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South Korea Visas Explained

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Over the past few years the requirements to obtain work visas for South Korea have increased. Cases of sexual abuse among children, falsified college degrees, and foreigner crime are purportedly to blame for the South Korean Immigration Ministry’s tightening on its grasp of teaching visas in particular. If you are not of Korean blood or a Korean adoptee, your visa most likely must be sponsored by a Korean company, and the paperwork can be a major headache. Going through a recruiter for your job can ease the process immensely, but if you are doing it on your own, be sure to stay on top of the visa checklist – it changes frequently.

Tourist and business visas

Citizens of 109 countries can receive a visa on arrival in South Korea for stays between 30 and 180 days (depending on your nationality).

E2 (Teaching) Visa

If you are an average American, Canadian, Brit, Australian, South African, or New Zealander whose parents are not Korean, this is probably the visa you will be applying for to work in a private academy or public school. It is also, unfortunately, the one that requires the most paperwork. Basic requirements as per Korean Immigration include:

  • Your passport, which you will eventually need to send or present to your local Korean embassy for the insertion of the actual visa itself
  • A visa application including a color passport photo (better to get 4 or 5 while you’re at it – your school will likely need some for your Alien Registration Card and a plethora of other little things)
  • Your contract, which you will need to obtain a copy of from your employer in South Korea
  • A self health statement: when you arrive in South Korea, you will need to perform a required health screening. The screening includes a drug test (yes, this includes marijuana, for which the possession of is considered a serious offense) and blood test to check for AIDS and it may or may not be paid for by your employer.
  • A Bachelor’s Degree: if you are not comfortable shipping it overseas (as most of us are), you must get a copy apostilled for a fee by your local Korean embassy.
  • A national (federal) criminal record check, also apostilled for yet another fee: for U.S. citizens, this must be an FBI check; for Canadians, one from the Mounties, and so on. This cannot be something printed online, nor can it be done within South Korea. NOTE: Apostilles are not necessary on any documents for Canadian citizens.
  • One reference (letter)
  • An application fee: if you are a U.S. citizen, you’d be better off getting a multiple-entry visa ($80 USD) rather than a single-entry ($50 USD) if you plan on visiting home or another country during your work contract in South Korea.

You will need to start getting all of these things in order after you finish your interview with your school and the school agrees to hire you and sponsor your visa; basically, as soon as they send you a contract. Depending on your country and how close you are to a Korean embassy, it will generally cost you at least 3 weeks and around $200 in various fees. Granted, it’s worth it if you land an awesome job with the kind of benefits teaching jobs typically offer. If you are not working through a recruiter, be sure to keep in touch with your school and your local embassy for details of when and where all of this stuff needs to be sent before you can finally walk out of the embassy with that ugly sticker in your passport. Note that the visa is only good for as long as your contract term and you might need to renew it for a few days before your departure if you plan on staying in the country a few days past your contract.

F4 Visa

South Korea Visa

The golden ticket granted to Korean-Americans or those who have had Korean citizenship in the past. E-2 holders covet this visa as it is renewable for up to 4 years and basically allows you to go in and out of the country as you please and work wherever you want (including as a private English tutor – illegal for those on an E-2). All this requires is a paltry “report” of your whereabouts to the immigration office and some materials including a passport copy, two photos, a cheap fee (10,000KRW), and a family registry of sorts to show who your relatives are. This is also applicable to Korean adoptees, who need to also provide their adoption certificate and family registry (notarized) to obtain their visa.

D-2 (Overseas Study) visa

To study abroad in South Korea, you need a D-2, otherwise known as the overseas study, visa. It is possible to work part time (up to 20 hours per week) on a D-2 student visa.

Special Visas

There are a range of other visas for specialty (read: high-paying) jobs in government or entertainment, as well as visas for spouses of Korean nationals and refugees (F-2). If you are staying in South Korea for less than 90 days with the purpose of traveling, you do not need a visa, but will need to apply for a C-4 visa if you are sent by your company for temporary employment.

Visa Status Changes

South Korea does not permit foreigners to change the status of their visas (i.e. a change from a tourist to teaching visa) from inside the country. To do this, the prospective applicant must exit the country and submit their application materials at a South Korean consulate abroad. If your plan to stay in South Korea for over 90 days, you must apply for a Alien Registration Card.

More information on visas to South Korea

For more details on all visa types and immigration requirements, see the following links in English below:
South Korea Immigration Guide
South Korea Immigration Homepage

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Filed under: Asia, South Korea, Visas

About the Author:

Tiffany Zappulla is VagabondJourney.com’s Korea correspondent and travel tech reviewer. She pinched pennies throughout college, sacrificing parties, treats, and occasionally even food so she could start traveling to foreign lands. So far she’s toured Scotland, Spain, and Japan (twice) on a budget, and spent three years living in South Korea actively engaged in the culture and lifestyle. Aside from her qualifications in ESL, Tiffany does other freelance writing and odd jobs. She is currently living the broke American life for awhile before deciding on her next adventure. Connect with her on Google+. has written 31 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.