South Korea country information and facts for travelers.

South Korea

South Korea Flag
Country Description: The Republic of Korea 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 not often spoken outside the main tourist and business centers.

Passport and/or Visa Requirements: A passport is required. Visas are not required for tourist or business stays of up to fifteen days (the day of arrival counts as day number one). For longer stays and other types of travel, visas must be obtained in advance. Changes of status from one type of visa to another (from tourism to teaching, for example) are not normally granted in country. Applicants must depart and apply for new visas at an embassy or consulate outside Korea. Specific requirements are available through the Embassy of The Republic of Korea at 2320 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 939-5660/63, or the nearest consulate in major U.S. cities.

Medical Facilities: Health care facilities in the Republic of Korea are good. Doctors and hospitals are usually unable to bill foreign health insurance plans for services. Therefore, cash payment for health services is often expected. Some U.S. medical insurance does not cover services outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage including provision for medical evacuation has proven useful. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul and the U.S. Consulate in Pusan have lists of hospitals and medical specialists who speak English. Information on health matters can be obtained from the international travelers hotline at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at (404) 332-4559/4555 or visit the CDC home page on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low, pickpocketing, purse-snatching, hotel room burglaries, and residential crime do occur and foreigners can be targeted. In addition, increased incidents of physical attacks on foreigners, including sexual harassment, molestation and rape, have been recently reported. Travelers can reduce the likelihood of encountering such incidents by taking the same precautions that they would take in the urban United States. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The Korean National Police (KNP) operate a Central Interpretation Center (CIC) where foreigners can report incidents of crime. The CIC is available on a twenty-four hour, seven-day-a-week basis. In Seoul, call telephone number 313-0842; outside of Seoul, call (02) 313-0842. The U.S. Embassy has found, however, that English speakers are not often available at the CIC, so it is best to ask a Korean speaker to place the call. Useful information on safeguarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad."

Criminal Penalties: Travelers are subject to the laws and legal practices of the country in which they travel. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect stiff jail sentences and fines. Travelers should also be careful to adhere to Korean government regulations on currency exchange and customs declarations.

Passport Seizures/Exit Bans and Commercial Disputes: The government of Korea sometimes seizes the passports and blocks the departure from Korea of foreigners involved in commercial disputes. In such circumstances, the U.S. Government will re-issue a passport to an American citizen who applies for one. But the Korean exit ban will remain in effect, preventing departure.

Road Safety: Although South Korean roads are well-paved, traffic lights function, and most drivers comply with basic traffic laws, Korea has one of the highest traffic death rates in the world. Excessive speed, frequent lane changes and running red lights are common, and are major contributors to traffic accidents. City streets are subject to severe gridlock, and even country roads can be highly congested. Aggressive bus drivers and weaving motorcyclists add additional risks. In any accident involving an automobile and a pedestrian or motorcycle, the driver of the automobile is presumed to be at fault. Foreigners often complain that they are automatically considered at fault in any accident, simply because they are foreign. It is not uncommon for onlookers to take the side of the Korean party in a traffic accident, to the point of moving the vehicles before police arrive to change the appearance of fault. Police investigations of traffic accidents usually involve lengthy waits at police stations. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common in any accident involving injury, even if negligence is not proven. Persons arrested in minor accidents in Korea can be held for weeks, until investigation and legal processes conclude. Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense. Persons driving in Korea should carry disposable cameras to document any traffic accidents, no matter how minor.

Demonstrations: Demonstrations by dissident groups, sometimes confrontational and even violent, occasionally occur. While many have anti-U.S. themes, it is unlikely that violence would be directed against individual U.S. citizen travelers. Individuals can reduce risk to themselves by avoiding such demonstrations to the extent possible.

Teaching of English: The U.S. Embassy in Seoul receives numerous complaints from Americans who have come to Korea to teach English under contract with private language academies (hagwons). These are profit-oriented businesses unregulated by the Korean government. Despite contract language promising good salaries, furnished apartments and other amenities, many teachers find they actually receive much less than they were promised, and some do not even receive benefits required by Korean law, such as health insurance and severance pay. Teachers' complaints include contract violations, non-payment of salary for months at a time, sexual harassment, intimidation, threats of arrest/deportation, and physical assault. A comprehensive handout entitled "Teaching English in Korea: Opportunities and Pitfalls" may be obtained by writing to the U.S. Embassy.

Dual Citizenship: The Government of The Republic of Korea does not permit dual citizenship after the age of 18. Holders of dual citizenship who work or study in Korea usually find themselves compelled to choose one or the other nationality soon after that age. The Embassy is aware of several instances in which young Korean-American men, who were born and lived all their lives in the U.S., arrived in Korea for a tourist visit only to find themselves drafted into the Korean army. Because dual citizenship is not permitted, authorities refuse to recognize any but the Korean citizenship of these men. This interpretation has been recently upheld by the Korean court. When this occurs, the U.S. Embassy cannot intervene. Korean-Americans may request further information from the nearest Korean consulate.

Adoption: Adoption of Korean children by foreign nationals is still permitted, and is carefully regulated. Any non-Korean wishing to adopt a Korean child is required to work through one of the four government-licensed adoption agencies. This includes American citizens of Korean extraction who wish to adopt the Korean citizen child of a family member. Private adoptions are not allowed.

Registration/ Embassy Location: U.S. citizens are encouraged to register and obtain updated information on travel and security within the country at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate. The U.S. Embassy in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) is located at 82 Sejong-Ro Chongro-Ku, Seoul, telephone (82-2) 397-4114; fax (82-2) 738-8845. The U.S. Consulate is located in Pusan at 24 2-Ka, Daechung Dong, Chung-Ku, telephone (82-51) 246-7791; fax (82-51) 246-8859.

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