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Republic of Korea (South Korea)

If you’re travelling to the Republic of Korea (South Korea), our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information.

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

Overview

Security status

We advise you to take normal precautions.

Latest travel alert

There have been several large scale demonstrations in Seoul recently. The largest demonstrations take place in Seoul Plaza and Gwanghwamun in central Seoul on Saturday afternoons. Demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, but it is advisable to monitor local media, follow the advice of local authorities and exercise caution in crowded areas.

Emergency Assistance

The best help is often close at hand so if you have problems, start by talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management. 

You can contact the emergency services in South Korea by dialling 112.

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide

Safety and security

Political situation

The political situation in South Korea is stable. Political and student demonstrations occur from time to time which can disrupt traffic, and sometimes there are violent clashes. Demonstrations tend to occur in city centre areas. Monitor local media, follow the advice of local authorities and exercise caution.

An armistice continues in effect between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The border between North and South Korea, the Demilitarised Zone or DMZ, is one of the most heavily-fortified borders in the world. Relations between the two jurisdictions on the peninsula are subject to various degrees of tension, notably naval clashes in the Western Sea. However, the situation at this stage does not merit any cautionary advice about travelling to South Korea, although travel in the waters near the Northern Limit Line is not advisable. Always keep yourself informed of what’s going on around you by monitoring local media and staying in contact with your hotel or tour organiser.

Terrorism

South Korea has not been a target for terrorism in recent years, although North Korea has been accused of terrorist acts in the past.

Crime

Crime remains relatively low in South Korea but you should take sensible precautions. 

  • Don’t carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together - leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place 
  • Leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home

Reporting a crime

If you’re a victim of a crime while in South Korea, report it to the local police immediately. And you can contact us at the Irish Embassy or Consulate/Honorary Consul if you need help. Call 112 for police (an interpretation service is available during working hours).

Driving

The rules of the road in South Korea are broadly similar to those in Ireland. Excellent motorways link all major cities, but minor roads are often badly maintained. Road signs are usually written in both Korean and English.

If you want to drive, bring your international driving licence and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance

Hiring a vehicle

If you’re hiring a vehicle, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you’re allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.

Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).

National exercises

The South Korean authorities normally hold nationwide civil emergency exercises on the 15th day of the month, eight times a year (not January, February, July or December). Sirens are sounded, transport stopped and some people are asked to take shelter in metro stations or basements. You should check local announcements for further exercises.

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal.

Courtesy is highly valued in Korea, and there is a strong social hierarchy, with respect for the elderly. There are specific seats reserved for the elderly on the subway systems. Reserved behaviour in public is the norm.  Homosexual relationships are not illegal, but public displays of affection are not commonplace. LGBT groups are gaining visibility but any public gatherings are likely to be met with counter protests from conservative groups.

Illegal drugs

Illegal drug use (no matter what the drug) carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms. 

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 Central Interpretation Centre where foreigners can report crimes (through 112).

Language

English is not widely spoken in South Korea so a phrase book can be very useful when you want to communicate essentials.

In general, taxi drivers do not speak English, though some companies offer in-car translation. It is best to have written directions (in Korean) and a map. 

Public transport

Some Korean taxi drivers are sometimes reluctant to pick up foreigners and this reluctance can be exacerbated at night or during inclement weather. Given often-heavy traffic conditions, you should get advice about travel times. 

The Seoul metro and bus network are excellent forms of transport: quick, cheap and extensive. Ticket machines operate in English as well as Korean.

Moving to South Korea

If you are moving to South Korea or have recently moved to South Korea, it can take some time to adapt to your new surroundings. Please refer to following information and useful links which might help you adapting yourself to the new surroundings.

Teaching English in South Korea

The majority of Irish nationals working in Korea are teaching English in private language institutes, public schools or universities. For further advice regarding teaching English in Korea, see here.

1345 Immigration Contact Centre

Irish nationals seeking information about where/how to apply for or renew Korean working visas should contact the nearest Korean Embassy where they are currently residing, if they do not live in Korea. In the event they are already residing in Korea, they should contact a branch office of the Korean Immigration Service in their region, or contact the 1345 Immigration Contact Centre. Multilingual visa & immigration information services to expatriates in Korea are provided by the Korean e-Government for Foreigners.

Social Security Agreement between Ireland and Korea

On Thursday 1 January, 2009 an agreement between Ireland and the Republic of Korea came into effect. Its purpose is to enable persons who have paid social insurance in both countries, but have too few contributions in one country for a pension, to receive a pension on the basis of their combined periods of social insurance contributions.

It also allows a person to retain cover under their home country's legislation if they are sent to work temporarily for the same employer or a subsidiary company in the other country for a period of up to 5 years.

Please see the information leaflet for additional information. The relevant agency in Republic of Korea is the National Pension Service and in Ireland it is the Department of Social Protection.

Double Taxation Agreement between Ireland and RoK

Ireland and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) signed, in Dublin, on 18 July, 1990 a Convention for the avoidance of Double Taxation and the prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income and Capital Gains.

The Convention or Double Taxation Agreement provides for the allocation of taxing rights between the two countries and for the granting of relief from double taxation with regard to items of income and capital gains which, under the laws of both countries, may be taxed in both.

For further information.

If you have detailed questions then you should seek expert professional advice.

USEFUL LINKS

Irish Organisations and Societies

You may find it helpful to meet with other Irish citizens who are part of a local organisation or business network. There are a small number of Irish organisations and societies in South Korea:

Travel to Korea:

Study in Korea:

Work and Live in Korea:

Business and Economy in Korea:

Additional information

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

If you’re unsure of the entry requirements for South Korea, including visa and other immigration information, ask your travel agent or contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of South Korea.

You can also check with them how long your passport must be valid for.

The Korean Immigration Service (KIS) formally announced that from 1 January 2012 all non-Korean nationals, with some limited exceptions, must provide biometric information on entering the Republic of Korea. You can find out more from the KIS.

Personal identification

You should carry personal ID with you at all times. We recommend that you fill in the personal identification and next-of-kin information in the back of your passport. It is advisable to take a number of photocopies of your passport with you. During your stay, you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times.

Health

Check with your doctor well in advance of travelling to see if you need any vaccinations for South Korea.

Visiting a hospital

There are international clinics at the major hospitals and specialist medical and dental clinics where English is spoken. If you need to stay overnight, be aware that a friend or relative is expected to stay with the patient and attend to his/her non-medical needs (which do not fall to the nursing staff).

Money

Local currency is the ROK Won. Credit cards are not always accepted outside major cities. ATMs are widely available but may not always accept foreign cards. 

Mobile phone coverage

Check with your mobile phone network provider before travelling if your telephone will work in South Korea. Temporary mobiles are available at Incheon Airport for hire. 

Natural disasters and climate

Typhoons

Typhoon season extends from June to November in South Korea and the risk of tropical storms and typhoons is higher than normal throughout this period. If you’re travelling to South Korea, monitor local weather forecasts and know what to expect.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) examines and reinforces national disaster prevention systems to ensure that those systems remain safe, effective and reliable.

Rainy season

The summer rainy season lasts from the end of June to mid-July.