South Korea International Travel Information

Criminal Penalties: While in Korea, you are subject to local laws. If you violate Korean laws, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Be aware that:

  • Immigration violations can lead to arrest, fines, and deportation.
  • There is little tolerance for illegal drugs.
  • If you mail illegal drugs to/ from Korea, you will be prosecuted.
  • Commercial disputes may lead to criminal charges being filed under local laws.

Be aware that some crimes are prosecutable in the United States, regardless of local law. For examples, see our website on crimes against minors abroad and the Department of Justice website.

Arrest Notification: If you are arrested or detained, ask officials to notify the Embassy. See our webpage for further information.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Dual Nationality and Military Conscription: Dual national males (including U.S. service members) may be subject to compulsory military service. If you have family ties to South Korea, consult the nearest Korean Embassy or Consulate or the Korean Military Manpower Administration regarding potential citizenship obligations before entering South Korea.

Passport Seizures and Exit Bans: If you are involved in a criminal investigation or commercial dispute, authorities may seize your passport and/or block your departure. While we may reissue a passport, we cannot lift an exit ban.

Exit Permits: Exit permits are not generally required. However, if a parent requests a travel restriction on his/her child, Korean authorities may prevent that child from departing even when traveling with the other parent.

International Child Abduction: See our website for information related to the prevention of international child abduction

Teaching English: The U.S. Embassy Seoul consular website has detailed information about obtaining an E-2 visa to teach English. Prospective teachers must submit a criminal records check (only FBI checks accepted) and a health certificate. The Embassy does not provide criminal records checks or fingerprinting services and does not authenticate criminal records checks or health certificates. Have these documents prepared before coming to Korea.

Complaints by English teachers:

  • Contract disputes, misrepresentation of benefits, no insurance
  • Working conditions/hours, living arrangements
  • Threats of arrest/deportation
  • Sexual harassment, racial prejudice

Complaints about English teachers:

  • Fraudulent applications/documents
  • Lack of professionalism
  • Use of illicit drugs

Working in South Korea: If working, including teaching or modeling, you must enter with the appropriate work visa. It is not possible to change your visa status without leaving the country. If you begin work without the appropriate visa, you may be arrested, fined, and/or deported. If you are working without a valid work permit and get into a contractual dispute with your employer, you have little legal recourse.

Students: See our Students Abroad page and FBI travel tips.

Women Travelers: See our travel tips for Women Travelers.

ROK National Security Law: Authorities may detain, arrest, and imprison persons believed to have committed acts intended to endanger the “security of the state,” including statements deemed to praise the political system and/or officials of the DPRK. 

Customs Regulations: There is strict enforcement of regulations on importing and exporting items such as firearms, narcotics and prescription drugs, non-prescription health supplements, radio equipment, and gold. Importation of materials deemed to be obscene, subversive, or harmful to the public peace is also restricted.

See the Korean Customs Regulations website for complete information.

LGBTI Travelers: Consensual same-sex sexual activity is not criminalized. Korea is a conservative country in regards to LGBTI issues. However, there are an increasing number of LGBTI-oriented clubs, festivals and NGOs advocating for LGBTI issues. The ROK National Human Rights Commission Act prohibits discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation, but there are no laws specifying punishment for persons found to have discriminated on this basis. Same-sex marriages are not recognized. Korean citizens can legally change their gender identity.

See our LGBTI Travel Information page and section 6 of the Department of State’s Human Rights report for further details.

Mobility Issues: Korean law mandates access to transportation, communication, and public buildings. Cross walks typically have audio and visual signals. Older buildings and streets are generally less accessible than modern ones. Metro cars and buses in Seoul offer priority seating for the disabled and most metro stations have elevators. Metro platforms include Korean Braille information. Contact individual bus companies and subway associations for specific information. Foreign residents are eligible for disability assistance from local ward offices; assistance varies by ward.

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