South Korea - Consular Information Sheet
January 14, 2002
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 often not spoken outside the
main tourist and business centers. The Korean National Tourism Organization
(KNTO) has a useful web site in English at http://www.knto.or.kr, and it can
be reached in the United States by calling 1-800-868-7567. The KNTO also
operates a telephone information service in South Korea, which can be
reached by calling 757-0086 in Seoul and toll-free at 080-757-2000 in the
rest of the country. The telephone service has English speakers and is
available 9:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. every day of the week.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: 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 South Korea. Individuals who stay in Korea longer
than the period authorized by Korean immigration are subject to fines and
may be required to pay the fines before departing the country. Individuals
who plan to stay longer than the period authorized must apply to Korean
immigration for an extension in advance.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, the Korean government
has initiated special procedures at entry/exit points. These include
requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the
child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having
such documentation on hand may facilitate entry/departure.
For further information on entry requirements, please contact the Embassy of
the Republic of Korea at 2320 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C.
20008, telephone (202) 939-5660/63 or the Korean Embassy Internet home page
at http://www.mofat.go.kr/main/etop/html. South Korean consulates are also
located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Guam, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles,
Miami, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Korean Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Trade has a web site with a directory of all Korean
diplomatic missions worldwide at http://www.mofat.go.kr/en_missions.htm.
While active-duty U.S. military personnel may enter South Korea under the
Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with proper Department of Defense (DOD)
identification and travel orders, every SOFA family member, civilian
employee and contractor must have a valid passport and, in some cases, a
SOFA visa to enter Korea. Active duty military personnel should obtain a
tourist passport prior to leaving the United States to accommodate off-duty
travel elsewhere in Asia. DOD travelers should consult the DOD Foreign
Clearance Guide before leaving the United States.
South Korea's new Incheon International Airport is about one to two hours
drive, depending on traffic, from the Seoul city center. There are no
subways or railways connecting the Incheon International Airport to Seoul,
but buses and taxis are available. American citizens must pay an airport
departure tax, either $12 (US) or Korean won 15,000, when leaving South
DUAL NATIONALITY: The Government of the Republic of Korea does not permit
dual citizenship after an individual reaches the age of 21. Americans 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 20 years of age. In addition, South Korean
citizen men age 18 and over are subject to compulsory military service. The
Government of the Republic of Korea considers an individual to be a citizen
of South Korea if the individual's name appears on the family census
register. A male dual national who has reached the age of 18 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 be drafted into the South
Korean army. At least two of these cases involved U.S. citizens of Korean
descent whose names had been recorded on the Korean family census register
at the time of their birth in the United States and who had been unaware of
their South Korean citizenship. Further information concerning
dual-nationality is available at the nearest South Korean consulate or
Consular Affairs' Dual Nationality flyer on the Internet at
SAFETY AND SECURITY: In recent years, the U.S. Embassy and U.S. military
installations throughout the Republic of Korea have taken steps to increase
security at all facilities. 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 authorities.
CRIME INFORMATION: Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low,
in major metropolitan areas, such as Seoul and Pusan, there is a greater
risk of pickpocketing, purse-snatching, assaults, hotel room burglaries, and
residential crime, and foreigners can be targeted. U.S citizens are more
likely to be targeted in known tourist areas, like Itaewon and other large
market areas. Americans should stay alert, be aware of personal
surroundings and exercise caution. Travelers may reduce the likelihood of
encountering incidents of crime by exercising the same type of security
precautions that they would take when visiting any large city in the United
The emergency number to reach the police anywhere in South Korea is 112.
English interpreters may be available. 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, its telephone number is 313-0842; outside
Seoul, its number is (02) 313-0842.
The loss or theft of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the
local police and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. U.S. citizens may refer to the
Department of State's pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," for ways to promote a
trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington,
D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.acess.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the
Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: 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. A list of hospitals and medical specialists who speak English is
available at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul or via the Internet at the Consular
Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans 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. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom
cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental
coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not
provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However,
many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will
cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services
such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider
that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to
providing service and that a medical evacuation to the United States may
cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical
care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your
insurer prior to your trip, please ascertain whether payment will be made to
the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for
expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for
psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas
insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of
Consular Affairs brochure,"Medical Information for Americans Traveling
Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax:
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health
precautions 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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's
Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: 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 it 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/Ambulance 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 motorcyclists. Pedestrians should be aware that
motorcycles are sometimes driven on the sidewalks, and drivers of all types
of vehicles do not always yield to pedestrians in marked pedestrian
crosswalks. It is safer to use pedestrian underpasses and overpasses where
Traffic laws in South Korea differ from laws in the United States in some
respects. At many intersections with traffic lights, drivers are not
permitted to make a left-hand turn if there is a green light and no oncoming
traffic; normally there is a green arrow for left-hand turns and drivers may
turn only when the left-hand arrow is illuminated. In most other cases,
left-hand turns are prohibited, and drivers must continue until special
u-turn lanes are indicated, where drivers may reverse direction and make a
right-hand turn at the desired intersection. 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 must
use an appropriate child car seat. Passengers on motorcycles must wear
protective helmets. An international driving permit issued in the United
States 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.
People driving in South Korea may wish to carry a disposable camera to
document any traffic accidents, even minor ones.
For specific information concerning South Korean 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 check via the Internet at
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
has assessed the Government of South Korea's civil aviation authority as
Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for
oversight of South 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's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S.
Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers
for suitability as official providers of air services. For information
regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD
at telephone 618-229-4801.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: 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 prescription drugs,
radio equipment, gold, books or other printed material, as well as video or
audio recordings, that might be considered subversive to national security,
obscene, or in any way harmful to the public interest and cultural property.
Further, South Korea has customs laws and regulations to prevent the spread
of hoof and mouth disease. Beef and pork products must be declared to South
Korean customs officials upon arrival. 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
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
email@example.com, or visit http://www.uscib.org for details.
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 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 detained temporarily. Foreigners convicted of crimes in
South Korea, whether or not sentenced to prison, are commonly deported and
may be banned from returning to the country for several years. Foreigners
deported from Korea must pay for their own plane ticket.
U.S. citizens should be aware that there was one recent case in which a U.S.
citizen was prosecuted under the South Korean National Security Law, broad
legislation which makes illegal actions considered subversive or anti-state.
In this case, contact by the U.S. citizen with allegedly pro-North Korea
figures in the United States and travel to North Korea formed part of the
basis for prosecution.
Adultery is a crime actively prosecuted in South Korea. Recently, a U.S.
citizen was convicted of adultery and sentenced to six months imprisonment.
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.
PASSPORT SEIZURES/EXIT BANS AND COMMERCIAL DISPUTES: 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 reissues a passport to a U.S. citizen who
applies for one. The ROK exit ban, however, remains in effect, thereby
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 and who have a
contractual dispute with their employers have little or no entitlement to
legal recourse under South Korean law.
TEACHING ENGLISH: The U.S. Embassy in Seoul receives many complaints from
U.S. citizens 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, "Teaching English in Korea:
Opportunities and Pitfalls
U.S. Embassy in Seoul or via the Consular Affairs home page at
http://travel.state.gov/ under "Travel Publications
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Legally, North and South Korea remain in a state of
war. Peace has been maintained on the Korean peninsula under an Armistice
for nearly 50 years. Recently, political, economic, and social contacts
between North and South Korea have increased significantly. However, the
possibility of military hostilities that could necessitate the evacuation of
U.S. citizens from South Korea cannot be excluded. The U.S. Government has
developed a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) plan for the evacuation
of U.S. citizens. A guide for U.S. citizens about the NEO plan is available
on line at http://www.asktheconsul.org, or at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
To provide enhanced protection to the dependents of U.S. military service
members and to civilian Department of Defense (DOD) employees and their
families, the DOD 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 U.S. citizen personnel
and their dependents. The gas masks and hoods provide the most fundamental
level of protection in an emergency in which chemical substances are
These measures do not result from any recent incident. They are a prudent
precaution to further enhance the safety of U.S. Government-affiliated
personnel and their families, and are part of a continuing effort to improve
the U.S. Government's overall safety and security posture. 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 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 that 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.
Children's Issues: 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 ancestry who wish to adopt South Korean-citizen children. Private
adoptions are not allowed. For information on international adoption of
children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our
Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living in or visiting South Korea
are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in
Seoul and obtain updated information on travel and security within South
Korea. The U.S. Embassy is located at 82 Sejong-Ro Chongro-Ku, Seoul,
telephone (82-2) 397-4114 fax (82-2) 738-8845. The U.S. Embassy's web page
can be found at http://usembassy.state.gov/seoul.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated August 30, 2001 to update
the section on
Aviation Safety Oversight.
See http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html for
State Department Travel Warnings
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