A Traveler’s Guide to Visiting South Korea
In 2019, South Korea had approximately 17.5 million inbound visitors. That number includes first-time visitors or recurring tourists that just found themselves returning to the country once again, amazed by its ancient palaces, modern cities, rich culture, food, and unique art forms.
In 2020, however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, inbound visitors to South Korea decreased by 85%, with the country only having 2.5 million visitors that year. It’s understandable though. South Korea has to take extreme measures to ensure that they control the virus, even if that includes banning flights in and out of the country.
When the pandemic’s over and the world is at peace, I’m sure we’ll have our travel goals planted and ready for takeoff.
And if you’ve been wanting to visit South Korea, here’s a quick guide on how to travel to the country.
South Korea’s Visa Requirements
Do I need a visa for South Korea?
Yes, you need a visa to visit South Korea. However, if you are from one of the visa-free countries, including EU countries, Canada, Australia, and the United States, you can enter South Korea without a visa for short-term visits.
For the list of visa-free countries, click here.
If you are not from any of the countries that can enter South Korea without a visa, then you need to go through the proper procedure.
How to Apply for your South Korean visa?
The application process is as follows:
- Find the South Korean Embassy or Consulate in your area.
- Submit the South Korea visa application.
- Wait for the application to be processed.
- After the application is processed, you need to go back to the office of the Diplomatic Representation
- If your visa is approved, it will be affixed to your passport.
In Step 2 (refer to the application process mentioned), you need to submit several documents. The South Korea visa requirement will vary depending on the type of visa you are applying for, but the basic set of documents required are:
- South Korea Visa Application Form
- Your passport (valid for another 6 months and has two blank pages)
- Passport size picture(s)
- Photo size has to be 3.5cm x 4.5cm
- White background
- Should be taken recently (in the last three months)
- Neutral face expression, staring straight ahead
- Fully visible face and ears
- Not wearing glasses
- A return or onward flight ticket
- Proof of sufficient funds, such as bank statement or income tax returns
- Proof of accommodation in South Korea, such as bank reservations
- Payment of South Korea visa fee
Flight Cost to South Korea
Like all the cities in the world, South Korea’s airfare varies drastically, depending on the time of the year you are planning on visiting. Chuseok, Korea’s harvest festival, which is held in September is an expensive time of the year to visit the country.
But on average, a round-trip won’t cost less than $1,000, but better and more high-end airlines are likely to charge up to $1,500.
You can get a relatively good deal if you are planning ahead of time. You can compare prices from different airlines, as well as get cheaper tickets for flights scheduled months or a year ahead.
If we base it on the theory of supply and demand, South Korea’s a popular country for travelers and tourists. Because it is often visited, airlines will usually charge tickets to the country more expensive compared to others.
Flight Duration to South Korea
If you are from Asia, the flight duration is from 2 hours (from Japan) up to 11 hours (Kuwait). If you are traveling from the United States, the flight time is between 13-14 hours while Australia to South Korea is 10-11 hours. If you are from the EU countries, flight duration varies from 8 hours (from Moscow) to 16 hours (Amsterdam).
Important Apps for Tourists
South Korea has its own set of mobile applications that natives use daily. And if you are visiting, it’s only right that you blend with the use of technology.
Kakao Talk or also known as KKT is the main messaging app used in South Korea. With Wi-fi, the application can send messages, call, send photos and videos, and has tons of cute stickers and emojis. The app is free and can be used even outside South Korea, given that the person you are contacting uses Kakao Talk too.
Naver Map is the Google Maps of South Korea and it even has features that Google Maps doesn’t offer. You can use the app to navigate around the city, check bus arrival times, and even read reviews right on the application itself.
Since Google Maps doesn’t work as well as it should in South Korea, it is recommended that you use Naver Map instead. The app is more attuned to South Korea’s areas and is bound to give you a more accurate location.
As of March 2018, the app is available in English and Chinese.
A popular mode of transportation in South Korea is through the subway but the complicated subway system can be quite overwhelming for tourists.
The good news comes from an app called Subway Korea, which shows the 5 major cities (Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Daegu, and Gwangju) and the cities’ corresponding subways.
To use the app, you can just simply indicate the station you are departing from and the station you wish to go to. The app will show you the shortest and most efficient route to take. It also shows the time of the when the next train will arrive.
If you wish to know other modes of transportation in South Korea, you can read more about it here: Getting Around and Transportation in South Korea
Naver Korean Dictionary and Translate is one of the first Korean translator apps. Behind this app is the developer of South Korea’s number one search engine, Naver and is the Korean translator app that delivers the most accurate complete Korean to English and vice versa translations.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is South Korea expensive?
South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is a pricy destination, especially for accommodations. But that’s a norm for every other country out there. The capital and the center of the country will always be the most pricy to visit. Aside from that, other locations in South Korea are affordable.
In other cities, such as Busan and Daegu, you can get a spacious room for two in a quality hotel, including breakfast, for as low as $70. However, good luck with Seoul. For $70, you’re most likely to get a cramped room in an average hotel, with no breakfast.
However, don’t let that stop you. You might be getting a tiny room to sleep to but you’re surely sleeping with a full tummy as food all around South Korea can be cheap and healthy. Every corner, you’ll be able to find small, family-run restaurants that offer delicious South Korean dishes for as low as $5 a dish.
Based on the spendings of other visitors, on average, a tourist spends around ₩118,323 ($103) per day. With the cost of ₩30,541 ($27) on meals for one day and ₩17,227 ($15) on local transportation.
- How’s the climate and weather in South Korea?
South Korea has wild weather. You can be freezing during December and January but sweat from head to toe during July and August.
You can read more about South Korea’s weather and climate here: When is the Best Time to visit South Korea?
- Is South Korea safe?
Yes, South Korea is a very safe country to visit. The crime rate is low and there is a strong police presence in the downtown areas. The country even has a special task force for foreigners, with the unit being in charge of providing information to tourists and catering to their complaints.
Of course, small crimes happen and you should keep an eye on your belongings at all times.