Entering to South Korea as a Foreigner During COVID-19 Crisis

South Korea during coronavirus outbreak

Positive measures are now being taken by countries, including the Republic of Korea, in an attempt to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control.

Across the globe, governments are responding to the new strain of Coronavirus, COVID-19, first detected at the end of 2019 and South Korea is no exception.

It is hoped by taking decisive action, such as implementing certain entry restrictions, the spread of COVID-19 will be curbed and normality can resume.

Coronavirus has now spread to many nations across the world. A significant proportion of those infected have already made a full recovery.

Coronavirus Entry Restrictions for South Korea

At the moment, there are only a few countries whose nationals have been outright banned from entry to South Korea due to high numbers of coronavirus.

Since April 1st, a compulsory 14-day quarantine has been in place for all passengers arriving in South Korea, who will be required to be isolated at government-designated facilities at their own expense. Any passengers showing COVID-19 symptoms will be required to undergo testing at the airport upon arrival.

However, any foreign citizens who are long-term travelers or hold a residential permit will be allowed to self-quarantine at their own residence.

Some of these individuals will be exempt from the quarantine requirement if traveling for humanitarian, diplomatic, business, or academic purposes, on the condition they hold a pre-approved waiver from an embassy or consulate of South Korea.

Nevertheless, the Korean health authorities have also announced that all arriving passengers will also be required to download a Self-Diagnosis Mobile App and respond to daily health questions for up to 14 days.

Anyone unable to download the app are required to provide local government officials with an address in South Korea and valid phone number so that daily health monitoring can still occur.

Everyone with an upcoming trip should keep up to date with the latest changes as the situation develops.

Suspension of visa-free travel to South Korea

Under normal circumstances, citizens of a number of nations can stay up to 180 days without having to apply for a South Korea visa.

Nationals of the United States, EU member countries, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, and Japan can all normally benefit from this scheme.

Since the 9th of March, visa exemption and visas for Japanese nationals have been temporarily suspended. All Korean visas issued to Japanese passport holders previous to this date are also invalid.

On 8th April it was announced that these measures were to be extended to all visa-waiver countries which have banned the entry of South Koreans as a result of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun stated during the meeting: “While keeping the basis of openness, we will tighten (entry) restrictions based on a principle of reciprocity”.

The measures will affect a total of 88 nations, 54 of which are part of South Korea’s visa waiver program whilst the remaining 34 normally enjoy visa-free travel for anywhere between 30 and 180 days.

These suspensions are expected to be lifted once the virus has been brought under control.

Other travel restrictions now in place in South Korea

In addition to temporarily blocking visa-free entry for the Japanese, other steps have been taken by the government of South Korea to limit the effects of the coronavirus. The following timeline shows the measures implemented in recent months:

  • February 4th: Visas issued by Wuhan Consulate in Hubei province (China) suspended and will no longer be granted.
  • February 4th: anyone having visited or transited in Hubei province in the last 14 days, or have a passport issued in Hubei cannot enter South Korea.
  • February 17th: Passengers not eligible for visa-free travel (including the Chinese) to Korea may only transit through the country when not departing from China.
  • March 9th: everyone arriving from China, Hong Kong, Macau or Japan is required to carry a mobile phone with a health checking application.
  • March 9th: Korean visas issued to Japanese passport holders before 9th March now invalid.
  • March 19th: all international visitors must have a contact phone number and a mobile device on which to install the heath-checking app.
  • March 22nd: all travelers (foreign nationals and South Korean citizens) arriving from Europe will be immediately tested for COVID-19 upon arrival in South Korea. Anyone who tests positive will be taken to a designated hospital for treatment. Anyone who tests negative will be quarantined for 14 days at their residence or accommodation.
  • April 1st: mandatory 2-week quarantine extended to all international arrivals.
  • April 9th: short-term visas (up to 90 days) issued before April 5th suspended, travelers must apply for a new visa, presenting a coronavirus test certificate, at the nearest embassy or consulate.
  • June 1st – The government asks all long-term foreign residents to apply for a re-entry permit before traveling overseas. They must also obtain a medical certificate with negative Covid-19 test result at maximum 3 days before boarding a return flight to South Korea.

For those foreign nationals who are affected, it is hoped that normal service will resume in the near future.

Is it Safe to Travel to South Korea during COVID-19?

Some passengers are questioning whether it is safe to go to South Korea now.

At the moment, the US Department of State continues to advise against international travel to South Korea because of ongoing community transmission.

However, they have also issued a Level 4- Do Not Travel advisory for the city of Daegu, an area especially affected by coronavirus cases.

The majority of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Korea are clustered in just 3 cities.

Essential trips to anywhere other than this area of Korea remains possible, provided the passport holder abides by South Korea’s visa policy and is not subject to one of the aforementioned restrictions.

There have been signs that the spread of the virus is slowing in South Korea, with the number of daily confirmed cases falling. This has been attributed to the entry restrictions mentioned above combined with wide-scale testing.

Korean Flights affected by Coronavirus

Some airlines have canceled flights to and from South Korea, largely due to a decline in demand as globally people are flying less.

International and national routes are affected, although South Korea still remains well-served by some services. Passengers with plane tickets in the coming days should check with the airline to ensure that the flight is to go ahead as scheduled.

South Korea Cruise Ports Currently Closed

There have been some instances of passengers onboard cruise ships contracting coronavirus and becoming ill.

As a result, many countries have limited or stopped cruise ships from docking at ports. South Korea has also banned cruise ships from docking at most ports in the country save for a few.

Like the reduction in flights, limitations on cruise ships accessing the Republic of Korea are expected to be short term, implemented to reduce new cases in the country. The constraints will be removed as soon as possible.

What to Expect on Arrival in South Korea during COVID-19

Foreigners who do need to travel to South Korea should be prepared for additional health and safety measures that are currently in place onboard flights and at international airports.

Most foreigners will arrive at Incheon International Airport in Seoul, which remains open.

Flight passengers are required to complete a health questionnaire before landing, this will be collected by a health inspector at the airport. Any travelers displaying symptoms will at this point be taken to a clinic for additional assessment.

Travelers in good health may then pass to border control. Here everyone arriving from overseas must:

  • Download a location-tracking app and record temperature
  • Provide contact information including an address and phone number

Foreigners without a verifiable address are able to spend the 14-day incubation period there rather than government quarantine facilities.

It should be noted that passengers transiting through Incheon International Airport to an onward destination will not be required to quarantine but will be required to undergo temperature screening and complete a health questionnaire.

Health Advice for Travelers in South Korea

Foreigners currently in South Korea are asked to follow health advice which is being issued internationally.

  • Do not travel if experiencing any symptoms
  • Regularly wash hands with soap and water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available
  • Cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
  • Stay at least 1 meter away from other people
  • Wear a mask when taking public transportation

Symptoms of the coronavirus are much like those of the regular flu: a fever, coughing, sneezing, a sore throat and/or respiratory issues.

In the unlikely event that anybody in South Korea believes they may have contracted the virus, they should seek medical advice immediately. Foreigners can call 1339 for 24-hour advice.

As always, foreigners should consult the latest health information and vaccinations for South Korea well ahead of departure.