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 not often spoken outside the main tourist and business centers.
A passport is required. Visas are not required for tourist or business stays up to thirty days. 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 normally not granted in Korea. Specific visa 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 via the Korean Embassy Internet home page at http://koreaemb.org/. Also, there are South Korean consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Guam, Honolulu, Houston, Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.
: Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low, in major metropolitan areas, such as Seoul and Pusan, there is greater risk of pickpocketing, purse-snatching, hotel room burglaries, and residential crime, and foreigners can be targeted. Women should exercise caution when traveling alone in taxis, especially at night, because there have been incidents reported involving unwanted attention by taxi drivers towards unaccompanied female passengers. Also, there have been occasional reports of the molestation and rape of foreigners. Travelers may reduce the likelihood of encountering such incidents by exercising the same type of security precautions that they would take when visiting high crime areas 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, please call telephone number 313-0842; outside Seoul, please call (02) 313-0842. However, the U.S. Embassy has found that English speakers are not always available at the CIC, so it may be helpful to ask a Korean speaker to place the call.
Health care facilities in the Republic of Korea are good. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul has lists of hospitals and medical specialists who speak English.
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning South Korea is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Good (However, assistance personnel may not be able to speak English.)
Although South Korean roads are well paved, traffic lights function, and most drivers comply with basic traffic laws, the ROK has a significantly higher traffic fatality rate than the United States. Causes of accidents include excessive speed, frequent lane changes, running of red lights, aggressive bus drivers, and weaving motorcycles. 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. 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. People driving in South Korea may wish to carry disposable cameras to document any traffic accidents, even minor ones.
For specific information concerning South Korea driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Korea National Tourism Organization office in Fort Lee, N.J., telephone 1-800-868-7567 or via the Internet at http://www.knto.or.kr/index.html.
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 in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating South Korean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, fined or imprisoned. People arrested in South Korea, even for minor offenses, may be held in detention during the investigative and legal proceedings. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in South Korea are strict, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Travelers should also be careful to adhere to Korean Government regulations regarding currency exchange and customs declarations.
The Government of the Republic of Korea does not permit dual citizenship after the age of 18. American citizens of Korean descent who hold dual citizenship under South Korean law and work or study in South Korea are usually compelled to choose one or the other nationality soon after reaching that age. In addition, South Korean men over the age of 18, including Americans of Korean descent, are subject to compulsory military service. A dual national may not be allowed to abandon his ROK nationality until he finishes his military service, or has received a special exemption from military service. There have been several instances in which young American men of Korean descent, who were born and lived all of their lives in the United States, arrived in the ROK for a tourist visit only to find themselves drafted into the South Korean army. Americans of Korean descent may request further information from the nearest South Korean consulate.
South Korean customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from South Korea of items such as firearms, explosives, narcotics and drugs, radio equipment, books or other printed material, as well as video or audio recordings, which might be considered subversive to national security, obscene, or in any way harmful to the public interest and cultural property. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Washington, D.C. or one of the ROK consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Customs officials encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information, please call telephone (212) 354-4480, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.uscib.org for details.
: The Government of the Republic of Korea sometimes seizes the passports and blocks the departure from the country of foreigners involved in commercial disputes. In such circumstances, the U.S. Government re-issues a passport to an American citizen who applies for one. The ROK exit ban, however, remains in effect, thereby preventing departure.
DEMONSTRATIONS: Occasionally, political, labor, and student demonstrations and marches have the potential to become confrontational or violent. American citizens in the Republic of Korea can minimize personal risks to themselves and their property by avoiding large demonstrations.
WORKING IN SOUTH KOREA: Americans going to the Republic of Korea to work, teach or model (part-time or full-time, paid or unpaid) must enter the ROK 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, who have a contractual dispute with his/her employer, have little or no entitlement to legal recourse under South Korean law.
TEACHING ENGLISH: The U.S. Embassy in Seoul receives many complaints from Americans who have gone to South Korea to teach English at private language schools ("hagwon"). 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. A comprehensive handout entitled "Teaching English in Korea: Opportunities and Pitfalls" may be obtained by writing to the U.S. Embassy, and it is also available under "Travel Publications" via the Consular Affairs home page.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: In order to provide enhanced protection to the dependents of U.S. military service members and to civilian Department of Defense employees and their families, the Department of Defense provides protective gas masks and hoods to its noncombatant community in the Republic of Korea. In addition, the U.S. Embassy provides the same level of protection to its American personnel and their dependents. The gas masks and hoods provide the most fundamental level of protection in an emergency in which chemical substances are present.
These measures are not in response to any increase in the assessment of the threat level in Korea or elsewhere, nor a result of any recent events. This is solely a prudent measure to further enhance the safety of U.S. Government-affiliated personnel and their families, and is part of a continuing effort to improve the U.S. Government's overall safety and security posture. Of course, if the Department of State becomes aware of any specific and credible threat to the safety and security of American citizens, that information will be provided to the American public at large.
The U.S. Government is not providing protective equipment to private American citizens in the Republic of Korea. As always, U.S. citizens should review their own personal security practices and must make their own decisions with regard to those precautions which they might take to avoid injury. 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 Fact Sheet entitled, Chemical/Biological Agent Release, available at Internet address http://travel.state.gov, or via the autofax by dialing (202) 647-3000 from a fax machine.
Adoption of South Korean children by foreign nationals is permitted and is carefully regulated. Any non-Korean wishing to adopt a South Korean child is required to work through one of the four ROK Government-licensed adoption agencies. This includes U.S. citizens of Korean extraction who wish to adopt South Korean-citizen children. Private adoptions are not allowed. For further information on international adoption of children, international parental child abduction, and international child support enforcement issues, please refer to our Internet site at: http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202)736-7000.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed South Korea's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Korea's air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.htm. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. Because of concerns regarding safety practices and quality of service, the DOD has placed Korean Air Lines (KAL) in "non-use" status, and DOD personnel may not use KAL for official travel. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone 618) 229-4801.