South Korea - Consular Information Sheet
August 30, 2001
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
Korean National Tourism Organization (KNTO) has a useful web
site in English at http://www.knto.or.kr, and can be reached in
the U.S. 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 9:00AM to 8:00PM 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
For further information on entry requirements, contact 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://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
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 U.S.. to accommodate off-duty travel elsewhere
in Asia. DOD travelers should consult the DOD foreign clearance
guide before leaving the U.S.
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 US
$12 or Korean won 15,000, when leaving South Korea.
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 U.S. and who had been unaware of their South
Korean citizenship. Further information concerning dual-nationality
is available at the nearest South Korean consulate or through
the Consular Affairs' Dual
Nationality flyer on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov/.
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
CRIME : 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 States.
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,
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 .
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 whether 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 U.S. 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, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare
provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses
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: (202)
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 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 may not be totally accurate in a particular location
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 available.
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 U.S. 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
For specific information concerning South Korea driver's permits,
vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please
Korea National Tourism Organization office in Fort Lee, N.J.,
Telephone 1-800-868-7567 or check via the internet at http://www.knto.or.kr/index.html.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) has assessed the Government of South Korea's civil aviation
authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international
aviation safety standards for the oversight of South Korea's air
carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies
are ongoing, the South Korean air carriers currently flying to
the U.S. will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional
flights or new service to the U.S. by South Korea's air carriers
will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted
by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety
standards. For further information, travelers may contact the
Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873,
or visit the
FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.
Code Share Flights: Travelers should be aware that a flight may
be operated either by the U.S. carrier whose code appears on listings
and tickets for the flight, or by another airline, which may be
foreign, that has a codeshare relationship with the U.S. airline
For further information on U.S. regulations defining and covering
codesharing, travelers should access http://ostpxweb.dot/aviation.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some
foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air
services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use
air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except
for flights originating from or terminating in the United States.
DOD placed Korean Airlines (KAL) in non-use status in December
1999 and, to date, it remains in non-use status. DOD's theater
commander can waive this non-use decision on KAL or Asiana Airlines
when travel is mission essential. For information regarding the
DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at
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 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 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
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 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
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 entitled "Teaching English in Korea:
Opportunities and Pitfalls" may be obtained at the U.S. Embassy
in Seoul .
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
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, 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 present.
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 October 29,
1999 to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Dual Nationality,
Crime Information, Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety and
Road Conditions, Criminal Penalities and Disaster Preparedness.