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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for South Korea

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 centers. The 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 entry/departure.

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 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 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 police authorities.

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) 647-3000.

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 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 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 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 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 in question. 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 (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 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 atacarnet@uscib.org, 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 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 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 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, 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 (202) 736-7000.

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.


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