Asia and Oceania

Korea (Republic of) Flag of Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

Still current at: 10 June 2008
Updated: 09 June 2008

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Summary (demonstrations against US beef: 1 million demonstrators expected on 10 June). The overall level of the advice has not changed.

(see travel advice legal disclaimer)


Travel advice for this country


Travel Summary

  • A series of large demonstrations against US beef imports have been taking place in the City Hall/Seoul Plaza/Cheonggyecheon Stream area of central Seoul, and more are planned.  The demonstrations have been largely peaceful and there is a large police presence, but roads are likely to be blocked or heavily congested and visitors are advised to avoid the area during the protests.  On Tuesday 10 June, the 21st anniversary of the first democratic elections, South Korean officials are expecting up to 1 million people to take to the streets in central Seoul.  Visitors currently staying in hotels in the area (such as the Seoul Plaza, Westin Chosun, Lotte and Koreana) are advised to remain indoors and away from ground-floor public areas if they feel uncomfortable or if violence occurs.  Observe any advice given by hotel staff and local police.

  • It is recommended that if you come to South Korea for longer than two weeks you should register with the Consular Section of the British Embassy.  You should also follow developments in the region closely.  See the General (Registering with the British Embassy) section of this advice for more details.

  • It is not possible to enter North Korea from South Korea.

  • There is a low threat from terrorism.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

  • Many British nationals visit South Korea every year.  Most visits are trouble-free. The main type of incident for which British nationals required consular assistance in South Korea in 2007 were replacing lost or stolen passports.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  See the General (Insurance) section of this advice and Travel Insurance for more details.

Safety and security

Terrorism

There is a low threat from terrorism.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
 
For further information see Terrorism Abroad. 
 
Crime
 
Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low, there is a higher incidence of pick-pocketing, purse snatching, assault, burglary (in hotel rooms and private residences), and other crime in major metropolitan areas, such as Seoul and Busan, than elsewhere in Korea.  Exercise normal safety precautions and ensure valuables are secure.  You should exercise normal safety precautions and ensure your valuables are secure, especially in known tourist areas, such as Itaewon and other large market areas.

Incidents of rape have been reported in popular nightlife districts of Seoul, as well as in private residences.  You should exercise caution when travelling alone at night and you should use only legitimate taxis or public transportation.  For more information see Assault, Sexual Assault and Rape Overseas

For emergency assistance, call 112 for police (an interpretation service is available during working hours) and 119 for ambulance and fire.  The Korean National Police operates a 24-hour, seven day a week Central Interpretation Centre where foreigners can report crimes (in Seoul Tel:  313-0842; elsewhere Tel:  +2-313 0842).
 
For more general information see Victims of Crime Abroad.
 
Political Situation
 
Republic of Korea Country Profile.
 
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean peninsula has been divided in two by a de-militarised zone separating South and North Korea.  Peace has been maintained under an Armistice Agreement.  Tensions can arise on the peninsula from time to time, for example following a nuclear test conducted by North Korea last year.  However, at the time of writing the situation is stable.
 
Demonstrations
 
Demonstrations are common in South Korea. They are normally peaceful, however in the past some have become violent.
 
Local Travel
 
It is not possible for you to travel directly to North Korea from South Korea.

Taxi drivers tend to speak little or no English.  Have your destination written in Korean, with a map for private addresses, as it can be difficult to locate them otherwise.
 
Road Travel
 
An International Driving Permit is needed to drive in South Korea.  You should ensure that you also have fully comprehensive insurance.
 
South Korea has one of the highest rates of traffic death in the world. In 2005 there were 6,376 road deaths in South Korea (source: DfT).  This equates to 13.2 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 5.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2005.  Car and motorbike drivers are presumed to be at fault in accidents involving motorcycles or pedestrians.  Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common when accidents result in injury, even if guilt is not proved. You should watch out for motorcycles travelling at speed on pavements.
 
For further information see Driving Abroad.
 
Air Travel
 
The revised aviation security measures that came into effect for all passengers departing from UK airports in November 2006 are also being implemented in South Korea.  For more details about this please see:  DfT - Airline Security Update
 
The European Commission has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the European Union. This is regularly updated. You should check the following link to see whether this will affect your travel: http://ec.europa.eu/transport/air-ban/list_en.htm. At the time of writing no South Korean airlines feature on this list.

Local laws and customs

English is not widely spoken in South Korea.
 
You are subject to local laws, which can be more severe than in the UK for similar offences.  A serious violation may lead to a jail or a death sentence.
 
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs can result in long jail sentences and heavy fines.  This applies even to personal use of small amounts of marijuana.  British nationals have been detained solely on the basis of drug tests.
 
Any jail sentence would be served in South Korea.  Often, usually where less serious offences are concerned, convicted foreigners may instead be deported.  The same may apply to foreigners convicted of offences not involving a prison sentence.  If you are deported you may be banned from returning to South Korea for several years.
 
You should carry some form of identification at all times and ensure your next-of-kin details have been entered into the back of your passport.
 
There is no legal barrier to homosexual relationships, but some prejudice exists among the older generation.  Younger Koreans are more liberal and gay rights organisations are gaining support.  The gay scene, although relatively small, is well established and growing in visibility.
 
For more general information for different types of travellers see Travel Advice Relevant to You

Entry requirements

Visas
 
Holders of British Citizen passports can enter South Korea for tourist purposes for up to 90 days without a visa. You must also have an onward or return ticket.

Visas are required for all other purposes.  It is illegal to work on a tourist visa in South Korea, whether as a teacher or in any other capacity.  If you wish to work you should contact the nearest South Korean Diplomatic Mission before you travel for information on obtaining the appropriate documentation.  In addition, you should research the educational establishment or company where you intend to work as thoroughly as possible.  Please see the General section of this travel advice if you are considering a teaching job in South Korea.

Holders of all other types of British passport should contact the nearest South Korean Diplomatic Mission before travelling.
 
Passport validity
 
Your passport should be valid for at least six months after the date you intend to enter South Korea.
 
British males of Korean origin
 
If you are a British male of Korean origin, whose name appears on your Korean family register, you should be aware that you may be liable for military service, even if travelling on your British passport.
 
Travelling with children
 
Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.  For further information on exactly what will be required at immigration please contact the nearest South Korean Diplomatic Mission.

Health

Medical and dental care in South Korea is usually of a good standard but can be expensive.  Staff often do not speak English.

In the 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 13,000 adults aged 15 or over in South Korea were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at less than 0.1% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%.  You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. For more general information on how to do this see HIV and AIDS.

You should seek medical advice before travelling to South Korea and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland’s Fit for Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
 
For more general health information see Travel Health.
 
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
 
There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in domestic poultry across South Korea since 1 April 2008. The initial outbreaks were concentrated in poultry farms and livestock markets in rural areas, but more recently outbreaks have also been found in urban areas. The Korean authorities have held extensive culling exercises and established poultry quarantine zones and movement controls around the outbreaks. The Korean authorities are on the alert for any further outbreaks. No human infections or deaths have been reported.

The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low. As a precaution you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of the possibility that the Avian Influenza outbreaks could lead at some point to a human flu pandemic, if a virus mutates to a form which is easily transmissible between people.

For more information please visit: Avian Influenza Factsheet 

General

Insurance
 
We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before departure. You should ensure that your insurance covers the costs of medical repatriation if you need complex hospital treatment.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.
 
Mobile phones
 
Mobile telephones purchased outside South Korea will not normally work in the country. For those visiting South Korea phones can be rented at the airport on arrival.
 
Registering with the British Embassy
 
If you are staying for more than two weeks, we strongly encourage you to register with the Consular Section of the British Embassy.  You can also find contingency guidance information on the Consular Services Section of the British Embassy website (http://www.britishembassy.or.kr)
 
Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.  More information about registering with LOCATE can be found here.
 
Money
 
The local currency is the South Korean Won.  It is almost impossible to change Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes.  Credit cards are not always accepted outside major cities.  ATMs, whilst widely available do not always accept foreign cards.  ATM’s with a sign saying “Global” will normally accept foreign cards.
 
Employment
 
If you are considering a teaching job in South Korea, you should note that it is not possible to obtain a visa to teach English in South Korea without a three-year university degree – a TEFL qualification alone is insufficient.  If you are found to have obtained a teaching visa by submitting fraudulent documents, even if unknowingly produced by a third party, you will be detained and deported.  You should also be aware that complaints are frequently received from British nationals teaching English in South Korea about problems arising from living or working conditions that do not meet expectations and complications, and over obtaining the correct visas and residence permits.  There have also been complaints of breach of contract, confiscation of passports, and of payment being withheld also of inadequate or no medical insurance.  Check that all terms and conditions of employment are clearly stated before accepting an offer and signing a contract.  Where possible ask to speak to other teachers from the educational establishment when you plan to work before accepting any offer.  You should note that written contracts are not necessarily considered binding documents and verbal agreements often take precedence.  It is illegal to work in South Korea on a tourist visa.  For those in possession of a work visa all employment changes must be authorised by Korean Immigration.

Travel advice for this country

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contacts

British Embassy, Seoul

Address:

British Embassy
Taepyeongno 40
4 Jeong-dong
Jung-gu
Seoul 100-120

Telephone:

(82) (2) 3210 5500
(82) (2) 3210 5653 Consular and Visa

Fax:

(82) (2) 725 1738
(82) (2) 736 6241 Commercial
(82) (2) 3210 5528 Defence
(82) (2) 738 2797 Economic and Science/Technology/Environment
(82) (2) 720 4928 Press & Public Affairs
(82) (2) 735 7473 Political
(82) (2) 3210 5653 Consular

Office hours:

GMT:
Mon-Thur: 0000-0815
Fri: 0000-0800

Local Time:
Mon-Thur: 0900-1715
Fri: 0900-1700

Website: http://www.uk.or.kr/