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South Korea (Republic of Korea)

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in South Korea (the Republic of Korea). Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour. Monitor the media and other sources for changes to local conditions.
  • Relations between South Korea and North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) can deteriorate with little notice. More provocations by North Korea directed at South Korea, its neighbours or allies, are possible. See Safety and security.
  • Large-scale public gatherings and demonstrations happen frequently. Avoid them as they may turn violent. See Safety and security.
  • There's an outbreak of Hepatitis A in South Korea. Boil tap water before drinking or cooking. See Health.
  • South Korea screens all arriving passengers at airports for infectious diseases. If you have symptoms (such as a high temperature), you could be examined or quarantined. See Entry and exit.
  • The monsoon season is from late June to late August. Typhoons can occur in August and September. During severe weather, monitor media for the latest information and follow the advice of local authorities. See Natural disasters.
  • Travel to the Yeonpyeong and other islands near Northern Limit Line Islands, a disputed maritime boundary, is strictly controlled.
  • Read advice on preparing for emergencies by the Australian Embassy in Seoul.

Entry and exit

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination's entry or exit requirements.

Visas

You can get 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 or the Korean Immigration Service for up-to-date information.

Other formalities

Foreigners are finger-printed on arrival.

All passengers arriving at South Korean airports are screened for infectious diseases, including Cholera, Zika virus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Additional quarantine checks are in place for flights from areas of higher risk. If you have flu-like symptoms, you could be quarantined.

Passport

Check the expiry date of your Australian passport before you travel. Some countries won’t let you enter unless your passport is valid for six months from when you plan to leave that country.

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 get 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.

Money

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

Declare cash 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, but may not accept some debit cards. Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels. Be aware of card skimming. 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 a truce agreed 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 regular ballistic missile tests, aggravating the already tense situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region. North Korea may conduct more tests or other 'provocations', 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. Some shells landed on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, near a disputed sea border. Two civilians and two soldiers were killed and several others injured. In May 2010, an investigation concluded the sinking of a South Korean navy ship was a result of a North Korean attack.

Weapon tests and defence rhetoric by North Korea increase tensions in the region. Historically, there has been heightened rhetoric from North Korea during South Korea/US military exercises. These routine military exercises usually take place in February/March and August/September.

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

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

Access to Yeonpyeong Island and other islands near the Northern Limit Line is strictly controlled due to their proximity to a disputed maritime boundary.

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 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

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 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're involved in an accident, whether or not you're at fault, you could face criminal charges and may need to pay compensation to the injured person.

The blood alcohol concentration limit for drivers is 0.03%. Heavy penalties apply for exceeding the limit.

  • Look out for motorcyclists – even on footpaths and pedestrian crossings
  • 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 will need either:

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

You'll need a Korean driver's licence if you're staying in South Korea for 90 days or more. Local authorities will normally keep your Australian driver's licence. They'll return it if you can show a departure ticket.

More information: Seoul Global Centre

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when riding a motorcycle. Most travel insurance policies won't cover you if you don't follow local laws or wear 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 the meter is used. Ride share apps are available but aren't widely used due to the large number of taxis in service. International taxi services are available and may have English speaking drivers.

Public transport

Public transportation in major urban areas and between them is good and well organised. Most major transportation systems have signs in English.

More information: Visit Korea

Rail travel

South Korea has a large high-speed rail network (KTX). Stations are usually located in major urban areas. They usually have signs in English. They are often linked to local taxi or public transport networks.

More information: Korail

Sea travel

There are ferry services between most large coastal cities and other domestic and international ports.

Busan is a regular stopover location for cruises.

More information: Cruises

Air travel

Many airlines and travel providers do not allow foreign credit cards to be used to pay for flights online within South Korea. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 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) if it is not specified in your visa. Australians have been fined, detained and deported for breaches of their visa conditions. It's difficult to change your visa type if you are in South Korea.

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

Disputes over expected working and living conditions for Australians teaching English in South Korea often occur. Some Australians planning to teach English have faced penalties because they or their employment agent gave false documents to Korean immigration authorities. If you are employed without a valid or correct visa you will have limited options under Korean law.

If you are considering teaching English in South Korea:

  • research your employer and employment agent before signing up
  • consider getting legal advice before you sign a contract
  • make sure your visa application is truthful and accurate.

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 for public officials. Public officials and their spouses cannot accept meals, gifts or other benefits above set limits. The category 'public officials' includes teachers, journalists and employees of companies that are government owned or funded. Seek legal advice to ensure you don't breach these laws.

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 if you have been arrested or detained and have Korean citizenship.

If you were born in South Korea or have Korean citizenship, you will continue to be a Korean citizen unless 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, the South Korean government may require you to complete military service, even if you're travelling on your Australian passport. The government may not allow you to renounce your Korean nationality or leave the country until you have completed your military service or received a special exemption from serving.

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

Get 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 aren't covered under your policy
  • 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 leave, 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

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

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.

Before you travel contact the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (narcotics@korea.kr) to check whether your medication is a controlled substance in South Korea. You may need 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 Korea).
  • Applications can take more than two weeks to process.

If necessary, consult your doctor about alternative medicines well in advance of travel.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

MERS

There were a number of confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 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. Japanese encephalitis also occurs.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • use insect repellent and wear long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • get vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis before you travel.

Other infectious diseases

There's an outbreak of Hepatitis A in South Korea.

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 usually start in March 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.

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

Yellow dust

From March to May strong winds bring yellow dust from Mongolia and China. The dust can cause eye, nose, mouth and throat irritations and worsen heart and lung problems.

Medical facilities

The standard of medical facilities in South Korea is usually 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 a 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

Natural disasters

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 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 direction and strength of typhoons can change with little warning.

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

Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Flights may fill quickly. The typhoon could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, there may not be enough shelter from a severe typhoon for everyone. 

Earthquakes and tsunamis

Earthquakes are less frequent in South Korea than in other countries in the region. Tsunamis are also a risk because of frequent seismic activity in the region.

  • 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:

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.

Emergency phone numbers

  • 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.

Australian Embassy, Seoul

19th Floor, Kyobo Building
1, Jong-ro
Jongno-gu
Seoul 03154, Republic of Korea
Phone: 82-2 2003 0100
Fax: 82-2 2003 0196
Website: southkorea.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: Australia in the Republic of Korea
Instagram: @AusAmbKor

If you're unable to contact the Embassy 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