Is it possible to travel to Korea this year? Well, maybe. Here are all the resources you may need to know regarding travel restrictions in South Korea during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic in 2020 through 2021. Though tourism is highly discouraged, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to come to Korea during the COVID-19 crisis like business/work, reuniting with friends and/or family, or diplomacy.
In September 2020, I traveled from South Korea to the United States and back to Korea with an F4 (Overseas Korean) visa. If you’d like to hear more about my self-quarantine experience, head to My Self-Quarantine Experience in South Korea. I was allowed to quarantine at home in my apartment in Seoul because I am a long-term resident, and I was exempt from needing a re-entry permit.
Updates on Travel Restrictions in Korea
6/26/2020: South Korea has increased its 14-day government quarantine facility price (affecting mostly short-term residents & tourists) to 2.1 million won ($1,746.51 USD) from 1.4 million KRW. You can read more from the Embassy of the Republic of South Korea to the Republic of Singapore.
7/20/2020: If you’re traveling from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, you will need to take a COVID-19 test proving that you’re negative 48 hours prior to your flight. More information here.
8/24/2020: Korea will charge foreigners for COVID-19 treatment if tested positive. More information at the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Singapore. The exception? If you’re already a long-term resident of Korea with Korean National Health Insurance, you will have to pay around 20%. Make sure you have insurance if you plan on traveling to Korea!
01/05/2021: All foreign nationals entering Korea must submit a PCR negative confirmation issued within 72 hours of departure. (As of January 8th). You can read more about this in the Korea Times’ article, “Korea to require all foreigners to test negative for COVID-19 before arrival.” If you’re a Korean citizen, you will only have to provide negative PCR test confirmation if you’re coming from the UK or South Africa. However, EVERYONE will still have to take a COVID-19 test in South Korea at the beginning of quarantine.
02/24/2021: Now, both foreign nationals and Korean nationals must submit negative PCR test results within 72 hours of their departure to South Korea. You can read more in the Korea Times.
04/28/2021: Fully vaccinated residents of South Korea may be able to skip the fourteen (14) day quarantine upon return to South Korea after May 5th, 2021 according to health officials according to the Yonhap News Agency article, “Fully vaccinated people can skip 14-day self-isolation: authorities.” Exclusions? Those coming from high-risk countries like Brazil and South Africa. There’s an alternate article on this topic available via Reuters.
05/25/2021: Those that were vaccinated in South Korea can indeed forgo the full fourteen (14) day quarantine upon return to South Korea, starting May 5th, 2021. More information is available on the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States website. This does not include those vaccinated in countries other than South Korea, however, there is a discussion that this may hopefully change in the future. “S. Korea considers lifting quarantine rules for residents vaccinated overseas with WHO-approved jabs” from Hankyoreh brings up the idea of vaccine passports within South Korea.
06/26/2021: According to the article from JoonAng Daily, “Quarantines to be waived for people inoculated abroad”, people who are fully vaccinated overseas (outside of Korea) may be able to skip quarantine IF they can prove that (a) the purpose of their visit falls under one of these categories: important business, academic, public interest and humanitarian purposes or (b) they’re visiting immediate family members (spouses, parents, children). It must be at least two weeks since your last shot. Exceptions? Those from countries with a high number of cases or variants like South Africa and Brazil will still have to quarantine.
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Can I travel to South Korea right now?
Traveling to Korea is possible depending on which country you’re coming from and what your visa status is. Besides whether or not your airline is flying to South Korea (you should check) during this COVID-19 crisis, there are also travel restrictions imposed by the Korean government.
In most cases, you probably can visit, but be prepared for a lot of paperwork, testing, and a 14-day quarantine.
Four important things to keep in mind:
- Do I need a visa or travel authorization for South Korea?
- Do I need to quarantine in South Korea?
- Do I need to take a COVID-19 test before and after arriving in South Korea?
- If I live in South Korea, do I need a re-entry permit when returning to Korea?
DO NOT forget to check any airline restrictions as well. All airlines require masks during the flight. Starting Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021, all incoming passengers — including Korean nationals — flying into South Korea must provide proof of a negative PCR test before boarding (within 72 hours of departure).
Those that are flying outbound — leaving South Korea — may or may not need an antigen or PCR test depending on their airline and/or final destination. If you need to find a PCR testing facility in South Korea ASAP, check out Where to Get a COVID-19 PCR Test in Seoul with English Test Results for Traveling.
For the most accurate information on travel restrictions in South Korea, you may want to contact your local Korean embassy and/or flight carrier. Korean Air has up-to-date information about current entry restrictions in South Korea and quarantine rules. Also, since rules are subject to change without notice, definitely visit the Korea Center for Disease Control and Incheon Airport website. Additional documents for entry to Korea besides the visa application can be found at your country’s embassy website like the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Norway.
Can I travel to South Korea if I am vaccinated?
Well, maybe. A few of my friends have asked me this question recently because they have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in their own countries and are dying to travel. Trust me, I am also dying for this moment! I’ve also thought long and hard about whether or not I can just pop over to the United States, get vaccinated, and skip quarantine upon my return to South Korea. Unfortunately, I can’t yet.
Why? Because Korea is only allowing those that got vaccinated in Korea and those vaccinated overseas under very special circumstances to skip quarantine.
As of May 2021, the Korean government decided that it will allow those who were vaccinated in Korea to skip the full fourteen (14) day quarantine upon return to South Korea. Full details can be viewed on the Korean Embassy website.
According to the article from JoonAng Daily in June 2021, “Quarantines to be waived for people inoculated abroad”, people who are fully vaccinated overseas (outside of Korea) may be able to skip quarantine IF they can prove that (a) the purpose of their visit falls under one of these categories: important business, academic, public interest and humanitarian purposes — NO, tourism doesn’t count — or (b) they’re visiting immediate family members (spouses, parents, children). It must be at least two weeks since your last shot. Exceptions? Those from countries with a high number of cases or variants like South Africa and Brazil will still have to quarantine.
There’s a quick FAQ on eDaily regarding the latest quarantine news in South Korea that basically reaffirms that employees (not just high-level executives) can skip quarantine if they can prove the importance and urgency of their business in Korea, siblings do NOT count as immediate family members for quarantine exemption, and foreigners can also apply for quarantine exemption if they have immediate family (parents, spouse, spouse’s parents, children, etc) in South Korea. In the case of proving a family relationship, I’m assuming that you would need a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or if applicable, the family registry (unique to Korea.)
So, long story short: yes, you can travel to South Korea, but no, you will probably not be able to skip quarantine (which you may have to pay for yourself.) Unfortunately, the two-week quarantine is still in place for most people that were vaccinated outside of South Korea unless you happen to be lucky enough to have a parent, spouse, or children living in South Korea. Unfortunately, siblings, aunts, uncles, or cousins don’t count … OR if your company is able to provide proof that you need to be in South Korea.
Vaccine Passports in South Korea
There is a discussion between government officials about reciprocity between countries and handling of “vaccine passports”. You can read more about this in the article by Hankyoreh, “S. Korea considers lifting quarantine rules for residents vaccinated overseas with WHO-approved jabs.”
At the beginning of April 2021, there was a lot of discussion about South Korea adopting vaccine passports digitally on the blockchain like in this Yonhap New Agency article, “S. Korea to adopt ‘vaccine passport’ showing person’s COVID-19 vaccination status: PM”. However, as far as I know, there has been a lot of controversy and privacy concerns, so the vaccine passports haven’t been fully adopted or enforced in South Korea.
The South Korean digital vaccination certificate app, COOV (Corona Overcome), is available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
Do I need a visa or travel authorization for South Korea?
As part of the travel restrictions in South Korea, short-term visas were temporarily suspended due to COVID-19. If your country does not require a visa usually due to a visa-waiver or visa-free agreement, double-check with this list here (PDF) to see if Korea suspended your country.
Suspended Countries as of 04/13/20:
Australia, Brunei, Fij, Hong Kong, Kiribati, Macau, Malaysia, MarshalIs., Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Is., Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu
Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Suriname, Saint Lucia, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay
Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey
Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates
Botswana, Kingdom of Eswatini, Lesotho, Mauritius, Republic of South Africa, Seychelles
Since the United States and the UK did not ban Koreans from entry from the start of COVID-19, their visa-waiver agreement is still in place, and US/UK nationals are still allowed to travel to Korea without the need of applying for a visa. However, countries like Canada and New Zealand did ban all foreign nationals, so in reciprocation, visa-free travel was suspended.
How did visas change in South Korea in 2020?
Citizens of countries like Spain or Australia normally didn’t require a visa to travel around South Korea short-term, e.g. tourists. But when coronavirus began, the EU and other countries put Korea on their travel ban list.
If you’re from one of the countries on the list above, you’ll have to apply for a visa to travel to South Korea now.
As far as I know, UK and US tourists can still come to South Korea without a visa, but you’ll have to quarantine for 14 days at a government facility at your own expense (more below).
The EU announced in June 2020 (BBC Article) that they are placing Korea on their ‘safe travel destinations’ list and will allow Korean citizens to enter the EU. So, there is hope that Korea will remove EU countries from their suspended visa-free/visa-waiver list as well.
If you’re already here on a tourist visa …
If you’re already in Korea with a visa (e.g. tourist visa) and there are no flights at all — directly or indirectly — to your home country, they may allow an extension of your visa status by another month. It’s very much dependent on the immigration officer in charge of your case.
I wouldn’t count on it at this point of the year though. As flights are starting to resume, Korea seems to be taking a tougher stance on those overstaying their visa. Even if the flight returning to your home country has a few layovers along the way, the opportunity to return is still there under the government’s eyes.
Electronic Travel Authorization in South Korea
Check this before you board! Starting May 2021, if you are from a visa-waivered country like the United States or the United Kingdom, you will have to apply for electronic travel authorization 24 hours prior to boarding your flight. You can learn more on the K-ETA website. It’s not mandatory until September 2021 from what I’ve read, but if you have an upcoming flight to South Korea, definitely keep this in mind.
Which countries need to apply for the electronic travel authorization?
ETA will not be enforced until September 2021 and is currently in its voluntary pilot stage. Once fully implemented, if you are from the following countries, you will need to apply for electronic travel authorization before boarding your flight to South Korea: Guyana, Guam, New Caledonia, Nicaragua, Commonwealth of Dominica, Mexico, Monaco, Malta, the United States of America, Barbados, Holy See (Vatican City State), Venezuela, San Marino, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Slovenia, Ireland, Andorra, Albania, the United Kingdom, Palau.
Do I need a re-entry permit as a long-term foreign resident in South Korea?
As of part of new travel restrictions in South Korea on June 1st, 2020, long-term foreign residents of Korea will be required to obtain a re-entry permit BEFORE departing for international travel. The permits are available at immigration offices, airports, and port offices. The cost is 30,000 won and the re-entry permit is valid for one year.
Foreign long-term residents of the ROK will also be required to provide a medical certificate or negative COVID-19 test before boarding flights to Korea. The certificate must be in English or Korean and signed by a medical professional within 48 hours of departure; it should include information about fever, cough, and other potential symptoms. While a negative COVID-19 test result is accepted for immigration, it is not a requirement for the medical certificate.
Exceptions: Diplomats (A-1), Government Officials (A-2, A-3) or Overseas Korean (F-4) status do not need to apply for re-entry permits when returning to Korea, but they will have to provide negative PCR test results (as of March 3rd, 2021.)
More information regarding the re-entry permit can be obtained from hikorea.go.kr. The online application for a re-entry permit can be found here.
There is also an immigration office at Incheon Airport (second floor of Terminal 2) where you can request a re-entry permit in case of emergency. Make sure to get the re-entry permit before checking in any bags. I would call the airport to check to see if this is still available, however, as I’ve heard that this may no longer be the case. Definitely, definitely apply for a re-entry permit way ahead of time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Re-entry Permit in Korea
The following FAQ was sourced by HiKorea via Itaewon Global Village Center.
Do I need to quarantine in South Korea?
Most likely. As part of the travel restrictions in South Korea after April 1st, 2020, all passengers flying into Korea from all countries (including tourists, foreign nationals, and Korean citizens), must undergo a 14-day quarantine and download the Self-Quarantine Safety Protection app. If you have symptoms at the airport, you will be held there for testing. If you do not have symptoms, you will have to undergo testing within three days while under quarantine. More information is provided at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Korea.
The only exceptions to quarantine?
If you hold an A1 (Diplomatic), A2 (Official), or A3 (Treaties) visa, you won’t need to quarantine for 14 days, but will still have to abide by active monitoring and test at the airport.
You may also apply for an isolation exemption certificate for those that are visiting Korea on 90-day visa-free travel or with C1, C3, or C4 visa AND that fall under (a) important business/academic activities, (b) activities related to public services, (c) urgent humanitarian reasons (like the death of a family member). Those who are exempt from self or facility quarantine will stay in a temporary isolation facility for two days for testing. Contact your local Korean embassy for more information about the isolation exemption certificate.
If you were vaccinated (two doses) in South Korea, you will also be able to reduce your quarantine. You will still have to take two COVID-19 tests, however, and self-monitor for 14 days.
MORE READING: The Korean Center of Disease Control uploaded a PDF that details guidelines on the temporary living/testing facility for inbound travelers here.
Do I need to quarantine in Korea if I’ve been vaccinated?
If you were vaccinated overseas (not in Korea), you still have to quarantine for fourteen (14) days as of right now, June 2021.
Those that were vaccinated in South Korea can indeed forgo the full fourteen (14) day quarantine upon return to South Korea, starting May 5th, 2021. More information is available on the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States website. You can also read the article from The Korea Times, “Fully vaccinated people can skip 14-day self-isolation: authorities”.
This does not include those vaccinated in countries other than South Korea, however, there is a discussion that this may hopefully change in the future. “S. Korea considers lifting quarantine rules for residents vaccinated overseas with WHO-approved jabs” from Hankyoreh brings up the idea of vaccine passports within South Korea.
What if I only have a layover at Incheon Airport?
You also do not need to quarantine if you are transiting through Incheon Airport to third countries since you won’t actually be leaving the airport. You will however receive a temperature screening and health questionnaire. If you’re coming from Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, or Bangladesh, you will also need a PCR test showing that you do not have COVID-19 prior to entry.
Self-Quarantine for Korean and Foreign Residents
As part of the travel restrictions in South Korea, Foreign nationals who hold a long-term visa and Korean nationals can quarantine at their registered address.
The Self-Quarantine Safety Protection App
First things first, everyone must download the Self-Quarantine Safety Protection app. At the airport, officials will check to see that the app is downloaded and show you how to use the app to input your temperature twice daily.
The app will also track your location at all times. If they cannot see your location, they will contact you immediately and/or come and find you. That may mean a random knock on your door. People who have tried to fool government officials have been fined and/or kicked out of the country, so don’t even think about escaping or inviting friends over while quarantining.
Getting Through Customs
At the airport, they will also check your quarantine address and confirm your contact information that your case officer can reach you by — either a phone number or KakaoTalk.
I only needed to show them my passport and Alien Registration Card — in my case, Overseas Korean Identification — which had my address printed on the back. They called my Korean phone number to make sure it was working, and they inputted my first temperature reading on the quarantine app at the airport.
How to Leave the Airport
Health officials will be waiting for you outside the airport after you collect your luggage to help you arrange transportation. The transportation could be specially designated taxi cabs or buses that will take you into Seoul. There will be staff waiting for you outside customs at Incheon airport that will give you more detailed instructions.
They put a sticker on my shoulder as I left baggage claim, and they asked how I was planning on going home. I took a designated COVID-19 taxi for around 85,000 KRW to my home address which included a drop-off at the local public health office for COVID-19 testing.
MORE READING: Here is a step-by-step account on Reddit from a long-term resident returning to Korea via Incheon Airport.
Food Kit and Sanitization Kit
Depending on the district you reside in, you may also receive a sanitization kit and POSSIBLY a food kit (usually includes ramen, spam, rice, etc) provided by the Korean government within the week.
I’ve heard they’ve gotten a bit stingy with the food, and I received only a sanitization kit at the Seocho-gu Health Center where I was tested for COVID-19. The sanitization kit included quarantine instructions, K94 face masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, two trash bags, temperature stickers, and a small bag of potting mix to grow tomatoes.
Don’t be fooled by those YouTube videos. Not everyone is as “lucky” to get that food swag. Plan ahead by bringing some snacks on the airplane to hold you over until you can figure out your food situation.
Deleting the App and Ending Quarantine
After the quarantine ended, I was permitted to delete the app. I was also told to call the local public health center to schedule a trash pick-up the next day where they picked up only the two hazard trash bags that I filled during the quarantine. The rest of my trash, I threw away normally.
Frequently Asked Questions about Self-Quarantine for Residents
There is an Everything Quarantine in South Korea support group on Facebook. Questions and experiences can be shared in this group. For the sake of everyone else’s sanity, please do not join and post in other ex-pat groups in Korea about quarantine without first searching through the archives. Whatever questions you may have, someone has probably already asked them.
What if I just got a job in Korea but no alien registration card yet?
For long-term foreign nationals that do not yet have an ARC (Alien Registration Card/Foreign National Card) with a registered address, the immigration officer at the airport will ultimately make the final decision whether you can quarantine at home, at a rental unit, or at the facilities.
I’ve heard that the immigration officers are more lenient about avoiding coughing up that 2.1 million won for the government facility if you have a long-term visa (e.g. E2 work visa), provided that you have with you your work contract, housing contract, and so forth.
My friend recently returned from a trip overseas since he had to go back to his home country, change his visa status to a one-year stay in South Korea, and return to South Korea to finish his studies. He was able to quarantine at his apartment in Seoul and then pick up his ARC after the quarantine was over.
Can I stay in a short-term rental like an Airbnb?
You cannot stay at a short-term rental facility for quarantine if you are a tourist.
However, if you have a long-term visa, you most likely will be able to quarantine at a short-term rental like an Airbnb. Again, it’s ultimately up to the government officials you will encounter at Incheon Airport.
My advice is to try to bring as many documents as possible when you arrive, outlining the details of your stay. For example, a letter from the company where you’re employed and owner of the rental unit showing they’re willing to take responsibility for you should anything happen. This is very important.
I have heard that if you are coming to South Korea on a short-term visa and you have family in South Korea, they may be more likely to allow it. In this case, you should contact your local embassy to find out more details.
Can I quarantine at my dorm if I am a student?
If you’re a student living in Korea, living in a single Korean dorm, they will most likely call the school to see if the school will take responsibility for your quarantine. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay for government facilities (below) or work out an arrangement with the owner of a short-term rental unit. Check with your school to see what policies they have in place beforehand.
Can I quarantine with my family or roommates in South Korea?
Yes, but with conditions. For those quarantining with family or roommates in Korea with that exact address registered on your ARC (Alien Registration Card), your roommates or family members are expected to avoid shared areas, using shared items (like plates, towels, utensils), and to wear a mask. Those in the house must quarantine with you as well.
Only a spouse and lineal descendants (grandparents, parents, children only) of Korean nationals or long-term residents of Korea may self-quarantine in the Korean national/long-term resident’s place of residence instead of government facility by providing official family relations documents. Siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins of South Korean residents/nationals are not included. If you need to get a hold of your family relations documents, contact your local Korean embassy for more details.
Can I leave quarantine early in South Korea?
Absolutely not. People have tried and failed miserably. You will be caught. There are CCTV cameras everywhere, and they will come and check on you if something is just a little off. This Indonesian man last year tried to dig a hole while under quarantine, according to the Korea Times, and he was sentenced to a suspended eight months prison term.
If at any time you break quarantine, you’ll also be forced to wear a trackable safety wrist band. Korean citizens who break self-quarantine can be jailed for up to one year and fined up to 10 million won ($8,000), while foreigners can be immediately deported. DO NOT take medicine to hide your symptoms during/prior/after your flight or you will also be punished!
Do I have to take a COVID-19 test while under quarantine?
Regardless of where you are quarantining, you must visit your local public health office, clinic, or hospital to take a COVID-19 test within three days after arrival. If you’re taking a COVID-19 designated taxi, they will stop by your local public health center for testing on the way home. Call 1339 (KDCA) locally in Korea for more information regarding COVID-19 testing facilities in Korea. You will receive your COVID-19 test results typically by SMS within 48 hours.
MORE READING: For a detailed account of a foreigner’s experience traveling to Korea in May 2020 and undergoing self-quarantine, read this article from Korea Exposé.
What do I do with trash during self-quarantine in Korea?
You will most likely be given two large orange hazard bags as part of your self-quarantine kit. I received my kit at the local public health center where I received my COVID-19 testing prior to quarantining. Contact the public health official assigned to you if you have not received any supplies.
After your quarantine is over, they will schedule pick-up of the two hazard bags. I left them outside my door after my quarantine and resumed going to the office normally.
Can I stay at an Airbnb as a tourist or non-resident in Korea?
Most likely, no. If you happen to be able to secure a tourist visa to Korea, immigration officials will most likely ask that you pay for the government facility to quarantine in which will cost up to 2.1 million won. If you’re here on business or have secured a long-term visa, you may be able to quarantine at an Airbnb.
I will add that if you intend to secure an Airbnb for self-quarantine at home in South Korea, you should make sure that you secure your visa before coming to South Korea through your local embassy rather than try to apply for the visa after arrival.
Can I quarantine with my friends in South Korea?
You may really want to stay with your friends, too, but you cannot quarantine with friends in South Korea.
How do I get food during self-quarantine in Korea?
If you’re able to quarantine at home in South Korea, you are able to order food online and have it delivered to your address. Request that the driver place the food directly outside your door as you cannot leave the premises. You cannot pay with cash, so you’ll have to rely on a debit or credit card to order food.
The easiest way to order food without an ARC (alien registration card), Korean bank card, and Korean phone number is using Gmarket (Global) which accepts foreign cards. SSG.com also accepts foreign credit cards. Keep in mind delivery times may take a few days. You can read more food delivery options in Seoul, South Korea in How to Order Food Delivery in Seoul, Korea in English.
If you need food immediately, you can use food delivery services in English like Shuttle and Help Me Emo.
Quarantine at the Government Facility in South Korea for Non-Residents
As part of the travel restrictions in South Korea, tourists or short-term visitors (staying in Korea under 90 days) must pay for a government-designated quarantine facility at 150,000 KRW per day for 14 days (or 2,100,000 KRW or approximately 1,746.51 USD per person for the entire 14 days). This includes food, active monitoring, and utilities like the internet. Public places like guest houses, hotels, hostels are not considered appropriate places for self-quarantine.
Foreign nationals without a registered address must also pay for facilities at their own expense with the exception of spouses or lineal descendants (spouse, child, or parent) of Korean nationals or long-term Foreign national residents.
As of July 20, 2020, all residents of the government quarantine facilities will have to take up to three quarantine tests upon arrival. The last (third) test being within the last 48 hours of your quarantine.
Can I quarantine with my family at the government facility in South Korea?
Foreign nationals who are married may choose to stay in separate rooms or in their own room, but must still pay 2.1 million won per person for use of the facilities. Children are also allowed to quarantine with their parents, depending on their age. You may be able to negotiate a smaller fee for the child if they are a baby or toddler.
What is the government quarantine facility in Korea like?
The Korean government facilities are dependent on availability. You may be put anywhere from a studio apartment, a very basic dormitory, or a 5-star hotel.
If you’re planning on working at your quarantine facility in South Korea, some people also reported internet connection to be spotty or slow.
MORE READING: The article, “Korea’s viral travel restrictions stir ire and woe“, from Asia Times details the experience of a traveler with a three-month tourist visa quarantined at the government facility in Korea. You can also read about the quarantine experience in Korea with an isolation exemption certificate in April 2020 from research assistant, Dana Kim, at Center for Strategic & International Studies in her article, “Going to Korea in the Pandemic“. Here is another detailed experience of quarantine in Korea at the government facility, “A Perspective on Korean Quarantine“.
Can I order food delivery at the quarantine facility in South Korea?
The cost of quarantine covers your meals which you will probably — depending on the facility — have the options of vegetarian, halal, Western, or Korean food. They should ask your food requirements upon check-in and will leave food outside your door three times a day.
You most likely cannot order outside restaurant food delivery from the facilities, but you may be able to have packaged food delivered and left at your door from Coupang or Gmarket. This is especially helpful if you have any dietary restrictions like gluten allergy. Some people have reported their facilities as not able to accept delivery at all, so keep that in mind.
Can I smoke in the quarantine facilities in Korea?
No, you are not allowed to smoke in the government quarantine facilities in South Korea. My advice would be to bring nicotine patches or gum before your flight to Korea to have during your 14-day quarantine as it’s hard to acquire them while under quarantine.
Where can I get essential supplies at my quarantine facility in South Korea?
If you need more essential supplies (e.g. toilet paper, water), call the facility operator to request more. For anything else, check with the staff at your facility and see if you can order online and have it delivered to the facility. They may be able to leave it at your door.
Prepare for your quarantine by bringing some snacks ahead of time and movies for entertainment.
Be aware that some facilities will turn away any delivery, so check beforehand. If there’s something that you know you’ll need, try to pack it in your suitcase before your flight to Korea.
Gmarket (available in English and Korean) and Coupang (Korean only) are some of the more popular e-commerce platforms in Korea. If you’re using a foreign credit card, you will probably want to order supplies from Gmarket Global.
What do I do with trash at the quarantine facility in South Korea?
Most likely at your quarantine facility, you will be able to leave the trash outside the door with the bag that they provide, and they will pick it up.
Do I need to take a COVID-19 test before flying to Korea?
YES, as of March 3rd, 2021, all incoming passengers, including Korean nationals, must provide proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arriving in Korea.
Test results must display the following information in English and/or Korean:
- traveler’s name (as it appears on your passport)
- traveler’s date of birth (or passport number or ID card number)
- test type*
- test result*
- test date(specimen collection date)
- test result issuance date
- test result provider’s official name
* The types of the test which are acceptable include NAATs, PCR, LAMP, TMA, SDA, and NEAR. An antigen/antibody test such as RAT and ELISA as well as an at-home test are not acceptable.
* The test result should be issued within 72 hours of the departure date.
Do I need to take a COVID-19 test after I arrive in Korea?
If you’re just arriving to Korea, they may test you at the airport and/or shortly thereafter — at the beginning of quarantine, in the middle of quarantine, and at the end of quarantine.
After my flight in October 2020, I was only required to test once at the beginning of quarantine. When I asked my case officer if I needed to test again toward the end of self-quarantine, she said that I would only need to do so if I fell into a “high-risk” category which included teachers, healthcare professionals, and 60+ age group. Other travelers have recounted different situations, so it may depend upon the district that you are located in.
The official statement regarding quarantine testing is that you must be tested within three days of arrival. Those quarantining in a government facility in Korea will most likely be tested at the facility and will be provided with information upon arrival. Those quarantined at home will most likely have to walk or take a taxi to the nearest testing facility within those three days. Since those quarantining at home will receive a case officer, you can easily ask your case officer more details and the mode of transport allowed to the testing center. You are not allowed to take public transportation under any circumstances.
IMPORTANT: If you suspect that you have COVID-19 symptoms, call 1339 (KDCA) first and then visit the designated hospital or screening clinic. Not all hospitals will allow you to enter with respiratory symptoms, so make sure you’re going to one on the COVID-19 designated list. Here is a list of screening centers for COVID-19 in Korea.
How much is COVID-19 testing in Korea?
For inbound travelers — those that have just arrived in Korea — under quarantine, you will not have to pay for the initial COVID-19 tests. Legal residents under quarantine are generally covered by the Korean government, and for foreigners under quarantine at a government facility, the cost of COVID-19 tests is included in the amount that you paid to stay at the facility.
If you are not in quarantine, you may have to pay for your test depending on whether you have symptoms and where you take the test.
If you test at a public health center or local district (gu) office, the test will most likely be free. On the other hand, some hospitals may charge anywhere from 80,000 KRW to 390,000+ KRW for the test.
However, if you’re getting a PCR test in South Korea for proof of negative results (with an English certificate) before boarding your international flight when leaving South Korea, you will have to pay for your test and certificate. You can read more about this at Where to Get a COVID-19 PCR Test in Seoul with English Test Results for Traveling.
Don’t know where to take the test? Here is a full list of coronavirus testing facilities in South Korea. The website is in Korean, but you can use Google Translate (via Chrome or phone app) to navigate the website. You can also call 1339 (KDCA) and chat with an English-speaking operator to direct you to the best location.
The First Time I Got Tested in Early 2020
At the beginning of 2020, I went to Gangnam Severance Hospital with a fever after a recommendation to be tested. There are tents outside the hospital where you have to fill out a short checklist for symptoms. They will direct you go to upstairs and wait in queue at the designated area. They brought over a translator to help with the process. The cost was about 120,000 KRW for the test with insurance, including hospital fees. I was told that I would receive my test results via text message within 48 hours but had to contact the hospital via email to get my results.
From what I’ve heard lately, the fees have gone up — especially if you’re taking the test as proof of negative results before boarding your flight at Incheon Airport. If you have the luxury of being able to choose where to get tested, pick a smaller hospital or clinic rather than the big-name hospitals like Gangnam Severance and you’ll probably end up paying far less.
Is the COVID-19 test in Korea free?
If you suspect that you may have COVID-19 or have come in contact with someone who has/had it …
So, maybe depending on why. Because of recent outbreaks, the Korean government has extended free testing to all residents on and off throughout the year. The Itaewon Global Center is another good resource to find free testing centers in the Yongsan-gu district of Seoul, South Korea.
As of June 8th, 2020, all Seoul residents, with or without respiratory symptoms, can get tested for the novel coronavirus for free. Testing is limited to once per person on a first-come, first-serve basis and is only available at seven hospitals. Here is an article from the Korean Herald from June 8th, 2020 regarding the free testing for Seoul residents.
The 7 Free Testing Facilities in Seoul, South Korea for Seoul Residents: Seoul Metropolitan Hospital, Seoul Metropolitan Eunpyeong Hospital, Seoul Metropolitan Seobuk Hospital, Seoul Medical Center, SMG-SNU Boramae Medical Center, Seoul Metropolitan Dongbu Hospital, and Seoul Metropolitan Seonam Hospital.
If you do not have Korean health insurance, have no symptoms, and/or do not live in South Korea, it may cost up to 400,000 KRW to get tested.
Do I need to take a COVID-19 test when leaving Korea?
Many countries and airlines outside of Korea require COVID-19 testing (a PCR test) before leaving Korea to your final destination — for example, countries in the European Union. You can get tested at a local COVID-19 screening center in South Korea prior to your flight. Here is a list of screening centers for COVID-19 in Korea. You can also call 1339 (KDCA) in South Korea to ask for more information regarding COVID-19 testing, and they can connect you to someone who speaks English.
If you do not have symptoms and you only need a COVID-19 test because you have an upcoming outbound flight from South Korea, then YES, you will have to pay for your COVID-19 test. I repeat: you have to pay if you need to take a COVID-19 PCR test with an English certificate when flying outbound from Incheon airport. You can more at Where to Get a COVID-19 PCR Test in Seoul with English Test Results for Traveling.
Will my flight be canceled to South Korea?
No one really knows. Check with your carrier and see if routes have been suspended/canceled. My best advice is to wait two weeks ahead of time — meanwhile, prepare for the worst — and contact your airline carrier again. If your flight is canceled by the airline carrier, you are most likely entitled to a full refund.
You can check Korean Air for an updated list of country travel restrictions. Korean Air also has a list of suspended or reduced flights here. Asiana Airlines has a list of suspended or reduced flights here.
Korean Air is waiving cancellation and change fees if your travel date falls between February 2, 2020 to August 31, 2020. More information here.
Asiana Airlines is also waiving cancellation and change fees for flights before June 30, 2020 until further notice. More information here.
Delta Airlines is waiving cancellation and change fees for flights through September 30, 2020, if rebooking to the same destination. Tickets purchased between March 1 and September 30, 2020, can be changed without a change fee for a year from the date you purchased it, but you may have to pay the difference. More information here.
American Airlines is waiving cancellation and change fees for flights through September 30, 2020. More information here.
United Airlines is waiving change fees for flights booked before/on March 2, 2020 that are scheduled to depart through December 31st, 2020. Changes or cancellations must be made on/before June 30, 2020. More information here.
When will I be vaccinated in South Korea?
According to the Pulse News, the first group to be vaccinated is front-line workers in late February, followed by high-risk care facility workers & residents and first responders in mid-March. In May, people aged 65+, care facility workers, and pharmacy workers will be next in line to be vaccinated. And then finally, the rest of the population will be eligible (hopefully) in July.
Unless you’re high-risk, most foreign nationals will fall under the general population group and will be vaccinated at the same time as the general Korean population which should be around phase three (3), after July 2021.
- Phase 3 (July – September 2021): General Population, aged 18 years and older.
- Phase 4 (October – December 2021): Second vaccine dose and those who have not already received a vaccine during the first three phases.
Once it’s your turn to get vaccinated, you can go make an appointment online or by calling 1139 (KDCA).
MORE READING: “COVID-19 Vaccinations: What Foreigners In South Korea Need To Know” by TBS outlines some frequently asked questions for foreigners who are anxious about getting vaccinated in South Korea.
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4 comments on “Everything I Know About Travel Restrictions in South Korea in 2020 and 2021”
Oh, wow, that’s comprehensive. I’m impressed!
As you can probably tell, I’m really anxious to start traveling again!
Beyond helpful! Thank you so much for all this information. I am moving to Korea to a language institute and have found little information anywhere on what I need to do to organise for the trip. Honestly makes this whole situation a bit less stressful. Very lucky I found this! Again, thank you!!!!
No problem! It’s a long list of things to remember! Good luck on the move 🙂