Foreigners from visa-exempt countries are able to stay in South Korea for 30 to 180 days without a visa, depending on which country they are from. This list includes the US, South Africa, Australia, Canada, the UK and most EU countries. That said, as of September 2021, all people travelling from visa-exempt countries will need to register for an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) before going to South Korea.
Expats wanting to stay longer or work in South Korea will need a visa. South Korea issues a range of visas that are grouped alphabetically, depending on what the applicant intends to do in the country. Some of the more commonly issued visas for South Korea are listed here.
Visas for South Korea
Tourist (B-2) visa
Nationals of countries that don't have visa-free entry and want to travel to South Korea will need to secure a B-2 visa. Generally, tourists on a B-2 visa must use the Incheon International Airport, Gimhae International Airport, Yangyang International Airport, Cheongju International Airport or the Muan International Airport to enter South Korea. Travellers will need a passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of arrival, two passport photos, a completed visa application form and the visa fee.
Student (D-2) visa
Student (D-2) visas are for those wanting to study at a tertiary level in South Korea. Applicants will need a letter of acceptance from a recognised Korean institution, certified copies of degree and diploma certificates, proof of funds and some other supporting documentation. It's important to note that students on this visa may not work full time.
Foreign Language Instructor (E-2) visa
This is for expats wanting to work in Korea as teachers of English or other languages for primary school level and above. The regulations for this class of visa are strict. Applicants will need to provide various documents which may include an original employment contract and letter from the school, official academic transcripts, personal reference letters, original degree certificates, an apostilled criminal record clearance certificate, medical clearance and a completed visa application form.
Note that applicants need to have a tertiary degree, and be a native resident of the country whose mother tongue is the same as the language they will teach, to apply for this visa.
Candidates who are applying for the first time will probably need to schedule an interview at their nearest South Korean embassy or consulate. The visa is valid for one year, although a South Korean work permit will also have to be applied for once they have arrived.
Instructors invited by the Ministry of Education have additional requirements, including an original employment contract from the superintendent of Educational Affairs in South Korea.
Special Profession (E-5) visas
Expats applying for an E-5 visa will need to have a certificate of qualification that is recognised under Korean law. It's aimed at candidates such as airline pilots, doctors, hospital interns and residents, and those hired as essential staff for shipping services.
In general, those seeking employment will need to provide proof of employment, certificates of degrees or other qualifications, and professional reference letters.
Specially Designated Activity (E-7) visas
Specially designated activity visas (E-7) are for candidates who are qualified in certain in-demand fields. This includes top-level executives, various kinds of engineers and certain IT professionals.
As is the case with special profession visas, applicants will need to provide proof of employment, certificates of degrees or other qualifications and professional reference letters.
Permanent Residence (F-5) visas
Permanent residence visas can be applied for by foreign high investors who have invested a certain amount in the country and who've hired at least five Korean workers. Foreigners with superior skills in fields such as science, business administration and education will also be considered. Expats who have lived in South Korea for longer than five years may also apply for permanent residence.
The basic items that may be required include a passport that's valid for at least six months, a passport-sized colour photo with a date stamp which has been taken within the preceding six months. High investors will require a certified copy of their corporation register as well as proof of having hired and paid at least five Koreans employees.
Applicants working in special fields will need proof of their qualifications and letters of reference.
Working Holiday (H1) visas
Residents of certain countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Ireland, between the ages of 18 and 25 or 30, depending on the nationality, may apply for an H-1 visa. This visa is valid for one year. Applicants must show proof of onward travel and proof of funds. Those entering on this visa can engage in some employment and some educational pursuits, but the main idea is for this trip to mostly be a vacation.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
"Since I went through an approved English teacher programme, my visa was sponsored by EPIK, which made the process quite easy. If you are moving with a job placement secured, I think it is a relatively easy process, and the consulate in South Africa is efficient. Korea also offers a job-seeking visa, which gives you some time to find a job once in country. This visa is offered to anyone who has studied at a university, with a ranking above 200, in the last three years (I know that UCT is eligible) or studied in Korea in the last three years or worked for a Fortune 500 company." Read more about Bronwyn's expat experience in South Korea and advice she has for those wanting to make the move.
Are you an expat living in South Korea?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to South Korea. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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