Korea, Republic of
Country Specific Information
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September 03, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK) is a highly developed, stable, democratic republic with powers shared between the president and the legislature. It has a modern economy, and tourist facilities are widely available. English is rarely spoken outside the main tourist and business centers.
The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) can be reached in the U.S. and Canada by calling 1-800-868-7567 and has a useful website in English at http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/intro.html. The KTO also operates a telephone information service in the Republic of Korea, which traveling or resident U.S. citizens in Korea can reach by calling 1330 (02-1330 from cell phones) anywhere in the country. The telephone service has English speakers and is available 24 hours every day throughout the year. The Seoul Global Center (SGC) assists foreigners with an English-speaking help line at (02) 1688-0120. The SGC is open from 9:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday. Their website is http://global.seoul.go.kr/. Please read the Department of State Background Notes on South Korea for additional information.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in or visiting the Republic of Korea are encouraged to register through the State Department’s travel registration website and obtain updated information on travel and security within the Republic of Korea. U.S. citizens may also sign up for warden messages and monthly newsletters by providing their email address at www.asktheconsul.org. The U.S. Embassy street address is 32 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 110-710. The APO address is Unit 15550, APO, AP 96205-5550. Telephone (82-2) 397-4114 (from a cell phone in Korea: 02-397-4114); fax (82-2) 397-4101. Please visit the U.S. Embassy Seoul's consular website at www.asktheconsul.org.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport is required. U.S. passport holders may enter the Republic of Korea without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days for tourism or business. When staying for more than 90 days or for any purpose other than tourism or business, the U.S. passport holder must obtain a visa prior to entry. Americans visiting Korea for employment or profit-making purposes, teaching English, or planning to stay more than 90 days must obtain a visa at a Korean embassy or consulate abroad. Generally, individuals staying in Korea for longer than 90 days must also apply for an Alien Registration Card, once in Korea. Individuals who desire to stay longer than their authorized period of stay must apply to Korean Immigration for an extension in advance of the expiration of their authorized period of stay.. Individuals who stay in Korea longer than the period authorized by Korean Immigration without applying for an extension are subject to fines and may be required to pay the fines before departing the country. Changes of status from one type of visa to another (from tourism to teaching, for example) are normally not granted in the Republic of Korea and must be obtained at a Korean embassy or consulate in another country after departing Korea.
Active-duty U.S. military personnel may enter the Republic of Korea under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with proper Department of Defense (DOD) identification and travel orders. Every civilian accompanying the force (including DOD civilian employees, invited contractors, and family members) must have a valid passport to enter Korea and should obtain an A-3 SOFA visa prior to arrival in Korea. Active duty military personnel should obtain a tourist passport prior to leaving the U.S. to accommodate off-duty travel elsewhere in Asia. DOD travelers should consult the DOD Foreign Clearance Guide before leaving the United States.
South Korean officials take the temperature of all passengers upon arrival. Individuals having a temperature or exhibiting cold or flu like symptoms may be quarantined on arrival in South Korea.
Exit permits are not required to leave Korea. However, if a parent requests through the Korea Immigration Service that a travel
restriction be placed on a child, the child is likely to be prevented from departing Korea.
For the most current visa information,contact the Consular Section of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea at 2320 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 939-5660, or see the Korean Embassy website at http://www.koreaembassyusa.org/. Republic of Korea consulates are also located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Guam, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a website directory of all Korean diplomatic missions worldwide in Korean and in English at http://www.mofat.go.kr/index.jsp.
For information on E2 visas for English teachers, customs, dual nationality, and military service in Korea, see “Special Circumstances” below.
Korea does not have a written policy regarding entry to Korea for foreigners with HIV/AIDS. However, Section 11 of the Korean Immigration law stipulates that an immigration officer has the right to deny entry to those who may have communicable diseases. Also, E-6 visa applicants such as singers, dancers, or other entertainment workers have to submit HIV/AIDS test results in order to be eligible for that visa category.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: U.S. citizens in the Republic of Korea should review their own personal security practices, be alert to any unusual activity
around their homes or businesses, and report any significant incidents to local police (tel: 112; from a cell phone: 02-112).
Demonstrations, protests, and vigils occur frequently, with participants often protesting major Korean social issues such as the following: the presence of U.S. military forces in Korea; U.S. military base relocations in Korea; labor accords; discussions regarding a Free Trade Agreement between Korea and the United States; U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq; and the Republic of Korea’s decision to maintain troops in Iraq; and, more recently, the opening of the Korean market to U.S. beef. While the majority of the political, labor, and student demonstrations and marches are non-violent, some have on occasion become confrontational. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to avoid areas near demonstrations and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any protests.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department’s Internet website at http://travel.state.gov, where current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States
and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 202-501-4444. These numbers are available
from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low, there is a higher incidence of pick-pocketing, purse snatching, assault, hotel room and residential burglary, and residential crime in major metropolitan areas, such as Seoul and Busan, than elsewhere in Korea. U.S. citizens are more likely to be targeted in known tourist areas, such as Itaewon (near the U.S. Army Garrison in the Yongsan area) and large market areas downtown. Incidents of rape have been reported in popular nightlife districts in Seoul, as well as in the victims’ residences. Bar and street fights as well as occasional harassment of Westerners have also been reported in nightlife districts in Seoul. Travelers should exercise caution when traveling alone at night and should use only legitimate taxis or public transportation. Travelers may reduce the likelihood of becoming a crime victim by exercising the same type of security precautions they would take when visiting any large city in the United States.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIM E : The emergency number to reach the police anywhere in the Republic of Korea, the local equivalent to the U.S. “911” emergency
line, is 112 (02-112 from a cell phone). Foreigners who do not speak Korean can be connected to an English-speaking interpreter
on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance. The Embassy staff can assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and to get funds transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you understand the local criminal justice process and provide a list of attorneys, if needed.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
Persons violating Korean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Republic of Korea are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences, heavy fines, and deportation at the end of their sentence. U.S. citizens in Korea have been arrested for past use of illegal drugs based on urine tests, hair samples, or other tests. Korean authorities frequently arrest U.S. citizens on drug charges by scanning suspicious packages sent through the mail system and by using information provided by other persons charged with drug possession or use.
DUAL NATIONALITY: The Government of the Republic of Korea does not recognize dual citizenship. Men must choose a single nationality by March 31 of the year they turn 18 years old, and women by the age of 21. If men do not select a nationality by that date, the Korean government will consider them to have chosen Korean nationality, and they will be obligated to serve duty in the Korean military. Conversely, women who do not choose a nationality by age 21 will be considered to have lost their Korean nationality.
According to the Korean Nationality Act, those who have obtained a foreign citizenship by naturalization automatically lose their Korean citizenship. In addition, all Korean males who were born in the U.S. to Korean parents but are not registered in the Korean Family Relations Certificate (formerly known as the Family Census Register) are not considered to be Korean citizens and thus are not subject to military duty.
Although having one’s name on the Korean Family Relations Certificate does not necessarily mean that one is a Korean citizen, it is probably advisable to have it removed if a dual national decides on U.S. nationality. A person’s name is not automatically removed from the Korean Family Relations Certificate simply because he or she is a U.S. citizen. It is the obligation of a U.S. citizen to inform the Korean government of his or her U.S. citizenship for the purposes of removing his or her name from the Korean Family Relations Certificate.
Korea does not consider Koreans who acquired U.S. citizenship to be dual citizens; they are considered to be U.S. citizens and therefore are not subject to Korean military duty. Any male with dual citizenship whose name appears on the Korean Family Relations Certificate must fulfill his military obligation unless he has surrendered his Korean nationality before March 30 of the year he turns 18 years old. A U.S. citizen male in this situation must notify Korean authorities of his parents’ immigration status, renounce his Korean citizenship, and remove his name from the Korean Family Relations Certificate. If a U.S. citizen male fails to remove his name from the Korean Family Relations Certificate, Korean authorities may require that he serve in the Korean military if he lives in Korea or visits Korea during conscription age (18 to 35 years of age).
Under a law that went into effect on May 26, 2005, Korean men who have dual citizenship may be required to serve in the military before they can give up their Korean citizenship. Women are not required to serve in the military.
The 2005 law affects male U.S. citizens of Korean descent in different ways.
A Korean male born in Korea who emigrates to the U.S. and becomes a naturalized American citizen loses his Korean citizenship and therefore has no military obligations in Korea.
A male who was born in the U.S. and whose Korean parents were U.S. citizens at the time of his birth does not have Korean military obligations.
A male who was born in the U.S, whose name is on the Korean Family Relations Certificate, and whose parents were not American citizens at the time of his birth but immigrated to and live in the U.S. is not obligated to serve in the Korean military if he renounces his Korean citizenship prior to March 30 of the year he turns 18 years of age.
A male who was born in the U.S., and whose name is on the Korean Family Relations Certificate, and whose Korean citizen parents lived only temporarily outside Korea, may not renounce his Korean citizenship until he completes his service in the Korean military.
A U.S. citizen male who was born in Korea, who lives in Korea, and whose name is on the Korean Family Relations Certificate may not renounce his Korean citizenship until he serves in the Korean military.
After fulfilling his military service, a dual national has two years to choose his nationality before he loses his Korean
There have been several instances in which young U.S. citizen men of Korean descent -- who were born in and lived all of their lives in the United States -- arrived in Korea as tourists only to be drafted into the Republic of Korea army. At least two of these cases involved individuals whose names had been recorded on the Korean Family Relations Certificate without their knowledge. Special permission to visit Korea should be obtained in this instance; please contact the Korean Embassy or a consulate to receive more information before traveling to Korea.
U.S. military members should contact the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Legal Office prior to making plans to travel to Korea, whether
for official or personal purposes. The direct contact is Mr. Hyun S. Kim, DSN (315) 738-7175, commercial (82-2) 7918-7175,
For additional information, consult the Embassy of Korea's website under the Consulate Service's "Other Information" at http://www.koreaembassyusa.org/ and review our Dual Nationality flyer.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Persons traveling to/from Korea or transiting Korea to/from other countries should be aware that the Republic of Korea’s customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary importation into or export from Korea of items such as firearms, ammunition, explosives, narcotics and prescription drugs, non-prescription health supplements, radio equipment, and gold, as well as books, other printed material, and videos or audio recordings that might be considered subversive to national security, obscene, or in any way harmful to the public interest and cultural property.
Furthermore, the Republic of Korea has customs laws and regulations to prevent the spread of livestock diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE; "mad cow" disease), hoof-and-mouth disease, avian influenza, etc. The following products must be declared to Korean customs officials upon arrival: live animals, such as dogs, cats, pet birds, etc.; animal products, such as antlers, bone, blood meal, etc.; beef, pork, mutton, chicken meat and processed meat products, such as sausages, ham, meat jerky, boiled meat, canned products, boiled eggs, etc.; processed dairy products, such as milk, cheese, butter, etc.; processed egg products, such as egg, egg white, egg powder, etc. For further inquires, email email@example.com. Please see our information on customs regulations.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection lists items whose entry into the United States is prohibited or restricted at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/prohibited_restricted.xml. For additional information please see the section above on Crime.
PASSPORT SEIZURES, EXIT BANS, AND COMMERCIAL DISPUTES: The Government of the Republic of Korea sometimes seizes the passports and blocks departure from Korea of foreigners involved in commercial disputes. While the U.S. Government may reissue a passport to a U.S. citizen who applies for one in such circumstances, the Korean exit ban remains in effect, thereby preventing departure.
WORKING IN THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA: U.S. citizens going to the Republic of Korea to teach, model, or work for a company (part-time or full-time, paid or unpaid) must enter Korea using the appropriate work visa. Changes of status from any other visa status to a work visa are not granted within the country. Any foreigner who begins work without the appropriate visa is subject to arrest, costly fines, and deportation. Persons working without a valid work permit and who have a contractual dispute with their employers have little or no entitlement to legal recourse under Korean law.
TEACHING ENGLISH: The government of the Republic of Korea changed its immigration policies effective December 15, 2007, to require that criminal records checks and a health certificate be submitted with E-2 English teaching visa applications or extensions. The U.S. Embassy in South Korea does not provide a records check or fingerprinting service, nor can the Embassy authenticate records checks or health certificates. If you have further questions, please contact the Korea Immigration Service, Border Control Division, at (within Korea) 500-9116, 500-9117, or 500-9118, or consult their website: http://seoul.immigration.go.kr/HP/IMM80/index.do. More detailed information on the procedure is also available on the U.S. Embassy Seoul consular website, at www.asktheconsul.org.
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul receives many complaints from U.S. citizens who enter the Republic of Korea to teach English at private language schools ("hagwons"). The most frequent complaints are that the schools and/or employment agencies misrepresent salaries, working conditions, living arrangements, and other benefits, including health insurance, even in the written contracts. There have also been some complaints of physical assault, threats of arrest/deportation, and sexual harassment. Some U.S.-based employment agencies have been known to misrepresent contract terms, employment conditions, or the need for an appropriate work visa. Since 2005, Korean police have investigated a number of foreign teachers for document fraud. Several Americans have been arrested and charged with possession of fraudulent university diplomas that were used to obtain employment in Korea. Please see our comprehensive website section on Teaching English in Korea at http://seoul.usembassy.gov/t_overview.html.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Legally, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea – the DPRK) and the Republic of Korea remain in a state of war. Peace has been maintained on the Korean peninsula under an armistice for more than 50 years. In the last few years, political, economic, and social contacts between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea have increased significantly. However, the possibility of military hostilities that could necessitate the evacuation of U.S. citizens from the Republic of Korea cannot be excluded. The U.S. Government has developed a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) plan for the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Korea in an emergency. A guide for U.S. citizens about the NEO plan is available online at http://korea.usembassy.gov/emergency_evacuation.html, or at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
The U.S. Government does not provide protective equipment to private American citizens in the Republic of Korea. As always, U.S. citizens should review their own personal security practices and make their own decisions with regard to those precautions that they might take to avoid danger. Those who may wish to acquire protective equipment for personal use should contact commercial vendors who may be able to provide such equipment. For further information, please refer to the Department of State’s Chemical - Biological Agent Fact Sheet or the autofax by dialing (202) 647-3000 from a fax machine.
If the Department of State becomes aware of any specific and credible threat to the safety and security of U.S. citizens, that information will be disseminated as quickly as possible to the American public at large.
During the monsoon season (June-August) and the typhoon (hurricane) season (May-November), there may be heavy rains and flooding in Korea. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Hospitals in Korea are generally well-equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. High quality general
and specialty dental care is available in Seoul. Western-style medical facilities are available in major urban areas of Seoul,
Busan, Daegu, and a few other large cities. However, not all doctors and staff in these major urban areas are proficient in
English. Most clinics in rural areas do not have an English-speaking doctor. A list of hospitals and medical specialists who
speak English is available at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul or on the Embassy's website at http://korea.usembassy.gov/health.html.
Pharmacies are first-rate and most prescribed medications, except psychotropic medications, can be obtained with a prescription. Travelers taking any psychotropic or controlled medications should bring a sufficient supply as well as a copy of the prescription for Korean customs clearance upon arrival at the airport or seaport.
Korean ambulances do not carry sophisticated medical equipment and the ambulance personnel do not have the same level of emergency
medical training as in the United States. However, ambulances operated by the fire department (dial 119) will respond very
quickly and take patients to the nearest hospital. For medical evacuation to points outside Korea, please see the State Department's
brochure on Medical Information for Americans Abroad, which includes names of private air ambulance/medevac companies: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1215.html.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: Korean hospitals generally do not accept foreign medical insurance and expect advance payment for services in the form of cash or credit cards from foreigners. The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: The Republic of Korea’s roads are well paved, traffic lights are functional, and most drivers comply with basic traffic laws. However, Korea has a significantly higher traffic fatality rate than does the United States. Causes of accidents include excessive speed, frequent lane changes, running of red lights, aggressive bus drivers, and weaving motorcyclists. Pedestrians should be aware that motorcyclists sometimes drive on the sidewalks and drivers of all types of vehicles do not always yield to pedestrians in marked crosswalks. It is safer to use pedestrian underpasses and overpasses where available.
Traffic laws in the Republic of Korea differ from traffic laws in the United States in some respects. Left-hand turns are
generally prohibited except where a green arrow indicates otherwise. Drivers may turn right on a red light after coming to
a complete stop. Seat belts are mandatory. Children riding in the front seat of vehicles must wear a seat belt or use an appropriate
child car seat. Passengers on motorcycles must wear protective helmets. An international driving permit issued in the U.S.
by the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) is required of short-term
visitors who drive in Korea. Otherwise, drivers must have a Korean driver's license.
In all accidents involving an automobile and a pedestrian or motorcycle, the driver of the automobile, regardless of citizenship, is presumed to be at fault. Police investigations of traffic accidents usually involve long waits at police stations. Police may request to hold the passport of a foreigner involved in a traffic accident if there is any personal injury or a dispute about the cause of the accident. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common in accidents involving injury, even if negligence is not proven. Persons arrested in accidents involving serious injury or death may be detained until the conclusion of the police investigation and legal process. Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense. Drivers in the Republic of Korea may wish to carry a disposable camera to document any traffic accidents, even minor ones.
For specific information concerning Korean driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Korea Tourism Organization office in Fort Lee, N.J., (telephone 1-800-868-7567) or check http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/intro.html. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Republic of Korea’s Civil Aviation Authority
as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the
Republic of Korea’s air carrier operations. For more information, visit the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/iasa.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 2, 2009, to update the Entry and Exit Requirements section and to relocate the sections on Registration and Embassy Location and Special Circumstances.