With a confirmed onward ticket, visitors from nearly all West European countries, New Zealand, Australia and around 30 other countries receive 90-day permits on arrival. Visitors from the USA and a handful of countries receive 30-day permits, while 60-day permits are granted to citizens of Italy and Portugal, and lucky Canadians receive a six-month permit.
About 30 countries - including the Russian Federation, China, India and Nigeria - do not qualify for visa exemptions. Citizens from these countries must apply for a tourist visa, which allows a stay of 90 days.
You can’t extend your stay beyond 90 days except in cases such as a medical emergency; if you overstay the fine starts at W100, 000. View www.mofat.go.kr to find out more.
The conveniently located Seoul Immigration Office (2171 2248; City Hall Bldg; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri; subway Line 1 or 2 to City Hall, Exit 5) can deal with re-entry permits and investment visas, but other matters have to be dealt with at the Seoul Immigration Head Office (2650 6212; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri; subway Line 5 to Omokgyo, Exit 7) way out in Mok-dong. This office is always busy so take some reading matter. To reach it, carry straight on from the subway exit and walk along the road until it ends, where you’ll see a white-tiled building on your left with a big blue sign in English. It’s a 10 minute walk (700m).
One problem is that applicants must leave the country to pick up their work visa. Most applicants fly to Fukuoka in Japan where you can usually pick up the visa the day after you submit it. Check that you have all the paperwork and take enough funds for your stay. You can also apply for a one-year work visa before entering Korea but it can take a few weeks to process. Note that the visa authorities will want to see originals or notarised copies (not simply photocopies) of your educational qualifications, as some applicants have tried to use fake degree certificates.
You don’t need to leave Korea to renew a work visa as long as you carry on working for the same employer. But the catch is that if you change employers you must apply for a new visa and pick it up from outside Korea.
If you don’t want to forfeit your work or study visa, you must apply at your local immigration office for a re-entry permit before making any trips outside South Korea. The fee is W30,000 for a single re-entry or W50,000 for a multiple re-entry permit.
If you are working or studying in Korea on a long-term visa, it is necessary to apply for an alien registration card within 90 days of arrival. This costs W10,000 and is done at your local immigration office.