Yes, I, an American, got LASEK laser eye surgery in South Korea.
Why on earth would an American go to South Korea to get surgery? Isn’t is scary and dirty?
Isn’t Asia full of sheisty doctors and ancient medical equipment?
Why on earth wouldn’t I get this surgery done in the USA where it would be safe, my doctor at least speaks English, and we know it would be clean and modern!
Surely I’m totally blind now. My eyeballs perhaps have rotted out of my skull and I wear sunnies to hide the unsightly sockets that once held my precious hazel colored eyeballs!
Surely, getting LASEK eye surgery in South Korea was the worst idea I’ve ever had, right?
…Or the best.
My L”eye”fe Story
Feel free to skip a few paragraphs down if you couldn’t care less about this and just want the info on getting LASEK eye surgery in South Korea. No offense taken…
*goes and cries in the corner*
My life being a four-eyed freak
If you’ve never had to wear glasses, you’ll never know what it’s like having to rely on glasses to see.
My fellow four-eyed friends are probably my main audience on this blog… so I KNOW you feel my pain!
My face has been adorned with glasses since the age of eight (maybe earlier). I literally don’t remember what life is like without glasses. It took me a while, but I eventually graduated to contacts. I remember like it was yesterday. I was about 13 years old and I had to set my alarm twenty minutes earlier for a few weeks because that’s how long it took me to get contacts in my eyeballs before school.
Wearing contacts and glasses isn’t the worst thing in the world. At least I’m lucky enough to be able to afford them. I thought contacts were going to be in my life forever.
Crystals in my eyes
I don’t recall the actual name of the infection, but my doctor described it as “crystals forming in my eyes.”
Which actually made sense, because in 2010 my eyes started to constantly get itchy and it felt like glass (or crystals) were in them when I blinked, and if I was outside on a sunny day (hello! I’m from Florida, that’s every day), it was so intense, it was hazardous for me to drive to work!
WTF is happening? Making a long story short, this infection started happening because of my contacts. I grew allergic to contacts. HOW AWFUL! What do I do now? After a series of months on eyes drops and only being able to wear my awful outdated glasses, I finally was given the OK to wear contacts again. However, I could only wear daily contacts now. Which, as you may know, cost more.
They ended up not being so bad and despite the extra cash, it was actually more convenient to just throw them out each night. But I’ve constantly had this lingering thought in my mind, what if this eventually happens again and I can only wear glasses?!
My life as a traveler with contacts
Then I started traveling. Having to wear dailies became a burden. Precious space in my backpack was now taken up by a plethora of contacts! At least I got them for a cheaper deal in Thailand, but I constantly had to carry around a bulky pack full of contacts. How annoying! And even more annoying…
Doing fun things was scary
Yes, doing normal things, fun things, was getting scary.
Going swimming in the ocean came with the risk of a small wave splashing my contacts out – it happened.
Me going surfing could end up with me being half blind after taking a spill – It happened!
Me snorkeling and clearing out my mask may cause a contact to swim away with the fishes – Guess what? IT HAPPENED!
I have literally BLINKED WRONG and had a contact pop out! I wish I was kidding…It’s happened multiple times.
Diving has long been on my list of things to do. I literally have dreamt of being a surfer since I was little because wouldn’t that be so cool? The ocean has always been a huge part of my life and still is, despite nearly dying in it this one time…
I love being in the water! Again, I’m a Florida chick over here! Duh. So wtf is a wannabe mermaid like me supposed to do? I just want to do normal things but constantly have a fear that I may lose a contact or two which is terrifying! I’m not SUPER blind (-4.00) but still blind enough to impose a risk on myself should I be 20-30 meters down below and can’t tell where my dive instructor is or perhaps out in the middle of the blue ocean on a board hardly able to see the shore… NO COOL. NOT SAFE.
Also – terrifying to think about. Again, I haven’t been diving because of this, because simply snorkeling and surfing and even swimming have caused my contacts to come flying out!
It’s not safe and I’m stuck for the rest of the day without a contact in one eye and quickly start getting headaches.
(FYI – Yes, I’ve researched diving, surfing, etc while wearing contacts. People do it. I know I could. I did (just not diving). I didn’t like it and didn’t feel safe enough. Sure people go and nothing happens, but it’s just an added risk I didn’t want to think about or deal with. My safety is important and confidence is something you need to be safe out in the water.)
Finally fed up
I was done. I was done with the feeling of being scared to do things because I was wearing contacts. Done with not knowing what it’s like to wake up and not immediately grab my glasses, I was OVER living life like this. I wanted to do more, but my vision was holding me back.
There was just one problem…
I was too poor for laser eye surgery and I was terrified of getting it done. I’ve never had surgery done in my life, ever! I wanted it for so many years, yes, but I kept putting it off…
The cost of LASEK eyes surgery in the USA is over $4,000 or more. Who has that type of cash lying around?! NOT ME!
A promise to myself
I recently finished my hard-working year in Australia and I saved a pretty penny! I promised myself I would use some of the money to get LASEK eye surgery once and for all, and I decided I wasn’t going to get in the USA either!
Getting LASEK – Laser Eye Surgery in South Korea
I did it. I finally did it! After years of wishing, hoping, and wanting, I FINALLY got the life changing surgery I’ve wanted my whole life. And to answer the question posed over 1000 words ago – It was the best decision of my life.
Everywhere you read about this surgery, you’ll notice everyone saying the same thing – “It’s life changing.” And they are right. I couldn’t be happier. Even now as I write this, my vision still isn’t 100% yet as it’s only been a few weeks, but it’s the single best thing I’ve ever done in my life and it has already started to change my life. I couldn’t be happier.
How I got LASEK eye surgery in South Korea
RESEARCH EVERYTHING! I did, you should too. I mean, I’m telling you it’s the best thing ever, but everyone is different. To be fair, in my research, all I read were good things. There are way more people from the USA, Canada, UK, Australia and more coming over to South Korea to get LASEK than you would think. In fact, plenty of people need to get surgery or go to the doctor in a foreign country it’s not scary!
Always do your own research, it will also make you feel a bit better after reading tons of success stories.
Also, during my research, I found BoboandChichi.com where Megan tells about her experience getting LASEK eye surgery in South Korea and I felt SO much better after reading her account. Funny enough, I met her a few months later after reading her post while in the Philippines and we became actual friends.
She instilled more confidence in me to get it done and I even took her up on her recommendation on the exact eye clinic I should go to! I’ll link below.
Side note: Megan lived in South Korea for a few years! So if you’re around Seoul and need to know where to stay, she has a great guide for Seoul. The eye doctor we both went to is located in Gangnam. Yes… THAT Gangnam! I ended up staying in the Itaewon area, the bus ride over to Gangnam was about 20 minutes.
Ultimately, the two reasons I chose to get LASEK eye surgery in South Korea were:
- Quality doctors and facilities. Equal if not better than the USA.
- Cheaper price.
I put off making an appointment for months! I KNEW I was going to South Korea, I had a plane ticket, and I still couldn’t bring myself to actually make a solid appointment with the eye clinic. I was such a scaredy-cat, a total wuss.
Just a mere week or two before arriving in South Korea, I finally booked a date for a check-up. Only a check-up, though! Let’s not go crazy here…
I got the check-up and the news… I was a perfect candidate for the corrective eye surgery!
Mr. Choo, the gentleman whom I’ve been in contact with the most prior to this appointment and then during my check-up and surgery, was the kindest and most patient human ever. I flinched 235 times during the eye pressure test (the one with the air blowing in your eye). I would “eww and yyuuckkk” with every mention of the surgery’s details, which were outlined in detail for me.
He probably thought I was the most annoying patient ever but I would never know considering he was so nice the entire time. I would have hated me, that’s for sure.
Luckily, I had nearly a week on Jeju to occupy my mind and not think about the surgery which now had an official date. I was scheduled for February 28th, 2017, the exact day I flew from Jeju to Seoul! I’m kind of happy I did it like this because I was busy doing other things and didn’t have time to think about the surgery too much.
I walked in the clinic and succumbed to what felt like a million eye drops. Garrett was given the best seat in the house right in front of a massive TV. So he could watch the entire surgery! Uhhhh!
I was dressed in a hospital gown and I took my place on a bed surrounded by a massive mess of machines. I couldn’t see much as the eye drops and lack of glasses prevented me from understanding where I even was.
The doctor explained every action before performing them so I was fully prepared.
My only job: Watch the green light and don’t move. This was my SOLE job during the procedure.
It’s OK, Nina. You can do this! Green light, green light, it’s OK, it’s OK… Everything Is OK. Green light, green light…
This was my mantra.
I’m on the table, my one eyeball pried open with a speculum, and the surgery begins.
More drops, a few second waiting, doctor scraping eyeball, the laser machine making a noise, more eye drops, DONE. Next eye… same thing… THAT’S IT! The entire thing was less than 15 minutes.
I can’t believe that was it! I’m done! I survived! I didn’t freak out AT ALL! I DID IT!!!!
I was taken to a resting room, given more eye drops, and then I was sent home. I finally got it done!
I couldn’t believe it was over. I couldn’t believe it was that easy!
PRO TIP: (HA!) Everyone talks about the gross and weird smell of your eyeballs getting lasered (apparently it smells like burnt hair?) – Here’s an eye corrective surgery hack – breathe through your mouth! I was prepped and did NOT want to smell my eyeballs as it was the top thing everyone mentioned as being the weirdest and grossest thing about the surgery. So yeah, when you get told the lasers are coming, breath through the mouth.
The logistics of getting LASEK laser eye surgery in South Korea
Prep for LASEK surgery:
- No contacts for a week – at least. I did 10 days to be safe. (Two weeks for hard contacts)
- Have a friend. Doing this alone may be a bit trickier.
- Get some food in your fridge/make sure that friend is willing to go get food for you, you won’t want to leave the house.
- Make sure you’re in a comfortable place. If you’re like me and are staying at an Airbnb while in South Korea (which I would 100% recommend over a hotel!!) then make sure you’re unpacked and things are in a place where it makes sense for you. You don’t want to rummage through luggage when you’re blind.
- Get movies or shows ready on your device for afterward and make sure they are ones you have seen before. You will only be listening, not watching.
- Go get your favorite thing and have it ready. Whatever it is. Your fav stuffed animal, tons of chocolates, your fav food waiting for you, a brand new pajama outfit that you want to live in forever… whatever it is, you deserve it and you’ll want something comforting. Treat yo’self.
After my LASEK eye surgery in South Korea
- Know that pain might happen. Megan didn’t have any pain. I DID! I had pain 24 hours after surgery and for the next day or two randomly but nothing that bad.
- I didn’t leave the house for four days straight. I’m pretty sure I left a permanent “Nina mold” on our Airbnb’s bed.
- Your life will revolve around eye drops. Set an alarm so you don’t forget. There will be two sets of eye drops at 4 times a day 5 minutes apart that are mandatory, emergency eye drops for pain when needed, and then regular wetting eye drops randomly in between.
- Get sunnies ready for when you’re finally ready to emerge from the room for the first time. I suggest doing a night walk for your first time, then moving up to getting a coffee in the morning. Keep sunnies on you all the time, even at night because Seoul likes lights and even lights inside the grocery store can be bright.
- GIRLS: No makeup for two weeks! I know… Scary! Also, it sucks because Korea has fun beauty products!
- After one week you will have your protective contacts removed, be prepared for another day of possible pain. Luckily, I was spared this time and I was fine.
- PRO TIPS: (or a tip if you’re a dummy like me) Don’t have “offensive” food cooked in your presence. I, not once, but twice, was in severe pain, and I didn’t understand why because I was practically bathing in my emergency eye drops, and it wasn’t working! Finally, after the second time, I realized it was because Garrett was cooking onions and chilis for our meal. From then on I left the room (aka sat outside in the freezing cold) while he cooked. So stupid. SO STUPID.
Leaving South Korea
- The doctors will give you paperwork and information regarding your surgery since you’re leaving South Korea. Ideally, you would stay for a few months to get your check-ups, but if this isn’t in the cards like it wasn’t for me, you have the papers to show your next doctor.
- Get one last check-up! At mine, only 10 days after surgery, without even fulling healing, I was seeing BETTER than 20/20! I could read the second to last line of letters! It was a bit blurry and I was seeing a double letter, BUT I was able to recognize the letter right away. How AMAZING!?
- Make sure you get all your eye drops to take with you.
- UPDATE: Since I had to leave, I was slightly concerned about seeing a different doctor after getting the surgery. However, Mr. Choo said I was looking fine and unless I had any trouble or major discomfort, I may not have to visit a doctor. One year later—I’m totally fine and haven’t seen a doctor!
Costs: LASEK eye surgery in South Korea VS USA
OK, so how much? This is the huge question, right?
How much is it in the USA? At least $4,000 USD!
Eye correction surgery costs in the USA are not cheap.
In South Korea? $1400 USD. (Including my plethora of prescription eyedrops)
That’s a massive price difference! I’m not sure what the doctors are offering back in the USA but my surgery also comes with a guarantee. Should I ever need another surgery ever in my life, I can go back at no cost. I would just need to pay for my eye drops.
That’s a pretty sweet deal!
In fact, we spent less than $1000 USD per person for three weeks in South Korea which included a sweet road trip around Jeju Island… We went exploring AND got my surgery for much less than just surgery in the USA. I win!
Why LASEK and Not LASIK
There are 101 million posts on the differences, so I won’t go into detail but essentially, South Korea hardly even offers LASIK anymore. It’s an older procedure. The healing time is wicked fast but 90% of the issues stem from the flap made in LASIK.
LASEK has no flap, and therefore, fewer issues arise if any. Also, dry eyes in the long term are less likely. LASEK wins but the recovery process is longer which is why the busy people in the USA will probably never convert to the more modern method of LASEK.
Results of my LASEK eye surgery in South Korea & an UPDATE!
Like I mentioned, I’m still healing as I write this, but I’m doing normal things already and can see well enough! Things just have a slight haze or blur over them, but it doesn’t hinder my everyday life anymore. It’s getting better and better!
I’ll update here when I feel I’m fully healed and can see to let you know how long it took for me. It regularly takes 5-8 weeks before you’re totally healed and at 20/20.
At the time of writing it’s only been three weeks.
UPDATE: Totally 100% perfect now and couldn’t be any happier! It took probably about three months for my night vision to be on point, but otherwise, everything is great. Even my morning dry eyes died down after about six months, and a year later, I rarely have dry eyes.
Where to get LASEK laser eye surgery in South Korea
I went to EyeMedi for my LASEK surgery and I could not have been happier with my choice to do so! Lovely people, caring staff and doctors, yes, they speak English, modern equipment, and a clean office, everything was perfect. I would recommend them to anyone who asks.
Please tell them I say hello!
I hope this helps anyone who may be thinking of getting LASEK laser eye surgery in South Korea! If you have any questions for me don’t be shy. Ask in the comments!
Pin this if you’re four-eyed (or just love me)!
**Please note your experience might be different than mine. I’m just sharing what happened to me, what I did and experienced. This isn’t a guide for prepping for your actual surgery, only your doctor can provide that. This is simply me writing about my experience.
Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad and epically failing at the American Dream since 2011. Her sassy yet informative blog, Where in the World is Nina? is all about how to work abroad to live a more adventurous life. If you want to travel longer you have to work to wander.