My Wife Is A Foreigner

My wife Miyoung and I went to the local offices of Korea’s National Health Insurance Corporation (don’t click the link that says ‘English’ on their site because it leads nowhere) to register for National Health insurance today.  We brought our preternaturally well-behaved nephew June-young with us.  When they called our number the woman behind the counter took my Foreigner Registration Card (외국인등록증) and Miyoung’s  Overseas Korean National Domestic Residence Card (재외국민국내거소신고증).  She sneered at us and instantly said in a very confrontational manner ‘You’re both foreigners, so you’ll have to pay the foreigner rate of 60,000 per month each.’  My wife and I were both surprised, because my wife is, as her card’s name suggests, a Korean national and still a Korean citizen.  The woman was unrelenting, and pointedly needled my wife about being a ‘foreigner’ (외국인).  ‘You know if you were a citizen it would be fine but since you’re a foreigner . . .’ she repeatedly hit the word ‘foreigner’ with a vicious gusto, as if to say ‘you’ve given up your Korean citizenship and you’re out in the cold.’  She placed a call asking for further instructions.  Then she looked at our cards a little more.  ‘Oh, it says here that Joseph (no polite ‘Joseph-ssi’, but just ‘Joseph’) has been had his visa since the beginning of February.  You’ll both have to pay the 60,000 won for the entire time that you’ve had this visa, and you have to prepay, so you’re going to have to pay 60,000 won each for February, March, and April, for a total of 360,000.  Also, you will need proof of marriage.’  She sent us to another office about fifteen minutes away, and we went there and back.  On the walk I expressed my hatred for Korean bureaucracy and xenophobia, and my wife marvelled at the fact that she was now a foreigner.  I also noted that when we walk around with our nephew, I don’t get the approving grins from perfect strangers that I usually do as a white American on the streets of Bucheon.  I instead got angry stares and my nephew got crudely appraised, the starers likely wondering why my son looks so Korean (because he is, in fact, not my son).

When we got back the clerk was jubilant and ready to take our money.  As she continued the preparations she stopped to explain to my wife ‘You know, even though you’re a foreigner, you’ve lived here all your life so it’s different, but the reason foreigners have to pay more is because they come here and they can choose to leave whenever they want and stop paying into the system, but we Koreans have to keep paying into the system whether we like it or not.’  I was livid, and thought to myself about how the majority of foreigners who live in Korea are adults in the prime of their life, and how they will be a relatively smaller tax on the system in the years that they spend in Korea than the average Korean over his or her lifespan, but I held my tongue.

Just then a phone call came.  The woman listened intently.  ‘Yes . . . yes . . . yes, but . . . But she gave up her citizensh- . . . I see . . . I see.’  She hung up and turned to us.

‘Well, you are a foreigner and so you would have to pay the full price of 60,000 won per month in advance, but Joseph has an F-2 visa, and as the spouse of a Korean citizen, he is entitled to all the rights and privileges of a citizen, including health care, and so you can have health care as his spouse.  The total for the two of you is 17,000 won per month.’  There was no discussion of the back pay dating to the date my visa went into effect.

A student of mine who lived and worked in America for many years recently pointed something out to me.  ‘Koreans always come to the meeting with problems.  They create troubles that must be solved in order to get on with business.   In America you put the bad news at the end.’  When I heard this from my student I really couldn’t think of a concrete example, but here I’ve been confronted with one head on.

On the walk out of the National Health Insurance Corporation office my wife was just happy that we got to pay the national rate, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

‘You know what this means, right?  A, you’re a foreigner now, and B, I’ve got more rights in Korea than you.’


~ by Joshing on March 22, 2008.

6 Responses to “My Wife Is A Foreigner”

  1. […] Get this Pol Pot is alive and well and coming to Korea.  – Introducing the soju humidifier. – Here is good reason to have your Korean spouse keep their Korean citizenship so you don’t get this run around.- […]

  2. The NHIC’s English website doesn’t display on Safari (congratulations on your choice to use a Mac!) but it displays perfectly on Internet Explorer, and more-or-less correctly even on Safari.

  3. Yeah, you’re right. I was using Firefox (dumb!).

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  5. Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.
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  6. Hi there! This blog post couldn’t be written much better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I most certainly will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he’ll have a great read.

    I appreciate you for sharing!

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