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Foreigner in Korea? Want Travel Insurance? Not Fluent in Korean? You’re SOL.

UPDATE (17 December 2013): Although I am no longer living in Korea, I occasionally get updates on the situation. Apparently for expats in Korea can arrange for a month worth of coverage through AIG/Chartris, though apparently another moronic, restrictive change recently occurred to the laws governing travel insurance policies sold in Korea, and they only can offer a month of coverage to expats. If you still want to buy through AIG/Chartris, a commenter who sent me an email recommends contacting 이인용. Be warned, you will likely be required to claim that your trip is for business, rather than pleasure, to be eligible for the insurance.

However, if you want more than a month of coverage, you may find you have better luck with international services online, which are not subject to Korea’s ridiculous and idiotic laws. One especially worth mentioning is World Nomads, who are pretty much the only place who can sell you a travel insurance policy if you’ve already gone abroad and don’t have official coverage anywhere else. They’re who I deal with, and I recommend them highly.

Personally, on priciple, I would no longer be willing to buy insurance from a Korean provider. The laws are too stupidly restrictive and discriminatory. (A Korean citizen an buy six months of insurance for a pleasure trip on the spot, by comparison. This is shameful, in an international airport in a country with over a million expats living and working in its borders.) I suggest putting your money in the hands of companies operating in countries with sane laws, if at all possible: the Korean companies don’t want your business badly enough to push for reform, so don’t give it to them.

UPDATE (13 April 2012): According to commenter Brendon Carr (below), the one insurance company that was able to sell insurance to non-Koreans traveling to their home country (Chartris) was “ejected from the airport” and now no matter how fluent you are in Korean, no matter how long you have lived in Korea, if you are traveling to your home country, you cannot get travel insurance.

I think it’s time we expats started bugging the Incheon “International” Airport until this is rectified. At the very least, they could get Chartris back. Assuming Chartris is willing to come back. (Why did they leave?)

UPDATE (7 August 2011): Well, that serves me right for complaining so long after the annoyances. They sorted it out sometime in July, according to someone at the Korean office, who offered an “apology for the inconvenience.” I just wish they’d sort out the inconveniences faster next time: it doesn’t take six months to translate a few basic documents.

ORIGINAL POST: That’s right. And I think we should complain about it. Technically, we’re not supposed to be SOL. But at least as of a couple of months ago, we still were. I forgot about it until now. It may have changed. I sincerely doubt it.

Either way, I just remembered never having lodged my complaint with Chartris about the institutional stupidity I’ve encountered trying to buy insurance the last two times I went on a trip outside Korea. For those who don’t know… the law changed in January or February, so the one company equipped to sell travel insurance to non-Koreans (Meritz) was no longer allowed to do so, and, conversely, the one company operating at the Incheon “International” (ahem) Airport that is allowed to sell insurance to non-Koreans — Chartris — wasn’t set up for it.

(Or, rather, to buy insurance you need to claim to be fluent in Korean.)

Which might have been understandable in February; the clerk got snippy and said something about, “Would American insurance companies sell insurance to people who don’t speak English?” Uh… yes? She assured me the documents would be translated soon.

By May, though, they still hadn’t been, which, I have to say, was not much of a surprise. Not much of a surprise at all. While a couple of Westerners I know are fluent, they’re the absolute minority, and this brings to mind the comment that one Quebecois friend paraphrased to me — something a Quebecois politician once said about the reason why doctors in Montreal need to be bilingual: “Going to the hospital shouldn’t be a language test.” Well, I can fully accept that going to the doctor in Korea is sometimes a language test (it would be for a Korean in Canada too, after all), but buying international travel insurance in an international airport for international travel should not be a language test, and should not be available only to citizens or longterm residents of the country where said airport happens to be located. (And very few people who are not Korean or long-term residents of Korea can speak this language, obviously.) Indeed, many long-term residents in Korea, like me, still don’t read or speak legalese well enough to lie and buy the insurance on the roundabout.

If you, like me, think this is a problem, then you might consider contacting Chartris. This would be one place to do so. I advise picking a different country than Korea, though, since you never know: they may just delete the email when they see it’s in English.

For those curious about what I wrote in my email, see below, but please don’t cut and paste my email. I’m sure that a short few lines, such as:

Hey, why is it that while Chartris is the only insurance company legally allowed to sell travel insurance to non-Koreans in Incheon International Airport, in South Korea, but the Chartris desk at that airport keeps turning away non-Koreans unless they can speak Korean “fluently”? They said the documents would be translated months ago, but it hasn’t happened. Can someone fix this, or does nobody care about the money being lost… or how bad it’s making Korea look? It should be embarrassing for an international company to be operated this way, but nobody’s done anything in months!

… would suffice.

My own email was longer, and I’ll include it in the extended section of this post for those curious.

I will update this post if I get any new information, a response, Korean rent-a-gangsters storming my apartment, or whatever.

For those curious, this is what I wrote in my own original comment on the website.

A brief note of clarification: I have marked my country as “Canada” because I am Canadian, and because this email arriving at the Korean branch of Chartris would be counterproductive. If the Canadian branch could forward it to whichever branch could best resolve the situation, I’d appreciate it.

I would like to lodge a complaint about the operators of Chartris in South Korea, who are (at least in part) responsible for the fact that almost no non-Koreans are able to buy travel insurance at Korea’s main international airport, the Incheon International Airport.

My experience is as follows. In February of this year, I attempted to buy travel insurance from the usual company. I was told that Korean laws had changed, and that in fact Chartris was the only operator now allowed to sell travel insurance to non-Koreans,

Proceeding directly to Chartris, with only a few hours left before my departure, I attempted to buy insurance. I was told that the necessary forms “had not yet been translated”. After some argument — the only insurance operator in Korea being unable to sell to a non-Korean is a ridiculous situation — I was told two things: I would be able to buy insurance through a Korean, who happened to be with me; and the forms would be translated by March.

When I was, again, going on a trip in May, I believe it was, I went straight to the Chartris desk, assuming the situation would have been resolved. However, it was not, and the same clerk, wearily and with a sad face, told me that no, the documents were still not translated and I could not buy insurance except through a Korean. (She claimed I could only buy myself insurance if I spoke Korean fluently; she seemed to know herself how ridiculous this requirement was, and was somewhat apologetic, though obviously fed up as much as I was.) I asked her why it was taking so long for the documents to be translated, to which, this time, she responded that the documents were not the issue. I must note that it was obvious from her responses that she has, time and time again, been asked by non-Koreans whether insurance would be available (since every other insurance desk in the airport tells foreigners to go to Chartris) and had to put up with all kinds of outrage, annoyance, and abuse.

I have no idea whether the situation has been resolved, but it crossed my mind that the complaint I meant to lodge then, slipped my mind both times. I’m not sure if Chartris International is aware that the Korean branch of the company is essentially refusing to sell insurance to anyone who cannot speak Korean fluently. I don’t think the only company allowed by national law to sell travel insurance to foreigners should be making the process of buying that insurance dependent on a language test (thus, not only inconveniencing many travelers who need insurance, and making the company and the Korean airport look backwards); I also don’t think it is beneficial to your company to turn away customers in a market in which you have an apparent monopoly!

In my experience, this kind of ridiculous situation (excluding services to non-Koreans) is quite common in Korea; however, when international companies do so, it usually helps to alert the head office abroad. Therefore I hope that Chartris’ Worldwide Branch, or whoever this gets sent to, can perhaps both explain to me why this senseless situation has persisted, and, more importantly, help to push Chartris Korea to get the situation resolved, so that (at a minimum) hundreds of travelers a year will be able to actually buy the travel insurance they want or need, on their own, when traveling out of Korea.

I prefer for you to contact me by email if possible, at . I will be blogging the results of this situation, and therefore hope to be able to present a good outcome the expatriate community in Korea.

Thank you for whatever help you can offer in resolving this situation.


Gord Sellar

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