Over the past few years, South Korea has become one of the most popular countries for foreigners to live in. This is due to its delicious food, pop culture scene (K-pop, anyone?), and holiday spots. While most people who move to the East Asian country teach English or find an office job, a career in nursing is an extremely viable way of supporting yourself there.

South Korea is one of the more challenging countries to work in as a foreign nurse. From the process of recognizing your foreign university degree to learning the Korean language to finding a job, there are several obstacles you’ll need to overcome. However, with the right plan and plenty of determination, it can be done.

There are plenty of benefits to working as a nurse in South Korea. One is the country’s state-of-the-art medical system. You’ll have access to all the latest tools and work with some of the best doctors in the world. Another is that workers are given generous benefits, especially when it comes to health insurance. The work culture is also appealing: Koreans know how to work hard and play hard.

In this guide, we walk you through the steps to become a nurse in South Korea.

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Steps to Become a Nurse in South Korea

1. Study Nursing (Probably in South Korea)

To become a nurse in South Korea, you’ll need to have your university degree approved by the Korea Health Personnel Licensing Examination Institute, or KHPLEI. Unlike some other countries, Korea has a limited list of approved universities, which you find on the Ministry of Health & Welfare’s (MOHW) website.

If you hold a nursing degree from an approved university, you’ll need to have it approved by the KHPLEI’s licensing board. The amount of time this takes varies, but you should budget for a few months to be sure. The board will review your credentials and notify you of their decision via email. Note that your documents will need to be translated into Korean to be accepted.

The most straightforward way to ensure that your degree will be accepted in South Korea is to study nursing there. As a rule of thumb, you’ll need to be fluent in Korean for this, although universities have recently been adding classes in English. As a nurse in Korea, your day-to-day language will be Korean. Being fluent in English is also a valuable skill, though, as there are many foreigners in the country who might need medical attention.

Some universities you should consider are Seoul National University, Yonsei University, and Korea University. Most large universities in Korea have affiliate hospitals, giving you a real-life setting to learn about nursing and apply what you’ve learned.

2. Learn Korean

Knowing how to speak Korean is an essential step to become a nurse in South Korea. The Korean licensing exam, nursing university courses, and day-to-day work is all conducted in the local language. Thus, you’ll need to demonstrate proficiency to become a registered nurse.

The most popular way to validate your Korean proficiency is the Test of Proficiency in Korean or TOPIK. This test is available both in South Korea and overseas and is entirely written. In contrast to most other language tests, in which you take a different exam depending on your level, all TOPIK examinees take a single test and are assigned a level based on their score. There is no set requirement by the KHPLEI, but you should aim for at least a 4 or 5.

Korean, like many Asian languages, can seem intimidating to learn, especially if you’re from the West. Luckily, the recent popularity of South Korea’s pop culture has meant that demand for learning the language has risen, too. There are many online and print resources available to non-native speakers.

3. Take the KMLE

The Korean Medical Licensing Examination, or KMLE, is the test you need to take to practice medicine in South Korea. This test is not just for nurses, but for all other medical professionals, too. It is an essential step to become a nurse in South Korea. This is the same test that local Koreans take. As mentioned, it is administered entirely in Korean, so be sure to brush up on your language skills first.

The KMLE was recently reformed to make it more practical. Back then, it mostly involved memorizing medical terms and procedures. While this is still a part of the test, there is now a greater emphasis on case studies and problem-solving.

4. Apply for a Work Visa

To get a work visa in Korea, you’ll need to find a company to sponsor you. In the case of nurses, this is the hospital or care facility you work in. As a medical professional, you should apply for an E-5 or E-7 visa. If you’re still looking for a job, there are a number of short-term visas available.

Once you’ve obtained a visa and are working in the country, you’ll need to apply for an Alien Residence Card or ARC. This will allow you to get a SIM card and access other services.

5. Find a Job

Finding a job in South Korea as a foreigner isn’t as challenging as it used to be. Hospitals are increasingly looking for staff who can communicate in English and in other languages, which gives you an advantage from the start.

If you studied nursing in the country, your first job will likely be with your university’s affiliate hospital. You’ll probably work there to some degree as a student, and if you do well, you’ll find many longer-term opportunities. Besides this, you can also apply through regular job portals like Glassdoor, Indeed.com, and LinkedIn.


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