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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in South Korea (the Republic of Korea). Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. Monitor the media and other sources for changes to local conditions.
  • The 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics will take place in South Korea (Republic of Korea, ROK) from 9 to 25 February and 9 to 18 March 2018. See the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bulletin.
  • Relations between South Korea and North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) are tense. North Korea has conducted underground nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests in recent months. Its rhetoric has also intensified. Further provocations by North Korea directed at South Korea, its neighbours or allies, are possible. The situation could escalate with little warning. See Safety and security.
  • Regular large-scale public gatherings and demonstrations occur. Avoid protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent. See Safety and security.
  • South Korea has strict anti-corruption laws related to public officials and conduct of their duties. Public officials and spouses in South Korea cannot accept meals, gifts or other benefits that exceed specific set limits. See Laws.
  • South Korea screens all passengers at airports for infectious diseases, including Cholera, Zika virus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). If you display symptoms, you could be subject to further testing and/or quarantined. See Entry and exit.
  • Travel to the Northern Limit Line Islands, near a disputed maritime boundary, is strictly controlled.
  • Read advice on preparing for emergencies produced by the Australian Embassy in Seoul.
  • See Travel smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit

Visas

You can obtain a visa-on-arrival to visit South Korea for up to 90 days. For longer visits, you'll need a visa.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of Korea for up-to-date information.

Other formalities

Foreign nationals are finger-printed on arrival in South Korea.

All passengers at South Korean airports are screened for infectious diseases, including Cholera, Zika virus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Additional quarantine checks are in place for flights originating from areas of higher risk. If you display symptoms, you could be subject to further testing and/or quarantined.

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception.  If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Embassy or Consulate for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible. You can either:

Money

The local currency is the Korean Won (KRW). You can exchange Australian dollars for KRW at local banks and exchange bureaux.

Tourists must declare all local currency in excess of KRW8,000,000 or USD10,000 or equivalent (including travellers cheques) in foreign currency on arrival.

ATMs are widely available in cities and provincial centres. International credit cards are generally accepted in hotels, restaurants and higher-end shops, particularly in cities and larger towns. Take care as card skimming occurs. See Safety and security.

Safety and security

Regional threats

South Korea and North Korea are technically at war, though military exchanges are rare. Tensions remain high but peace is maintained under an armistice agreement that was struck at the (practical) end of the Korean War in 1953. The Korean Peninsula is divided by a demilitarised zone separating the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south.

North Korea has conducted several underground nuclear tests and is carrying out regular ballistic missile tests, aggravating the already tense situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region. North Korea is likely to conduct further tests or other 'provocations' in the future, which could lead to responses from its neighbours and their allies. Tensions in the region could escalate with little warning.

Low-level military clashes sometimes occur. In November 2010, South Korea and North Korea exchanged artillery fire with some shells landing on South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, near a disputed sea border. Two civilians and two soldiers were killed and several others injured. In May 2010, a multinational South Korean-led investigation concluded that the sinking of South Korean Navy corvette, Cheonan, in March 2010, was a result of a North Korean attack.

Weapon tests and militaristic rhetoric by North Korea increase tensions in the region. Prior to the most recent underground nuclear test in September 2017, North Korea conducted tests in September 2016, January 2016, February 2013 and October 2006. Negotiations between North Korea, South Korea, United States, China, Japan and Russia in an effort to resolve international concerns about North Korea's nuclear program (the Six-Party Talks) have stalled. Historically, there has been heightened rhetoric from North Korea during annual South Korea/US military exercises. These routine military exercises usually take place in February/March and August/September.

The South Korean government has released a free smartphone app, Emergency Ready App, which contains information on local emergency services (police, fire and ambulance), hospitals and emergency shelter locations. The app is available for both Apple and Android devices. 

  • Monitor developments closely.
  • Read the advice on preparing for emergencies produced by the Australian Embassy in Seoul.
  • Consider downloading the South Korean Government's 'Emergency Ready App'.
  • Take official warnings seriously.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.

Yeonpyeong Island and other islands near the Northern Limit Line are strictly controlled due to their proximity to a disputed maritime boundary. In November 2010, South Korea and North Korea exchanged artillery fire with some shells landing on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, near a disputed sea border. Two civilians and two soldiers were killed and several others injured.

Civil unrest and political tension

There are regular large-scale public gatherings and demonstrations, particularly in Seoul.

  • Avoid protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent.
  • Monitor the media for information on planned and possible unrest or strikes.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Be prepared to change your travel plans in case of disruptions.

Crime

The crime rate in South Korea is low but petty crime exists, particularly in major cities such as Seoul and Busan. There have been instances of sexual assault and other violent crimes against foreign tourists and expatriates including after drink spiking.

  • Take care of your belongings, especially in crowded places and major cities.
  • Don't accept drinks, food, gum or cigarettes from strangers or new acquaintances.
  • Don't leave food or drinks unattended.
  • Exercise care when walking alone at night.
  • Avoid using unofficial taxis.

More information: Partying safely

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world, including in South Korea.

More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

The 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics will take place in South Korea from 9 to 25 February and 9 to 18 March.

More information: PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Road travel

South Korea has one of the highest rates of traffic deaths for a developed country, particularly for pedestrians. You are twice as likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in South Korea than in Australia. Speeding, running red lights and other risky behaviour is common, particularly by buses, taxis and motorcyclists. Motorcyclists often travel on footpaths and pedestrian crossings.

If you are driving and have an accident that results in injury to pedestrians, there will be a strong presumption that you are at fault. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common in accidents involving injury.

  • If you're walking, look out for motorcyclists – even on footpaths.
  • Don't expect traffic to stop at pedestrian crossings: check carefully before stepping onto the road.
  • Familiarise yourself with local road rules and practices.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Don't drink drive.

More information: Road safety and driving

Driver's licence

To drive, you must hold either:

  • a valid local driver's licence or
  • a valid International Driver's Permit (IDP) and a current Australian state driver's licence.

A Korean driver's licence will be required should you reside in South Korea or when staying for a period of 90 days or more. The Korean authorities generally retain the applicant's Australian driver's licence, returning it upon departure or if a valid departure ticket can be provided.

More information: Seoul Global Centre

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when riding a motorcycle. Most travel insurance policies have exclusions for not complying with local laws or wearing a helmet. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet. There are restrictions on driving motorcycles on highways and other major roads.

Taxis

Use only authorised taxis, preferably those arranged through your hotel. Always insist that the meter is used. Ride share apps are available in South Korea, however, are not widely used due to the large number of taxi cabs in service. International taxi services are available and may have English speaking drivers.

Public transport

Public transportation in major urban areas and between urban areas is comprehensive and well organised. Most major transportation systems in South Korea have signage in English.

More information: Visit Korea

Rail travel

South Korea has an extensive high-speed rail network (KTX). Stations throughout the country are generally centrally located within major urban areas, have signage in English, and have links to local taxi or public transportation networks.

More information: Korail

Sea travel

There are ferry services between most large coastal cities and other domestic and international ports. In April 2014 the MV Sewol sank enroute to Jeju Island resulting the deaths of 304 people. This resulted in a review of South Korean maritime safety regulations bringing about more comprehensive safety standards.

Busan is a regular stopover location for cruises. See our Cruises page for more information.

 Air travel

Many airlines and travel providers do not allow foreign credit cards to be used when purchasing air tickets online within South Korea. 

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in South Korea.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular services charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Don't carry or consume illegal drugs overseas. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs include long jail sentences, heavy fines and deportation.

Employment

It is illegal to work in any capacity (paid or unpaid) in South Korea without permission to work being specified in your visa. Australians have been fined, detained and deported for breaches of their visa conditions. It's difficult to change visa conditions from within South Korea.

If you plan to work in South Korea, arrange the appropriate work visa through an Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of Korea before you travel.

Disputes over alleged misrepresentation of working and living conditions for Australians teaching English in South Korea occur frequently. Some Australians intending to teach English have faced penalties because they or their employment agent submitted false documentation to Korean immigration authorities. If you are employed without a valid or correct visa, there is little or no entitlement to legal recourse under Korean law.

If you are considering teaching English in South Korea:

  • thoroughly research your prospective employer and employment agent before signing up
  • consider seeking professional legal advice before you sign a contract
  • make sure your visa application includes only truths and authentic documentation.

Other laws

Serious crimes, such as murder, may attract the death penalty.

Photography of and around military zones, military assets and military personnel and official buildings is illegal.

South Korea has strict anti-corruption laws related to public officials and the conduct of their duties. The Improper Solicitation and Graft Act (No. 13278), widely referred to as the Kim Young-ran Act, came into effect in South Korea in September 2016 and forbids improper solicitation of public officials. Public officials and spouses in South Korea cannot accept meals, gifts or other benefits that exceed specific set limits. The category 'public officials' includes teachers, journalists and employees of companies that receive government subsidies or are government owned or controlled. The Australian Government does not provide advice on the specific application of these laws to the activities of individual Australian citizens or non-government entities engaging with officials in South Korea. Australian individuals and entities are responsible for obtaining their own advice.

If you become involved in a commercial or legal dispute, the South Korean Government could prevent you from departing the country.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

South Korea does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of Australian officials to provide consular assistance to Australian-South Korean dual nationals who have been arrested or detained.

If you were born in South Korea or otherwise have held Korean citizenship, you will retain Korean citizenship unless and until you formally renounce it and remove your name from the Korean family register.

Military service is compulsory for male citizens of South Korea, including dual nationals. If your name appears on the Korean family register and you are male, you may be required to complete military service, even if you're travelling on your Australian passport. You may not be allowed to renounce your Korean nationality or leave the country until you have fulfilled military service obligations or received a special exemption from military service.

If you are an Australian-South Korean dual national, seek advice on your obligations from an Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of Korea well in advance of travel.

More information: Dual nationals

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some, such as narcotics, may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Well before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. If your medications are controlled or prescription, you'll need to carry a pre-approved 'bring-in' permit from the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and supporting documentation. 

Contact the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (narcotics@korea.kr) to check whether your medication is classed as a controlled substance (narcotic) in South Korea and, if necessary, to apply for a 'bring in' permit. Provide the generic name of the medication as it may not be the name by which it is known in Australia (or South Korea). Applications can take more than two weeks to process so it is essential that you plan accordingly. If necessary, consult your doctor about alternative medicines well in advance of travel.

Take legal prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Always carry on your person your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

MERS-CoV

There were a number of confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the South Korea in 2015.

Mosquito-borne diseases

Malaria is a risk in the demilitarised zone and in rural areas in the northern parts of Gyonggi and Gangwon provinces near the border with North Korea. The mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis also occurs.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • get vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis before you travel
  • consult your doctor or travel clinic about prophylaxis against malaria.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne, and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid and hepatitis) occur sporadically.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is common, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Outbreaks of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease usually start in March/April and peak in May but can continue until October each year. It mostly affects children under the age of 10 years but adult cases (particularly young adults) are not unusual. The illness is characterised by fever as well as blisters and rashes on the hands, feet and buttocks. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is spread by direct contact with nose and throat discharges and faeces of infected people.

  • Use normal hygiene precautions, including careful and frequent hand washing.
  • Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid uncooked and undercooked food.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Yellow dust

From March to May, yellow dust, which is carried to the Korean Peninsula by strong winds from Mongolia and China, can cause eye, nose, mouth and throat irritations and exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Medical facilities

The standard of medical facilities in South Korea is generally good, but few staff speak English.

Medical services can be expensive. Hospitals usually require an up-front deposit and/or confirmation of insurance prior to commencing treatment.

More information: Health

Medical Tourism

South Korea is an increasingly popular destination for 'medical tourism'.

  • Research and choose your medical service providers carefully.
  • Don't be lured to discounted or uncertified medical service providers.
  • Check your travel insurance covers you if things go wrong with your surgery – most don't.

More information: Medical tourism

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergencies

  • Fire: 119
  • Ambulance: 119
  • Police: 112 or contact the local police at the nearest police station

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular services charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas. For consular assistance, contact the Australian Embassy in Seoul or the Australian Consulate in Busan.

Australian Embassy, Seoul

19th Floor, Kyobo Building
1, Jong-ro
Jongno-gu
Seoul 03154, Republic of Korea
Telephone: 82-2 2003 0100
Facsimile: 82-2 2003 0196
Website: southkorea.embassy.gov.au

Australian Consulate, Busan

Room 802 Samwhan Officetel
830-295, Bumil 2-dong
Dong-gu
Busan 601-709, Republic of Korea
Telephone: 82-51 647 1762
Facsimile: 82-51 647 1764

If you are unable to contact the Embassy or Consulate in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 (from overseas) or 1300 555 135 (from within Australia).

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

South Korea is subject to typhoons, severe weather, earthquakes and tsunamis.

  • Take responsibility for your own and your family's preparedness to deal with emergencies, natural disasters or any form of crisis. 
  • Familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans.
  • Secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag).
  • Take official warnings seriously.
  • Familiarise yourself with the advice of local authorities on preparing for a natural disaster or other emergency.
  • Read Severe weather.

If there is a natural disaster:

  • follow the advice of local authorities
  • closely monitor the media, other local information sources and the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts.

Typhoons and severe weather

The monsoon season is from late June to late August. Typhoons generally occur in August and September. Flooding and mudslides may interrupt transportation and other essential services.

The direction and strength of typhoons can change with little warning.

Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. The typhoon could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe typhoon may not be available to all who choose to stay. 

In addition to the advice for all natural disasters above:

Earthquakes and tsunamis

There is earthquake activity on the Korean Peninsula, though less than in Japan and other countries in the region. Tsunamis are also a risk because of frequent seismic activity in neighbouring countries and oceans.

In addition to the advice for all natural disasters above:

  • check for information on earthquakes (and tsunamis) in the Pacific on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center website
  • if you are in a coastal region after a major earthquake, move to higher ground immediately.

More information:

Additional resources