Korea’s “Beauty Belt” serves thousands of International Travelers

Korea is quickly emerging  as the GO-TO destination for cosmetic surgery, and dermatology. 

All the nation’s trends and advances in the industry of physical beauty and aesthetics start in Gangnam-gu, the district where everyone is gorgeous and made up.

Both men and women flock to the area to enhance their appearance, as more than half of Seoul’s plastic surgery and skin care clinics, or 430 among a total 819, are located in the district, especially within the so-called “beauty belt” that stretches from Sinsa-dong to Apgujeong-dong.
The highly skilled doctors and the wide range of treatments are well known and reputable, even overseas. About 16,000 foreigners came to Gangnam in 2009 precisely to get major or minor beauty surgery and skin care services. Tourist and cultural attractions situated nearby also lured and facilitated a massive influx for mainly medical tourism.

Cathy, a Chinese woman from the U.S., was consulting with a plastic surgeon Shin Yong-ho at BK Dongyang Plastic Surgery Clinic near Sinsa Station on Tuesday morning. Unsatisfied with her small eyes, she flew to have double eyelid surgery here.
“I compared the price to the cost in the U.S., which is usually $5,000. But doctors there are not well experienced with Asian patients as they do the surgery mainly on Western people,” she said.

The same surgery in Korea costs an average $1,500-3,000, according to the clinic.

“I also thought about going back to China to get the surgery, but I didn’t, as I’m not very confident of the quality there. My friend told me that in Korea a lot of people do the surgery and the doctors are very experienced, so I came here,” the 30-year-old said.

Cathy is one of the hundreds of foreign patients coming to the hospital, which sees 120 to 140 foreigners per month. Many other plastic surgery or skin care clinics in the district have seen a growing number of foreign patients, mainly from China and Japan, as Korean medical professionals and the treatments they provide are guaranteed across the world.

“Korea has the world’s second largest number of plastic surgeons, following the U.S., and boasts highly developed and advanced plastic surgery and skin care. That’s one reason foreign patients are eager to come here,” Shin said.

The surgeon said another reason is “hallyu,” or Korean Wave. “Watching the fancy beautiful actors and actresses on the popular soap operas and movies, foreigners think Korea is sleek and modern offering high quality beauty treatments.”

Just like Cathy who came to Korea after hearing about a friend’s experience, word of mouth helped to spread the reputation of Korea’s cosmetic surgery and skin care services.

Foreign patients usually get information on Korean hospitals through acquaintances or from searching the Internet. As many clinics operate multiple language websites, foreigners can easily find the information they want and even have online consultations.

When patients are curious about what they will look like after a treatment, many clinics also conduct a virtual plastic surgery on their photos and present possible outcomes. If patients are satisfied with the virtual changes, they come to make that change real.

Clinics link tours

How long a patient needs to stay after surgery depends on which treatment they have ㅡ in case of a skin peel or simple surgery like an eyelid operation, the patient can return to their home country the next day, but in the case of surgery requiring general anesthesia, like breast surgery, he or she has to stay for several days.
Some clinics offer sickbeds or arrange accommodation for those patients who want to stay at hotels. Near the beauty belt are seven five-star hotels and a dozen lower-ranking hotels.
Clinics usually employ staff fluent in English, Chinese and Japanese, with some doctors also able to speak multiple languages. If they have patients from countries not represented such as Vietnam for example, an interpreter is hired from Gangnam-gu Office, which has 47 medical tourism coordinators on hand.
These coordinators also assist with helping patients with other things to do during their stay, such as sightseeing or shopping. As patients receiving surgery need to be cautious before fully recovering, indoor activities, like shopping, are recommended rather than overly exerting activities.
“Foreign patients who come to receive beauty treatments are also interested in adorning themselves, so shopping for cosmetics and clothes is their main tourist activity,” a staff of the plastic surgery clinic said.
Lotte duty free shop at COEX and luxury brands shops on the Cheongdam Fashion Street are the most favored places. The 760-meter-long street, from Galleria Department Store’s Luxury Mall to Cheongdam crossroads, is lined with upscale stores of luxury brands such as Cartier, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci, as well as multi-brand boutiques like a branch of 10 Corso Como.
For those in search of some unique designs by Korean designers, Garosu-gil, an avenue full of little vinitage shops, art galleries, trendy cafes and eateries on both sides, is also conveniently located near Sinsa Station.
“Gangnam is the one-stop place where beauty services and shopping can both be experienced and enjoyed,” the clinic staff said.