The Republic of Korea is among the fastest developing nations in Asia. Even though most in the international community recognize it through its culture, South Korea offers much more. Namely, its living and academic standards are the envy of many Western nations. Because of this, many international students and foreign-trained professionals seek to live and work in Korea.

However, this is no easy task, especially in the realm of medicine. South Korea has exceptionally high standards for its medical doctors and only a few foreigners meet the requirements for a Korean medical license. However, although difficult this process is by no means impossible. To give you a head start, this article takes a look at the steps to become a doctor in Korea.

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Steps to Become a Doctor in Korea

1. Before focusing on the medical requirements, you will need to meet the language ones first.

Proficiency in Korean is a prerequisite for both working and studying in the country. This is a really important step to become a doctor in Korea. However, this is by no means an impossible task and may even be fulfilling in the right environment. When learning Korean, the first aspect to master is the Hangul alphabet, which significantly differs from the Latin script. Once you begin to master it, it may take another two years to reach native-like proficiency in Korean.

Keep in mind that this step is not avoidable. To qualify for their final exam, all foreign practitioners must obtain a TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) certificate with a score of 5 or higher. Without it, you will not be eligible for a Korean medical license.

2. The most secure pathway to a Korean medical career is studying medicine at a national Korean university.

In other words, Korean medical degrees hold many benefits for those adamant to pursue their careers in Korea later on. For one, studying in Korea goes hand in hand with cultural immersion and a stimulating language environment. Thus, you get accustomed to medical practices and language acquisition begins to be a less daunting task.

Of course, before beginning your studies, you will first need to be accepted into a Korean medical program first. Most universities make no distinctions between Korean and international students, meaning a select number of spots for foreigners is not guaranteed. Furthermore, you will need to rank better than Korean students on the CSAT, an entrance exam administered in Korean. On the other hand, some universities require foreign students to take an additional SAT exam to demonstrate their mastery of Korean.

For those interested, a total of 36 Korean universities offer medical programs, with each lasting for six years. The first two years are considered to be your undergraduate program, while the second two focus on the principles of medical science. Lastly, the final two years are dedicated to medical practice and clinical education.

3. In addition to a medical degree, you are also required to pass additional exams before qualifying for a Korean medical license.

The first required exam, TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) has already been discussed. However, in addition to this test, there are two more required examinations, which are essential to become a doctor in Korea. The first is known as the Preliminary Examination and consists of two components, a written part, and a clinical skills part. It is held twice a year. Upon successful completion, all medical graduates qualify for the Final Examination, titled the KMLE (Korean Medical Licensing Examination).

Similar to the Preliminary Examination, the Final Examination also consists of a written and practical clinical component. Once completed, graduates become licensed medical practitioners. However, they will still need to complete a year-long internship and several more years of residency, which will vary between specializations.

Even though the process described above may seem relatively simple, it is quite demanding for foreign medical graduates and practitioners. Namely, if you obtained a medical degree at a foreign university not recognized by the Korean government, you may be required to complete additional semesters at a Korean university. Furthermore, you will need to complete a qualifying exam before becoming eligible for the KMLE. Each year, only a few foreign practitioners manage to meet all the requirements and are granted a Korean medical license.

4. A further requirement for foreign practitioners is, of course, a work visa.

Since you are applying as a medical professional, you will be applying for an E-5 (Specialty Occupation) visa to become a doctor in Korea. In addition to the standard documentation needed for a work visa, all foreign medical doctors will need to pass the KMLE before obtaining their license. Keep in mind that this rule rarely comes with exceptions and that the test is administered exclusively in Korean. Thus, language proficiency is an unavoidable requirement.

5. Once foreign doctors complete all the requirements, all that is left is to secure a position.

Although the process described above is difficult, international medical doctors have never been more in demand in Korean hospitals than now. In recent years, English-speaking staff has been welcomed with open arms, as the need for specialized medical professionals increases, especially in larger cities such as Seoul. For those interested, the best way to apply for a position is directly through a hospital’s website.


I hope that you found this article on the steps to become a doctor in Korea informative and helpful. You may also find more information about the universities and scholarship opportunities in Korea on our Korea Scholarships Page!