South Korea Visas

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South Korea Visas, Work Permits and Migration

Foreigners traveling to South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea, ROK) to live and work can find experiencing a new culture both exciting, daunting, and challenging. Among the challenges is organizing the correct documentation to permit foreigners to live and work there!

For short term visits for tourism and business but not for paid employment, many countries are visa exempt. Canada for 180 days; the EU and the UK plus 44 other countries – 90 days; Lesotho and Russia – 60 days and a further 36 countries for periods of 30 days. However, visa-exempt countries’ nationals must apply for a K-ETA before travel. This is South Korea’s Electronic Travel Authorization and can be applied for 24 hours before travelling.

All other foreigners should apply for the national visa C-2 for business and C-3 for tourism.

Employment in South Korea is complicated, mainly due to the diverse types of work visa and the categories within the types of visas as well as the work permit. Deciding which is appropriate for the employee is important and depends on nationality, qualifications, area of expertise and whether there is a labor shortage. There are certain requirements for each visa type. Working in ROK without the correct paperwork can lead to fines and deportation.

What Types of Work Visas, and Permits for South Korea are there?

Although many nationalities can enter South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea, ROK) for cultural and some business purposes, for short periods without a visa, they require a passport with six months validity, a return ticket, and a Korea Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA). However, everyone requires some documentation if they want paid employment including work visas and permits.

Visas are divided into various types and categories, and these are classified as either:

  1. Single Entry Visa for 90 days and renewable yearly, but if employees wish to visit the home country, they require a re-entry permit
  2. *Multi Entry Visa is for one year and allows exit and entries and is renewable (when available)

*Multi Entry Visa holders should check to see if they need to apply for a re-entry permit.

Visas to enter South Korea are numerous which is good, if the applicant applies for the correct one. There are various types (prefixed) A to H, M and T giving 40 categories and 77 sub-categories.                                                                                                                                                   

Work Visas are covered by types C, D, E, and H. The main work visas are:

  • Short Term Employment Visa (C-4). Temporary work lasting for less than three months
  • Corporate Resident / On assignment (Intra-company Transfer (D-7)
  • Self-Employment Visa (D-8-4). For those interested in a Business Start-Up (points system)
  • Technology Transfer (E-4). To supply technical expertise in the high-tech industry unavailable in South Korea
  • Professional Job Visa (E-5). For people who have internationally accredited qualifications
  • Special Ability Visa or Specific Job (E-7) for specific or specialist occupations

Non-professional Visas are:

  • Manufacturing (E-9-1)
  • Construction (E-9-2)
  • Agriculture (E-9-3)
  • Fishery (E-9-4)
  • Service sector (E-9-5)
  • Working Holiday (H-1)

Work Visas should be applied for in the home country at local embassy or consulate. Work visas validity is generally 12 months and may take up to one month to process. Applicants should know the type of visa they require before applying as they cannot change a tourist visa, for example, to a work visa once inside South Korea. This needs to be done in the home country. Check for availability of the more versatile multi entry visas. Also, re-entry permits may be required before leaving ROK, if not, on returning to ROK – from immigration at the port of entry – and there will be a charge.

Like most countries, South Korea protects its borders and workforce and although it is possible to find employment, the roads are many and the paperwork prolific. Traditionally there is no ‘Labor Market Test’ (i.e., the position should be offered to all nationals first) although some of the work visas – E-5 and E-7 may require a letter of recommendation for the employee and a letter giving the reason company needs to employ a foreigner. How well and fully these are written can determine approval or not. Even if the occupation of employee doesn’t require one from the Immigration Office, providing one improves their chances.