Post-Natal Care in Korea
While you are deliriously happy with your newborn baby there are still some fairly pressing administrative issues you need to tend to- on top of caring for a brand new little person.
Once the baby is born, it is common for new-born baby and mother to move to a sanhu-jo-ree-won /산후조리원 after the birth. These are basically recuperation centers that provide nursing assistance at all times. Mother and child are typically there for two weeks, which costs in the region of 2 million KRW. Here they can relax in their own room, with a TV, phone and computer to keep them entertained. They will also be visited by doctors, receive massages, take part in yoga, and drink herbal medicines. Staffs at these facilities teach new mums to breast feed, swaddle, wash and comfort their babies. For mums, this is also a great place to meet and share experiences with other mums. These are open to foreign families and there are usually nurses and doctors who can speak English.
Traditional Korean Postpartum Beliefs
Traditionally, new mums are strongly encouraged to drink lots of birthday seaweed soup(saengil nal miyeogkuk /생일날 미역국) because seaweed contain lots of iron which mothers need after they lose blood. Koreans also drink this soup on their birthday each year. Some believe that they should not shower or bath after giving birth as your risk of getting ill is much greater. There is also the belief that women should not lift anything heavy and should avoid doing laundry.
Registering a Birth
Depending on the nationality of the parents, the process is different. In all cases, the hospital, clinic or midwife will issue a birth certificate which you then have thirty days to register at the local Dong sa-ma-so /동사무소. If you do not register within the thirty days, a penalty fee of between 10,000KRW and 50,000KRW may be charged. Once the birth has been registered successfully, the baby will be issued a national ID number. From here on, the process is slightly different depending on your nationality, and the country of citizenship you want for your child.
Note: The birth certificate is usually in Korean only, so you should also request an English version. This will save you some cash later on, because if you want to apply for dual citizenship you’ll need a birth certificate in your own national language. You’ll have to get the certificate translated and notarized.
The law recently changed in 2010. Now, for a child with one Korean parent and one foreign parent it is possible, and most common, for them to take dual citizenship, which they do not have to give up. After receiving a national ID number and Korean citizenship, the parent from the foreign country can apply to the embassy of their homeland for dual nationality. This, however, takes longer than applying to be a registered Korean national. Because all of the documentation is written solely in Korean, the birth certificate and family tree will need to be translated by an authorized party and then notarized to confirm the validity of the documents. The family tree is issued by the Dong sa-ma-so.
Each country has slightly different requirements when applying for citizenship. So be sure to check on the embassy websites for the stipulations specific to you. However, most embassies usually request the following ORIGINAL documents (no copies):
Tip: always request an English copy of the birth certificate. This will save you money because the documents need to be notarized.
Once the foreign citizenship has been approved, you can apply for a passport.
Korea is a patriarchal society in which children take their father’s family name. If however, the mother is Korean and the father is a foreigner, the parents can choose which family name the baby takes.
Many people run into problems as the name of the baby is different on the Korean birth certificate and the translated English birth certificate. In order to ensure this doesn’t happen to you, the baby’s name must be identical on all the following documents:
If the child’s name is not identical on all of these, the embassy will reject the application. In other words, make sure the name is written on the original/hospital birth certificate is EXACTLY the same way as you want it to be on the non-Korean passport.
For example: If a child’s name is Ryan and his surname is Lee (Korean 이) and you wrote it like this on the hospital birth certificate (이 라이언 – Lee Ryan), it would be translated exactly like that. If you then wanted to add a foreign surname (say Turner) to his non-Korean passport, this new name would not even be mentioned in the birth certificate translation and therefore the embassy will reject the request. So, on the Korean birth certificate you must write 터너이라이언 – Turner Lee Ryan.
In the case of two foreign nationals, one or both of the parents must apply to their respective embassies. This is done by submitting the birth certificate issued by the hospital (if it is in English) and all the other relevant documents. When the embassy has produced their own birth certificate, the parents can apply for a passport for the baby. Children born of two foreign parents are not Korean nationals and cannot obtain Korean citizenship.
Getting Health Insurance for Your Baby (Two Foreign Parents)
The process of acquiring national health insurance for your baby is as follows:
This process usually takes more than 30 days. However the Korean health system only provides health care for infants for 30 days. After that point, the baby must be registered under the parents’ national insurance. For foreign parents there may be a period where the baby is uninsured (after the initial 30 days is up and before the national health insurance can be processed). To protect your baby during this gap period, buy private health insurance.
Taking your baby out and about
Getting about with a baby in Korea is sometimes convenient but potentially treacherous at the same time. The convenient part is that seats are clearly marked on both buses and subways for pregnant women and women with babies. Someone will almost always offer their seat to you when you get on a bus or train. While strollers are commonly used in Korea, the transport system is not set up to accommodate them (taking a stroller on the bus is all but impossible). The Korean style of strapping the baby to the mum’s back or front with a large cloth makes getting about much easier. Also, large shopping centers (E-Mart in particular) offer free stroller rentals and shopping carts with baby seats for trips around the shops. You may find children’s play areas in many of the larger marts, too.
Shopping for baby stuff
Most large multi-story marts will have a maternity section for you to pick up diapers, and other baby essentials like clothes for mother and child. Dongdaemun market in Seoul has a lot of maternity shops, as does Namdaemun market. In Jung-gu there is a baby clothes shopping center called Burdeng which has all the latest apparel for babies. See the article Children’s Clothing in Seoul for more suggestions.