This one goes out to all the ladies, living in South Korea or considering the move. When I returned to Korea I stocked up on my brand of birth control pills from back home and figured I’d deal with the situation of how to acquire more when that time came. Well that time was last week, so allow me to set some concerns to rest for those of you who aren’t sure what it’s like to get birth control pills here.
Worries over the pill in Korea began in 2012 when President Pak Geun-Hye’s conservative government announced that the Korean Food & Drug Administration would make moves to reclassify contraceptives including birth control pills and the morning-after pill. This reclassification would result in making birth control pills prescription only (after being over-the-counter for over 40 years) and allowing the morning-after pill to switch from prescription to over-the-counter. The change enraged many Korean women’s rights groups and many women in general across the country. Doctors and pharmacists disagreed with the reclassification and said the change seemed backwards seeing as the pill has been widely available around the world for over 50 years and its effects were well-documented and proven safe.
Two months later, the government reconsidered their stance as it was pre-election time and they were pissing off a lot of people. They decided to put the reclassification procedure on hold for 3 years to “further monitor” the effects of each contraceptive and better-educate Korean women on whatever it is the government feels they don’t know enough about already.
So we are safe until at least the end of 2015, when many hope the issue will be put on a shelf to be forgotten for good. Many women, Korean and otherwise, use the birth control pill to regulate their cycles, control and reduce menstrual pain and to help with acne problems. They also use the pill to control when their cycle begins, to make school trips or sporting events less uncomfortable.
Moving forward, many foreigners who come to Korea worry that they won’t be able to get their brand of preferred pill. In my case, I recently had to change my pill so that the estrogen levels were a good match to what was going on with my 30 year-old hormones. Women of different ages need different dosages to match their hormonal levels. Often times it’s a game of “try this kind for 3 months and see how you feel.” This is why, when we find a brand that suits us, it means a lot to be able to get that same kind wherever we are. It’s more than brand loyalty – it’s hormonal synchronicity.
I brought a Korean friend to help with translation but it was actually a very simple transaction. I brought in my North American birth control box and pointed to the medicinal ingredients on the back. We asked the pharmacist for something with similar levels of levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol. He disappeared for a minute and came back with a little green box and showed me the ingredients on the back. Same exact levels as my Minovral, only this one was a Korean brand.
Done and done. Also, very cheap! Only 5,500 won, equal to about $5.50 CAD. So for those heading over here soon or are already here, save one box and take it with you to the pharmacy the next time you need to stock up. No prescription or added fees required until 2016 (at least) and as long as you choose a relatively big pharmacy, they will probably have what you need with a lot less stress than you thought.