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. Korea is a modern economy where tourist facilities are widely available. English is rarely spoken outside the main tourist and business centers.
You can find more information about tourism in the ROK through the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) website (in English) or by calling 1-800-868-7567 from the United States and Canada. The KTO also operates a telephone information service within the Republic of Korea, that you can reach by dialing 1330 (02-1330 from cell phones) anywhere in the country. The KTO telephone service has English speakers and is available 24 hours every day of 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 through Friday.
Read the Department of State's Fact Sheet on South Korea for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit the Republic of Korea, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you sign up, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. Your friends and family can also get in touch with you in an emergency. Here's the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
188 Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 110-710
APO address is Unit 15550, APO, AP 96205-5550
Telephone: (82-2) 397-4114 (from a cell phone in the Republic of Korea: 02-397-4114)
Emergency after-hours telephone: 82-2-397-4114. If you have access to DSN, please call 721-4114.
Facsimile: (82-2) 397-4101.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: You must have a valid passport to enter the Republic of Korea. As long as you have a valid U.S. passport, you can enter the Republic of Korea without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days if you are a tourist or if you are in the Republic of Korea on business. If you are staying for more than 90 days, or for any reason other than tourism or a temporary non-profit business trip, you must have a visa before you enter. If you are visiting the Republic of Korea for employment, for any profit-making reason, to teach English, or for stays longer than 90 days, you must get a visa at an ROK embassy or consulate prior to your travel. Once you enter the Republic of Korea, if you are staying in the Republic of Korea for longer than 90 days, you must also apply for an Alien Registration Card. Visit the Embassy of the Republic of Korea website for the most current visa information.
The Government of the Republic of Korea considers it very important to control the number of illegal or out-of-status foreigners in the country. If you want to stay longer than your authorized period of stay after you have entered the Republic of Korea, be sure to apply to the ROK Immigration for an extension before the expiration date of your authorized stay. If you stay in the Republic of Korea longer than the time authorized by ROK Immigration without applying for an extension, you will be fined and will be required to pay the fines before you can leave the country. In most cases, you cannot change the status of your visa from one type to another (from tourism to teaching, for example) while you are in the Republic of Korea. You must change your status at a ROK embassy or consulate in another country after departing the Republic of Korea.
On January 1, 2012, the Republic of Korea began collecting the biometric data of foreign visitors at ports of entry (international airports and seaports). U.S. citizens entering the Republic of Korea will have their two index fingerprints electronically scanned at the same time a digital photograph is taken of their face by a Korea Immigration Service inspector. This process will take place while the traveler’s passport is being inspected at an immigration booth. Children under the age of 17 and foreign government and international organization officials and their accompanying immediate family members are exempt from this requirement. Questions about this requirement should be directed to the nearest ROK embassy or consulate.
For ROK-born or Ethnic Korean Visitors: If you were born in the Republic of Korea, if you once held ROK citizenship, or if you are an ethnic Korean (whether you held ROK citizenship before or not), you may qualify for some type of residence status in the Republic of Korea. If you think you may qualify for this status, you should check with ROK Immigration to see what documents the ROK government will require before you visit or stay in the Republic of Korea. For additional visa information in English, please visit the Korean Immigration website.
For Military Personnel/DOD: U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians have different entry requirements, governed by the DOD Foreign Clearance Guide. DOD travelers must consult the Foreign Clearance Guide and follow all instructions before traveling to the Republic of Korea. Personnel on active duty assigned to U.S. Forces Korea may enter the Republic of Korea under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Department of Defense (DOD) identification and travel orders. However, while in route to Korea they must be careful not to transit countries (such as China) that require a passport. Family members/dependents of active-duty personnel must have a valid passport to enter the Republic of Korea and should obtain an A-3 SOFA visa before arriving in the Republic of Korea. DOD civilians, DOD contractors supporting the U.S. military in the Republic of Korea, and their family members/dependents must also have a valid passport to enter the Republic of Korea and should also obtain an A-3 SOFA visa before arriving in the Republic of Korea. All DOD personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy and their family members/dependents must enter the Republic of Korea on either diplomatic or official passports with the appropriate ROK visas obtained through their sponsoring DOD agencies. Other U.S. military personnel may enter the Republic of Korea under the SOFA with proper DOD identification and travel orders. However, all DOD travelers on official business require a country clearance through the DOD APACS system. Non-DOD travelers traveling to the Republic of Korea for official DOD business with the U.S. Embassy, ROK officials, and/or visiting ROK facilities, installations, or activities must obtain a country clearance via the Department of State's eCC system. Active duty service members do not require a country clearance for leave in the Republic of Korea and may enter on DOD identification and leave orders. DOD civilians and contractors must have a valid passport to enter the Republic of Korea on non-official business.
For Third-country DOD employees: If you are a third-country DOD employee traveling on a passport from one of the following countries, you must obtain an ROK visa, regardless of the reason for travel, where you will be visiting, or how long you will be staying. These countries are Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia And Herzegovina, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cuba, Georgia, Ghana, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
Exit Permits: Usually you do not need an exit permit to leave the Republic of Korea; however, if one parent requests the ROK Immigration Service to place a travel restriction on his or her child, ROK Immigration may prevent the child from departing the Republic of Korea, even if traveling with the other parent. Please see also the section below on Passport Seizures, Exit Bans, and Commercial Disputes. For information on E2 visas for English teachers, customs, dual citizenship, and military service in the Republic of Korea, see "Special Circumstances" below.
Visit the Embassy of the Republic of Korea website for the most current visa information.
HIV/AIDS Restrictions: Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to, and foreign residents of, the Republic of Korea. Section 11 of the ROK Immigration Law says that an immigration officer has the right to deny entry to those who may have communicable diseases. Also, particular applicants for visa classes such as E-2 (teachers) and E-6 visas (singers, dancers, or other entertainment workers) must submit HIV/AIDS test results in order to obtain these types of visas. Please verify this information with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea before you travel.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: When you travel, be alert to any unusual activity around your home, hotel, or business, and report any significant incidents to the local police. For emergency assistance in the Republic of Korea, dial 112 or, from a cell phone, 02-112.
Public Demonstrations: The Republic of Korea (ROK) is a modern democracy with active public political participation, and political demonstrations are common. While in recent years there has been a decrease in violence associated with political demonstrations, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational. You should avoid demonstrations whenever possible and exercise caution if you find yourself in an area with active demonstrations.
North Korea (DPRK):An armistice agreement, monitored by the United Nations, has maintained general peace on the Korean peninsula since 1953. Tensions have occasionally flared up because of provocative acts by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, including ballistic missile tests, nuclear tests, and limited armed incursions into ROK-held territory. Some of these provocations have escalated into geographically limited skirmishes taking place primarily around isolated islands off the northwest coast of the ROK.
The Republic of Korea maintains a high level of readiness to respond to any military threats from the DPRK. Military training exercises are routinely conducted throughout the Republic of Korea during the year and include civil defense drills, which are normally held four times a year. U.S. citizens should stay informed through local media about upcoming military exercises and civil defense drills that sometimes occur at short notice. The DPRK often issues strongly-worded and threatening messages in connection with these exercises. Please see our Fact Sheet on North Korea.
Emergency Preparedness:The U.S. Embassy in Seoul maintains a page on its website with local information about emergency preparedness. Travelers can stay informed by bookmarking this site and following local current events during their time in Korea.
During the monsoon season from June - August and the typhoon and hurricane season from May - November, heavy rains and flooding sometimes occur in the Republic of Korea. See general information about natural disaster preparedness at the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.
If the Embassy becomes aware of any specific and credible threat to your safety and security, we will inform you of the threat as soon as possible through our registration and local email systems.
Follow us on U.S. Embassy Seoul's "Americans in Korea" Facebook page.
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CRIME: The crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low. The crimes that occurmost frequently(e.g., pick-pocketing, purse snatching, assault, hotel room and residential crime)occur more often in major metropolitan areas, tourist areas, and crowded markets. Please use caution in all crowded entertainment, nightlife, and shopping districts throughout Korea. Exercise caution when traveling alone at night and use only legitimate taxis or public transportation. Reduce the likelihood of becoming a crime victim by exercising the same type of security precautions you would take when visiting any large city in the United States.
Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only is buying bootleg goods illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law, too.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in the Republic of Korea is "112" or 02-112 from a cell phone.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws, even if you are a U.S. citizen. Persons violating the Republic of Korea’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Republic of Korea can be severe, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences, heavy fines, and deportation at the end of their sentence. U.S. citizens in the Republic of Korea have been arrested for past use of illegal drugs based on evidence from urine tests and hair sampling. ROK authorities frequently arrest U.S. citizens on drug charges based on suspicious packages sent through the mail or information provided by other persons charged with drug possession or use. Several U.S. citizens have been arrested after accepting international mail packages that contained marijuana-laced items. ROK authorities thoroughly screen international mail for illegal items and substances. See also information on drugs in the section on Special Circumstances under Customs Regulations. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct or using or disseminating child pornography is a crime in the Republic of Korea, but it is also prosecutable in the United States.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Dual Citizenship and Compulsory Military Service: In April 2010, the Republic of Korea passed legislation that allows dual citizenship, with differing rules for men and women. If you believe you may have a claim to ROK citizenship, including as a dual citizen, you should inquire with ROK authorities.
Some but not all U.S. and ROK dual nationals are subject to compulsory military service. The Embassy strongly advises all persons with possible ROK citizenship who are of conscription age to consult the Embassy of the Republic of Korea's website.
Customs Regulations: If you are traveling to or from the Republic of Korea, even if you are just transiting the ROK, you should be aware that the ROK's customs authorities enforce strict regulations about importing and exporting 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 their national security, obscene, or in any way harmful to the public interest and cultural property.
The same strict regulations apply to items mailed to and from the Republic of Korea. As a result, several U.S. citizens have been prosecuted for participation in drug smuggling via international mail.
Amphetamines are illegal in Korea and even prescription amphetamines and other prescription narcotics will not be permitted into the country without advance permission from the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) in the form of a "bring-in permit letter." More information on how to obtain a “bring-in-permit letter” can be found on the U.S. Embassy Seoul, Health Information website.
The Republic of Korea has customs laws and regulations to prevent the spread of livestock diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, known as "mad cow" disease), hoof-and-mouth disease, avian influenza, H1N1 (Influenza A), and more. The products which must be declared to ROK customs officials upon arrival include, but are not limited to: live animals, including dogs, cats, and pet birds; animal products, including antlers, bone, and blood meal; beef, pork, mutton, chicken meat and processed meat products, such as sausages, ham, meat jerky, boiled meat, canned products, and boiled eggs; processed dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and butter; and processed egg products, such as egg, egg white, and egg powder. Further information is contained on the Korean Customs Regulations website.
You should also be aware of the items that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection prohibits or restricts from entry into the United States.
Passport Seizures, Exit Bans, and Commercial Disputes: If you become involved in a commercial dispute, the Government of the Republic of Korea may seize your passport and block your departure from the Republic of Korea. While we can reissue a passport to you upon your application, we cannot do anything about the ROK exit ban, which would remain in effect, thereby preventing your departure from the Republic of Korea.
Working in the Republic of Korea: If you are traveling to the Republic of Korea to work, including teaching or modeling, you must enter the Republic of Korea with the appropriate work visa. Once you enter Korea, you cannot change your status from any other visa to a work visa unless you first leave the country. If you begin work without the appropriate visa, you may be arrested, fined, and deported. If you are working without a valid work permit and get into a contractual dispute with your employer, you will have little or no legal recourse under Korean law.
Teaching English: The government of the Republic of Korea requires that you submit a criminal records check and a health certificate when applying for a work visa or extension. We cannot provide criminal records checks or fingerprinting; nor can the Embassy authenticate criminal records checks or health certificates. Contact the ROK Immigration Service, Border Control Division, or within Korea call 500-9116, 500-9117, or 500-9118. Detailed information is also available on the U.S. Embassy Seoul consular website.
We commonly receive complaints from English teachers at private language schools called hagwons. The most frequent complaints are that the schools and/or employment agencies have misrepresented salaries, working conditions, living arrangements, and other benefits, including health insurance, even when the employee has a written contract. There have also been some complaints of physical assault, threats of arrest/deportation, and sexual harassment. Some U.S.-based employment agencies have misrepresented contract terms, employment conditions, or the need for an appropriate work visa. In recent years, ROK police have investigated a number of foreign teachers for document fraud. Several U.S. citizens have been arrested and charged with possession of fraudulent university diplomas that were used to obtain employment in the Republic of Korea. English teachers have also been investigated for possession and use of illicit drugs. Please see our comprehensive website section on "Teaching English in Korea” for the most current information.
Accessibility: While in the Republic of Korea, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation different from what is found in the United States. ROK law mandates access to transportation, communication and public buildings for persons with disabilities, and the Korean government continues efforts to improve accessibility and accommodation for persons with disabilities.
Since 2008, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has implemented its third five-year plan to introduce a comprehensive set of policies for individuals with disabilities. This plan encourages public and private buildings and facilities to provide barrier-free access to the disabled. It also calls for more job opportunities for ROK citizens with disabilities and establishes a task force to introduce a long-term care system for the disabled. The ROK government also maintains a national rehabilitation research center that focuses its efforts on increasing opportunities and access for persons with disabilities.
Metro (subway) cars and buses in Seoul offer priority seating for the disabled. Most metro stations have escalators and elevators. Metro platforms include Braille inscriptions for the information and safety of the visually impaired; however, the Braille is for Korean speakers. Travelers are encouraged to contact individual bus companies and subway associations for more information. Cross walks typically have audio signals for the visually impaired. Older buildings and streets are generally less accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Residents of the Republic of Korea who possess ROK alien registration cards can contact their local ward office for information on assistance for individuals with disabilities that may be available to them. The assistance provided may vary by ward.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Hospitals in the Republic of 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. Pharmacies are first-rate, and most prescribed medications, except psychotropic medications, can be obtained with a prescription. See information on importing prescription medication in the section on Special Circumstances under Customs Regulations.
ROK ambulances do not carry sophisticated medical equipment, and the ambulance personnel do not have the same level of emergency medical training as do those 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 information to points outside Korea, please see the State Department's brochure on Medical Information for Americans Abroad.
Good information on vaccinations and other health precautions can be found at the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: Doctors and hospitals in the Republic of Korea generally do not accept foreign medical insurance and expect advance payment for health services in the form of cash or credit cards.
You can't assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It's very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
If your policy doesn't go with you when you travel, it's a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in the Republic of Korea, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The ROK's roads are well paved, traffic lights are functional, and most drivers comply with basic traffic laws. However, the Republic of Korea has a significantly higher traffic fatality rate than does the United States. Causes of accidents include excessive speed, frequent lane changes without signaling, running red lights, aggressive bus drivers, and weaving motorcyclists. You 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.
Some traffic laws in the Republic of Korea differ from traffic laws in the United States. Left-hand turns are generally prohibited except where a green arrow indicates otherwise. You 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 helmets. If you are a short-term visitor and wish to drive in the Republic of Korea, you must have an international driving permit issued in the United States by the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Otherwise, you must have an ROK 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 take 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. If you are arrested due to an accident involving serious injury or death, you may be detained until the conclusion of the police investigation and legal process. When driving in the Republic of Korea, you may wish to carry a disposable camera to document any traffic accidents, even minor ones.
You are considered legally intoxicated in the Republic of Korea when you have a blood-alcohol level of 0.05% or higher. The ROK police actively enforce drunken driving laws and set up DUI checkpoints that are difficult to avoid. All drivers are required to submit to a breathalyzer test. Refusal to take the breath-test can result in cancellation of your license. Driving while intoxicated can result in significant fines and license suspension or even cancellation.
For specific information about ROK driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you can refer to our Road Safety page. Also, we suggest that you visit the website of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) or call the office at 1-800-868-7567 and contact the national authority responsible for road safety.
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 ROK's air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA's Safety Assessment Page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Republic of Korea dated April 27, 2012, and has no significant changes.