Guide to travelling to Korea


Many countries around the world are finally opening up their borders to travellers, and Korea is one of them. That said, Korea still has safety measures put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19. Before planning your itinerary and booking your flight tickets, refer to our guide on the things you must know before travelling to Korea.


Preparations before taking your flight


Covid-19 tests


travelling to korea - pcr testing by professional
Image credit: Gustavo Fring

Update: As of 23rd May 2022, travellers from some countries can submit the results of their supervised ART (Antigen Rapid Test) results in lieu of a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test. The ART must be taken within 24 hours prior to departure. Note that this may not apply to all countries. Check with your embassy if this regulation applies to your country.

Only PCR tests based on DNA amplification methods, as well as supervised ARTs for eligible countries, are accepted for Covid-19 tests. Self-administered tests are not valid.

Travellers must submit a negative PCR test that was performed and issued within 48 hours before departure, or a supervised negative ART that was performed and issued within 24 hours before departure.

The Covid-19 test result must be written in Korean or English. Otherwise, a verified and official translation of the test result must be provided, along with a certificate of translation from a notary office, the Korean embassy, a certified translation officer, or a certified translator.

The document must show the following information:

  • Traveller’s legal name
  • Traveller’s date of birth or passport number or ID number
  • Test method
  • Test date
  • Negative test result
  • Date of issue of result
  • Name of testing centre

Travellers will need to submit a hard copy of their negative test results upon arrival in Korea.

Travellers who are unable to provide a hard copy will not be able to leave the airport. They will be transferred to a quarantine facility, where they will be charged for their stay, until they can submit a hard copy.

travelling to korea - incheon airport boarding area with a few people
Image credit: @incheon_airport

Travellers who don’t have a hard copy of the results on hand to turn in upon arrival can print it out after entry, either at the airport or while staying at a quarantine centre.

Exemptions & Exceptions
Children under 12 years old as of the date of arrival Exempted from having to submit a negative Covid-19 result as long as all travelling with the child have submitted a valid negative Covid-19 test
Travellers who are asymptomatic and have submitted a valid negative PCR test Will need to test negative on a PCR test within one day of entry into Korea to be exempted from quarantine

Travellers whose test results are unverified or invalid will be denied entry into Korea.

People who display Covid-19 symptoms such as fever and cough will also not be allowed on board, even if they are exempted from submitting a negative test result.


Q-CODE System


travelling to korea - entry into korea q-code system
Image credit: @incheon_airport

Q-CODE is a process established by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) to make tourists’ entry into Korea more convenient.

Travellers will have to input their personal information regarding their trip and Covid-19 status into the system, which will be encoded as a QR code.

The information needed includes:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid email address
  • Valid airline ticket
  • Valid negative PCR test result

If available,

  • Valid Covid-19 vaccination certificate
  • Valid quarantine exemption issue
  • Health condition information

travelling to korea - incheon airport entrance
Image credit: @incheon_airport

Travellers should take note that if they need to correct any personal information after submitting the form, they must re-do the application process to receive a new QR Code.

Note that the Q-CODE does not guarantee quarantine and entry to Korea. Officers of quarantine and immigration control will have the final say on one’s entry and quarantine.

travelling to korea - incheon airport airstar avenue
Image credit: @incheon_airport

Inputting false or inaccurate information into the Q-CODE system could result in a penalty or denial of entry into Korea.

Travellers should submit their Q-CODE to the airline personnel upon boarding in their home country, and to the quarantine officer at entry inspection in Korea.

Visit the Q-CODE website for more information and to generate a QR-code.

travelling to korea - q-code application overview
Flowchart of the Q-CODE application process.
Image adapted from: Q-CODE


Getting a Korean SIM card


travelling to korea - incheon airport boarding area
Image credit: @incheon_airport

It’s best to have a Korean SIM card on hand before arriving in Korea as a Korean phone number is needed for official documents.

Ensure that your phone isn’t locked to a specific telecom company or country by contacting your cell carrier.

You can purchase a local Korean SIM card online or in Korea. There are three main mobile service providers in Korea: SK Telecom, LG (U-Plus/U+), and KT Olleh.

travelling to korea - kt olleh, lg and sk telecom logos
Image adapted from: KT Olleh, LG, SK Telecom

You can purchase SIM cards online through the two commonly used online SIM shopping websites, Korea SIM card and KT Roaming.

They sell various SIM cards from different telecommunications companies, as well as WiFi routers, which can be sent to your home or picked up at Incheon Airport.

You can also purchase SIM cards in Korea from convenience stores or at the airport’s roaming service counter after you’ve cleared immigration.


Applying for K-ETA


travelling to korea - k-eta logo
Image adapted from: K-ETA

Since Korea has temporarily limited visa-free travel and the visa-waiver program due to Covid-19, travellers must apply for K-ETA (Korea Electronic Travel Authorisation) before entering Korea.

Only tourists from countries that qualify under the Visa Exemption Agreement with Korea can travel to the country for leisure reasons, for a period of up to 90 days. Travellers can check their eligibility via the Visa Navigator in the Korea Visa Portal website.

Visa-free travellers have to apply for K-ETA in advance.

But the good news is that from 1st June 2022 onwards, travellers from countries that are eligible for K-ETA will be able to enter the country without needing to apply for a visa.

travelling to korea - commercial airline flying above incheon airport
Image credit: @incheon_airport

The K-ETA application should be completed at least 72 hours prior to boarding. Nevertheless, travellers should apply for the K-ETA with plenty of time in advance in case of delays.

Travellers can check their K-ETA application eligibility through the guide on their official website. As of 1st April 2022, the number of countries eligible for K-ETA application has increased from 50 to 96.

The application fee costs KRW10,000 (~USD8.17) and is non-refundable even if the application is unsuccessful.

Travellers are required to apply for a new K-ETA if there are any changes to their personal information, including their name, sex, date of birth, nationality, passport information, health condition, and criminal record. Submitting false or inaccurate information may result in penalties or denial of entry.

They are also required to update any changes to the purpose of entry, address in Korea, and contact information through the K-ETA website.

travelling to korea - korean national passport
Image credit: SookyungAn

Items needed for a K-ETA application are as follows:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid email address
  • Passport picture
  • Credit or debit card to pay the application fee

Travellers must note that the K-ETA is not a visa, and an approved application does not guarantee entry to Korea; a Korean Immigration Service Officer will have the final say on admission into the country.

A summary of the application process of a K-ETA can be found in the following flowchart:

travelling to korea - k-eta application process overview
Image adapted from: K-ETA

Travellers can also watch a tutorial video on how to apply for a K-ETA here:

How to apply for K-ETA(Korea Electronic Travel Authorization) Full information
play button
How to apply for K-ETA(Korea Electronic Travel Authorization) Full information

Video credit: 출입국・외국인정책본부 Korea Immigration


After landing in Korea


Documents needed at quarantine checkpoint


travelling to korea - incheon airport dome-like area with greenery
Image credit: @incheon_airport

Travellers who have an issued Q-CODE can use it in lieu of printed documents, but are still encouraged to have hard copies in case they are requested for verification.

These documents include a negative COVID-19 PCR test result, the health questionnaire and travel record declaration which should have been filled in onboard the flight, and passport.

Other documents that may be necessary include the quarantine exemption certificate and vaccination certificate.


Covid-19 tests


travelling to korea - incheon airport empty boarding area
Image credit: @incheon_airport

Effective from 1st June, travellers only need to take a PCR test within 3 days from arrival.

A PCR test costs KRW80,000 (~USD65.35), and the testing centre is located at Incheon Airport Passenger Terminal 1 and 2. The test result will be sent via SMS and email, which is why it’s best to have a Korean SIM card on hand.

Travellers need to bring their passport along for the testing.

More information on opening hours and exact locations can be found on Incheon Airport’s official website.

Travellers can also make reservations for a PCR test on the Safe2Go pass website.

In addition, PCR tests are available at a discounted price of KRW70,000 (~USD56.55) through the Korean National Tuberculosis Association (KNTA), which is located at Seocho-gu, Seoul. Test results will be sent to one’s personal email address.

travelling to korea - man sneezing into his elbow
Image credit: Edward Jenner

Travellers who show signs of a fever, coughing, difficulty in breathing, and other Covid-19 symptoms upon landing in Korea must take a PCR test at the Arrivals Hall or the quarantine facility.

If their test result is positive, they will be transferred to a hospital or residential treatment centre, depending on the severity of their symptoms.


Transportation to accommodation


As of 1st April 2022, exclusive modes of transportation for travellers, such as private hire cars, designated shuttle buses, designated KTX cars, and quarantine taxis, were suspended, but public transportation is still accessible for all.

These transportation modes include taxi, bus, train, and domestic flights.


Taxi transportation

travelling to korea - a garage of korean taxis
Image credit: Daehan Sangun

Travellers can hail a taxi at both major terminals in Incheon Airport.

There are four types of taxis available: international taxi, SEOUL SMART, first-class taxi, and regular taxi.

travelling to korea - korea regular taxi
Regular taxi
Image credit: Daehan Sangun

Regular taxis have a base fee of KRW3,800 (~USD3.10).

Locations of taxi stands
Destination Terminal 1 Terminal 2
Seoul Stops 5C, 6C, and 6D Stop 5C
Gyeonggi-do Stop 4D
Incheon Stops 3C and 3D

There may be an additional late-night charge of 20% from 12AM to 4AM.

 

travelling to korea - korea first-class taxi
A first-class taxi.
Image credit: Daehan Sangun

First-class taxis can fit up to nine passengers, and have a base fare KRW6,500 (~USD5.31).

They can be hailed at stops 7C and 8C at Terminal 1, and stop 5D at Terminal 2.

travelling to korea - international taxi
International taxi
Image credit: Daehan Sungun

International taxis and SEOUL SMART taxis are transportation modes exclusive to foreigners as they are officially designated to provide foreign languages services. These taxis can be found at stop 4C in Terminal 1, and at stop 1C in Terminal 2.

 

travelling to korea - korean international taxi signage
What the roof toplight and side door of an international taxi or a SEOUL SMART taxi looks like
Image credit: International Taxi Service

Pro-tip: International taxis and SEOUL SMART taxis can be identified by the words “International Taxi”, which are printed on the roof toplight and sides of the vehicle.

Travellers can call for an international taxi at 1644-2255, or make a reservation at least 24 hours beforehand on their website.

They can also call for a SEOUL SMART cab at 032-743-2357.

travelling to korea - korea disability accessible taxi
A disability-accessible taxi.
Image credit: Seoul Metropolitan Government

Disability-accessible taxis can be reserved by calling 1577-0320 for an Incheon Transit Corporation Disabled Reservation Taxi, or 1588-4388 for a Seoul Facilities Corporation Disable Reservation Taxi.


Call-van transportation

travelling to korea - korea call=vans
Image credit: Korea Van Rental

Travellers with a lot of luggage can ride a call-van, which can carry up to five passengers carrying 20kg of baggage per person. In Korea, a call-van refers to a private hire minivan.

Terminal 1 Terminal 2
Information desk Near exit 13 Near exit 4
Call-van stand Stop 10C Stop 6D
Telephone 032-743-0828 032-743-0831

The fee for call-vans is charged by metre and may vary based on the amount of baggage you have, and they operate from 8AM to 9PM all year round. Do note that in some cases, you will have to negotiate with the driver for the fee before you board.


Bus transportation

travelling to korea - incheon airport airport bus
Image credit: Korea Tourism Organisation

The airport bus service provides rides to major areas in Seoul and other provinces such as Gyeonggi, Jeolla, and Gangwon.

Bus fares range from KRW1,300 (~USD1.06) to KRW37,600 (~USD30.71), depending on distance and travel time.

Terminal 1 Terminal 2
Where to board the buses 1F 1F, B1F
Where to purchase bus tickets & get more information
  • Ticketing offices next to Exit 4 and 9 in Arrival Hall Floor 1
  • Outdoor offices next to Exit 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, and 9C
The 2nd Transportation Centre on B1F

For more information on the bus stops and buses, check Incheon Airport’s official website.

Tickets can be pre-booked through Tmoney’s website and the Integrated Express Bus website.


Airport Railway Express (AREX)

travelling to korea - incheon airport arex train platform
Image credit: @incheon_airport

There are two types of trains offered by AREX – the express train and all-stop train.

The express train goes non-stop between Incheon Airport and Seoul Station, while the all-stop trains are commuter trains that stop at all 14 stations between Incheon Airport and Seoul Station.
Due to the pandemic, the express trains only arrive every 30 minutes to an hour. The all-stop trains leave every five to ten minutes.

travelling to korea - arex express train
Image credit: AREX

The journey time from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station on an express train takes anywhere from 43 to 51 minutes.

An express train ticket costs KRW9,500 (~USD7.76) for adults and KRW7,500 (~USD6.13) for children.

Tickets for express trains can be bought at the Information Centre in both terminals of the airport, or at an auto ticket machine. Payment can be made with cash or credit card.

Various domestic and foreign credit cards, including VISA, Mastercard, JCB, Diners Club International, American Express, and UnionPay, can be used to purchase a ticket.

travelling to korea - arex all-stop train
Image credit: AREX

The fare for all-stop trains is calculated by adding the basic fare and the distance fare, and can range from KRW1,250 (~USD1.02) to KRW4,750 (~USD3.88).

Passengers can take the all-stop train with three types of cards: the single journey card, transportation card, and commutation ticket.

These cards can be purchased from most convenience stores, and can be topped up at ticket vending machines and customer centres in train stations.

travelling to korea - arex map
AREX map
Image credit: AREX


While holidaying in Korea


Testing Covid-19 positive during stay


travelling to korea - covid art test
Image credit: analogicus

Update: As of 23rd May 2022, those who enter South Korea no longer have to take an ART within six to seven days of their arrival, although it is recommended by the government.

Travellers who suspect themselves to have Covid-19 symptoms should call 1339 for inquiries, take a self-administered ART or visit a nearby medical clinic or COVID-19 testing centre.

You can also call the 1330 Korea Travel Hotline (82-2-1330) for more clarification.

If you are Covid-19 positive, refrain from going outside and call a health centre or the 1339 call centre first for counselling. Foreign language services are available.

travelling to korea - facial mask
Image credit: leo2014

Follow the instructions provided by the 1339 call centre, wear a face mask, and visit a medical institution that operates a screening station. Upon arrival, let the medical staff know that you’re a tourist.

Suspected cases will be moved to an isolation area within the screening site for a supervised Covid-19 testing. If you test negative, you have to undergo 14 days of mandatory isolation from the last date of contact with a confirmed case. If the test is positive, the appropriate treatment will be provided depending on your symptoms and condition.


Korea’s measures to tackle the pandemic


travelling to korea - street view of korea
Image credit: Ethan Brooke

As of 19th April 2022, the midnight curfew for most businesses has been lifted, and private gatherings no longer have a limit of 10 people.

Starting from 25th April 2022, eating in cinemas and other indoor public facilities, including stadiums, is allowed.

However, you must still wear a mask at all times when onboard all modes of public transportation, and when not consuming food in an eatery. You must also wear a mask indoors at all times, and as well as outdoors if the place is too crowded and safe-distancing measures are not possible.

travelling to korea - using qr-code at a cafe
Image credit: Tim Douglas

It is no longer a must to scan any QR codes, show a vaccination pass, or measure body temperature to enter attractions or eateries.

However, do remember to comply with temperature checks and hand-sanitising procedures, where required by owners.

We recommend checking Naver Maps for the opening hours and dates of specific facilities and attractions, since these may fluctuate due to updated safety measures.


Places to stay


travelling to korea - lotte hotel seoul
Image credit: LOTTE HOTEL SEOUL

Most accommodations, including hotels, hostels, and homestays such as Airbnb, are available for tourists.

However, as of 10th December 2020, travellers must present their passport or a travel document to the owner of the accommodation facility, in accordance with rules set by the Korea Immigration Service.

A breach of this requirement will merit a fine up to KRW500,000 (~USD408.44) to be imposed.


For unvaccinated travellers


If you are unable to get vaccinated due to medical or personal reasons, note that even if you have a valid negative PCR test result upon arrival in Korea, you still have to test negative in a temporary residential facility and quarantine for a week. The expenses for staying in this quarantine facility has to be fully covered by you.


All you need to know about travelling to Korea in 2022


Travelling amidst the pandemic is a new normal that all of us have to get used to. From multiple Covid-19 tests to all sorts of restrictions, these safety measures may seem overwhelming at first. However, these guidelines are necessary to ensure everyone’s health and safety. Just take note of the steps in our guide to travelling to Korea in 2022, and have fun planning your trip!

Also check out:


Cover image adapted from: @incheon_airport, @koreanairworld and Polina Tankilevitch

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