Korean pharmacy selling face maks
A sign in a pharmacy window explains Korea's new system for selling face masks.

How to Purchase Face Masks in South Korea

A new system is in place to fairly distribute the limited number of face masks.

As part of the government’s attempt to fairly distribute the limited number of face masks, there are new restrictions for consumers when purchasing face masks in South Korea. Although KF94 masks  are still available in some stores, pharmacies can only sell two normal masks per person a week. 

To purchase face masks, the new restriction requires Korean consumers to show their identity cards. For foreigners living in the country, they have to bring their alien resident card along with their insurance card.

The last digit of your birth year decides which day of the week you can purchase the two face masks. On Mondays, individuals whose birth year ends with the number one or six can purchase masks. Tuesday, for those with a two or seven; Wednesday, with three or eight; Thursday, with four or nine; Friday, with zero or five. For example, those born in the year 1996 or 1930 can purchase masks on Monday. The weekends have been set aside for people who did not purchase masks during the weekday. 

Pharmacies have started to register purchases by ID cards to ensure that the number of masks are limited to two masks per person a week. If someone attempts to buy more than two, they will be reported. 

In places where supply is weak, such as in Daegu, Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang Province, and other small counties, masks can also be purchased at post offices, which are limited to one per person at a price of 1,500 KRW (1.26 USD), and Nonghyup Bank’s Hanaro stores.

With a shortage of masks in South Korea, the government has sought to intervene in production and distribution through the new restriction. However, even with such measures, masks are quickly sold out.

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In Ichon-dong, people were waiting in line starting from 7:30 a.m. to buy masks. By 10:30 a.m., three pharmacies posted a note on the door that there were no more masks available. If you need to buy masks, the only thing you can really do to get your hands on a couple of masks is to go to the pharmacy as early in the morning as possible.