Countries around the world are slowly and steadily reopening to tourists and leisure travel. Since 2020, South Korea has steadily climbed the ladder of pop culture darling thanks to its catchy music, aesthetic cinema and jaw-dropping TV shows, and many travelers look forward to the day when they can step into the country.
Although South Korea is open to tourism and no longer imposes quarantine on travelers regardless of their vaccination status, the country still has some Covid-19 regulations in place and has changed some of its visa regulations over the course of of the last two years. Once you arrive, also pick up some of these general tips and tricks for an enjoyable and hopefully stress-free stay in South Korea!
Checklist before departure
There are plenty of things you can do before your trip that will allow for a smoother entry into the country with regards to both Covid-19 regulations and visa requirements. You’ll need a few papers before boarding, but you’ll be grateful you did!
Although South Korea lifted its quarantine for vaccinated travelers in spring 2022 and recently lifted its quarantine for all travelers regardless of vaccination status, the country still requires a recent Covid-19 test. You can take a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) within 1 calendar day after your trip Where a PCR test performed within two calendar days of travel. Either test must be administered by a medical professional, which means that home tests or self-administered test results will not be valid for boarding the plane to Korea. from South. This is true for all travelers over the age of 6.
Upon arrival in South Korea, a traveler must take another PCR test within 3 days of arriving in the country, regardless of their vaccination status or age. Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN) is offering PCR testing with two locations in Terminal 1 and one location in Terminal 2. Locations in Terminal 1 are open 24 hours starting July 1. You have the option to book a PCR test on arrival through the Safe 2 Go Pass system. For this system, in addition to recording your Covid-19 history, you will need the address of where you are staying and a South Korean phone number, so have your hotel or rental number at hand. Covid tests at the airport cost 80,000 KRW (about 80 USD). While there may be cheaper options at pharmacies around town, airport testing is likely to be one of the easiest to access. Test results should be returned to you within one day.
South Korea also no longer requires you to carry a Covid-19 vaccine passport with you to enter stores or eat in restaurants, however, masks are still required in many indoor locations, so be sure take it in your hand luggage. Although you don’t need proof of vaccination to enjoy South Korea, having one makes it easier to clear immigration at the airport. Vaccinated travelers can register for a Q-Code from the Quarantine Information Advance Entry System.
On the application, you enter all relevant information, including passport information, vaccination status, where you are staying, and health status. Once your registration has been processed, you will receive a Q-code electronically which you will present to immigration upon arrival. It is just another level of Covid-19 security that the country has preserved from days of quarantine. Having a Q-Code allows you to get through immigration faster and easier, rather than having to manually present all your Covid-19 documents at the airport.
Since September 2021, all travellers, despite their visa-exempt passports, must register with the South Korean government. If you are from one of the 50 visa-exempt countries (including the United States), you can register online with the K-ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) system. The registration fee is around 10 USD and you must apply for the K-ETA at least 72 hours before your flight to South Korea. The K-ETA allows visa-free travel for up to 90 days for short stays, business trips or leisure trips.
There are still 130 countries for which you still need to apply for an official visa. To do this, please consult your local embassy!
Once arrived in South Korea
If you’re flying into Seoul, Incheon Airport is actually quite a distance from most major areas of Seoul. The easiest, but perhaps the most expensive way to travel is to pre-book a private airport transfer. You can hail a taxi once you arrive at the airport, however queues at taxi ranks can be long and prices very high. To avoid this, use websites like Trazy.com to find highly rated companies with decent prices. If you are traveling with several people who each have some luggage, a private transfer is the solution.
If you’re willing to brave public transport, there are two main ways to get to Seoul. The first is the airport bus, with fares ranging from $4 to $16 depending on the route and level of “luxury” you choose. Ticket offices are located in the airport terminals around the arrivals hall and routes can be viewed on the Incheon Airport website. Some companies also make reservations online in advance through the airport’s website. These buses have stops throughout the city and run between 15 and 40 minutes depending on the destination.
You can also take the train directly from both terminals; there are two trains, an all-stop train and an express train. Although you are lucky enough to be staying directly on this train line, you will most likely need to connect from the airport railway to one of the metro lines. If you are staying near Seoul Station, i.e. at the very end of the Airport Railway, it will take you about an hour to get there from Terminal 2 on the hop-on hop-off train. You can also use this train for an inter-airport transfer to Gimpo Airport. If you’re traveling light, this is the way to go.