Pay through nose no more for plastic surgery

Top News | Adeline Mak 10 Mar 2016

Hongkongers undergoing plastic surgery in South Korea will no longer have to pay the 10 percent value-added tax.

The plan is outlined in the Seoul government's 2015 tax code revision, which emphasizes revitalizing the economy by creating jobs for youth and helping workers accumulate wealth and spend more, according to Yonhap news agency.

The revision stipulates that, starting next month, foreigners will receive refunds of the 10 percent VAT for cosmetic surgery.

"If a foreign national submits a receipt for the surgery from a local hospital or clinic, on departure that person can get a full refund," said Moon Chang Yong, deputy finance minister of tax and customs. "It's designed to help boost the local tourism industry."

It is estimated that about 155,000 foreigners mostly from China, the United States, Russia and Japan visited Seoul for medical purposes in 2014.

The operations covered by the tax refund range from liposuction to nasal surgery to eyelid surgery. Prices in South Korea vary as a nose job can cost from HK$20,000 to more than HK$46,000.

Some agencies in Hong Kong charge HK$50,000 for a nose job in Korea, which includes after-operation care and pickup to and from the airport and hotel.

Federation of Beauty Industry founding chairman Nelson Ip Sai-hung said Hong Kong consumers prefer to undergo plastic surgery locally. And he said the tax rebate will have a stimulating effect for South Korea and will not help Hong Kong's cosmetic surgery industry.

"The confidence in South Korea's cosmetic surgery skills has been built up," Ip said. "South Korea is a brand name."

Ip said while Seoul has promoted the industry, the Hong Kong government has done nothing. He said the service cost in South Korea may be slightly lower than that of Hong Kong but the difference is negated by the cost of flight tickets and accommodation.

Travel Industry honorary adviser Michael Wu Siu-ieng said cosmetic surgery packaged tours are not common for travel agencies in Hong Kong.

"Those going to South Korea for plastic surgery usually contact the clinics or hospitals directly and only book flights through travel agencies," Wu said.

He did not think the tax rebate would increase the number of visitors to South Korea but added: "Its reputation in plastic surgery has been well established. A price cut may reinforce the impression that plastic surgery in South Korea is cheap and of high quality, but potential consumers who are not so price-sensitive care more about quality than the price."

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