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.
Update (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.
Update (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.
Update (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!
Update (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.
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. Beyond 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.
Four important things to keep in mind:
- Visa suspensions
- 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Korea
- COVID-19 Testing (before/after)
- Re-entry permit when you return to Korea (if you’re a long-term resident)
DO NOT forget to check any airline restrictions as well. Most airlines require masks during the flight, and some require proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding. As of January 8th, 2021, all incoming passengers to South Korea must provide proof of a negative PCR test before boarding (within 72 hours).
For the most accurate information on travel restrictions in South Korea, you may want to contact your local Korean embassy and/or flight carrier. 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.
Travel Restrictions: Visa Suspensions in 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 — like 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.
UK and US tourists can still come to South Korea without a visa, but you’ll still have to quarantine for 14-days like everyone else (more below).
The EU recently announced (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.
Overview of 14-Day Quarantine in South Korea Upon Arrival
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. More information is provided at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Korea.
Do I have to quarantine in South Korea?
YES (mostly). Regardless of citizenship, you will most likely have to quarantine for 14 days (two weeks) at a government quarantine facility or at your permanent residence in Korea. You will also have to take a COVID-19 test within three days of arrival 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.
Traveling via Incheon Airport to Your Final Destination
You also do not need to quarantine if you are transiting through Incheon Airport to third countries. You will however receive a temperature screening and health questionnaire. If you’re coming from Uzbekistan, 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 (long-term residents, not tourists) and Korean nationals must quarantine at their registered address.
You will have to 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. They will also check your quarantine address and confirm your contact information to 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.
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.
Depending on the district you reside in, you should 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.
After 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.
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.
If you’re staying at a short-term rental on a long-term visa, try to bring as many documents with you, 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.
Ultimately, the immigration officer will make the final decision whether you are allowed to stay at an Airbnb/short-term rental or pay to stay at the Korean government quarantine facility, so be careful. They may require the phone number of someone living in Korea to “vouch” or check up on you.
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.
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.
IMPORTANT: 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!
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.
What to 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.
How to 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.
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. Keep in mind delivery times may take a few days. If you need food immediately, you can use food delivery services in English like Shuttle and Help Me Emo.
Quarantine in South Korea For Those Visiting Family
The spouse and lineal descendants (grandparents, parents, children only) of Korean national 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 they are staying in the house with you, they will have to quarantine as well.
Quarantine for Non-Residents or Tourists in Korea
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.
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.
IMPORTANT: Public places like guest houses, hotels, hostels are not considered appropriate places for self-quarantine.
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.
Can I stay at an Airbnb as a tourist 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. You cannot stay with friends in South Korea.
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.
How to Get Food during Quarantine in 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 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.
CONNECT: There is a 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 expat groups in Korea about quarantine without first searching through the archives.
Where to Buy Essential Supplies during Quarantine in Korea
If you need more essential supplies (e.g. toilet paper, water), call the facility operator to request more. For anything else, you can order online and have it delivered to the facility with the room number, and they will leave it at your door.
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.
TIP: Prepare for your quarantine by bringing some snacks ahead of time and movies for entertainment. Some people reported internet connection to be spotty or slow.
What to Do with Trash in Quarantine
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.
What Else You Need to Know
They will also provide you with a thermometer to take your temperature twice daily to enter into the app. Do not attempt to leave the door for any reason at all. They will be monitoring you through CCTV, regular phone calls, and GPS. Once the 14 days are over, I’ve heard that they may offer free transportation to either Seoul Station or Incheon airport.
Travel Restrictions: Re-entry Permit for Long-Term Foreign Residents
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.
TIP: There is 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.
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 or provide medical certificates when returning to Korea.
Getting Testing for COVID-19 in South Korea
Do I need a COVID-19 Test before flying to Korea?
YES, as of January 8th, 2021, all incoming foreign nationals to Korea must provide proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arriving in Korea. If you’re a Korean National (citizen), you will only have to provide proof if you’re coming from the U.K. or South Africa.
Prior to January 8th, 2021, Korea only required that arrivals from certain countries — like Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, or Kyrgyzstan — get tested for COVID-19 48 hours prior to arriving in Korea.
You will have to check with your local embassy to see the designated testing sites in your country are. Also, do not forget to check with your airline as they may have separate requirements regarding testing.
If you’re a foreigner on a long-term visa returning to Korea, you will also have to go to a doctor within 48 hours of your flight and get a medical certificate — a signed document from a doctor — that states that you do not have coronavirus symptoms. If you hold a Diplomats (A-1), Government Officials (A-2, A-3), or Overseas Korean (F-4) visa, you do not need to get any medical certificate.
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.
Do I need a COVID-19 Test while in 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’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.
How much is COVID-19 testing in Korea?
If you test at a local district (gu) office, the test will most likely be free if you have symptoms or self-quarantining after returning from overseas. Some hospitals may charge anywhere from 80,000 KRW to 190,000 KRW for the test. Call 1339 (KDCA) to direct you to the best location.
TIP: 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.
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 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.
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 and/or do not live in South Korea, it may cost up to 200,000 KRW to get tested.
Will my flight be cancelled to South Korea?
No one really knows. Check with your carrier and see if routes have been suspended/cancelled. 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 cancelled 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.