currently placed at the Mokdong2 branch. He enjoyed his first time so much that he decided to come back for a second time in order to continue exploring and experiencing all that Korea has to offer. Brian is a native of Canada where he graduated from both the University of Toronto and York University.