It’s about to become more complicated for Americans to visit South Korea

Jul 19, 2021

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Starting in September, all U.S. citizens visiting South Korea will be required to complete an Electronic Travel Authorization form to get approval before traveling, the country’s Ministry of Justice announced earlier this year.

The Korean government first launched the K-ETA as a pilot program in April to provide visa-free entry for international visitors to the Republic of Korea, according to a press release from the Korean Embassy in the U.S. The United States is one of 21 countries currently with designated visa-free entry.

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The K-ETA application steps. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

U.S citizens are able to spend up to 90 days in the country as a tourist, for business or to visit family.

U.S. citizens are required to apply for the K-ETA through the Republic of Korea’s ETA website or the mobile app at least 24 hours before departing for South Korea. Although the fee is waived, for now, the K-ETA will cost $8.75 come September and is valid for two years. You can expect to hear back regarding the status of your application via email, also within 24 hours.

Related: How to get to South Korea on points and miles

K-ETA application steps 

The first step involves agreeing to the terms and conditions, which is standard for most travel authorization forms and requires your consent to the use of personal and sensitive information, including your passport number.

Step one. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

Next, you will provide your passport number and email address, to which your application information will be sent. Unless you are traveling for work, I would suggest using a personal email address that you check often.

Step two. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

The third step will ask you to upload a copy of your passport and enter corresponding information.

Step three. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

Related: A country-by-country guide to visiting Asia: Only the Maldives will welcome you with open arms

You’ll see below that the U.S. pops up as a country currently designated as having visa-free entry. Note that if there are any issues with your application, you may still be prompted to contact the Korean Embassy in the U.S. for consular/visa services, which we will discuss later.

Step four. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

Step four asks for additional identifying information, along with the address and contact number of where you will be staying in Korea.

Step four. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)
Step four. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

This step also asks you to upload a photo, similar to what’s required to obtain a U.S. passport (i.e., no smiling), and also specifies photo size restrictions. It took me several minutes to size my photo down to fit. To avoid any headaches with sizing, I would recommend getting your photo taken as if you were applying for a passport. I got mine taken in June for my passport renewal (read the ongoing saga) at CVS for $14.99.

Read more: Learn from my experience: How to avoid a 5-week (and counting) passport renewal saga

Step four. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

If you click “Next,” and it prompts you to step five, you can safely assume that your photo has been uploaded correctly and meets all size requirements.

Step four. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

The final step will ask you to double-check that all of the info you’ve submitted is correct.

Step five. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

For those applying from now through August, please note that K-ETAs are being issued for free as part of the K-ETA pilot program. This means that once you press “Finish,” your application will be submitted for review. For the purposes of this story, I did not actually intend to submit an application as I do not currently have travel plans to South Korea. I incorrectly assumed that after hitting “Finish,” I would be directed to step six before actually submitting.

Step seven. (Screenshot courtesy of the ROK Ministry of Justice)

Related: First-rate first class: A review of Korean Air’s 747-8 from Atlanta to Seoul

At this point, I am admittedly a bit panicked, as I have inadvertently submitted false information to a foreign government. I immediately email the powers that be to explain my error by submitting a question through the website’s “Ask Us” feature.

(Screenshot by Caroline Tanner/TPG)

So, if and when I go to South Korea in the future (here’s looking at you, boss), I will simply need to reapply for a K-ETA. Phew!

Bottom line 

The K-ETA is not only necessary to enter South Korea at this time, but it will also exempt you from submitting arrival cards necessary for immigration. Please note that the K-ETA does not exclude travelers from current pre-travel testing requirements. Per the U.S. Embassy in South Korea, proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure is still required for all inbound travelers, including those who have been vaccinated, in addition to a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon entry for most visitors. You can apply for a quarantine exemption based on certain eligibility requirements, including visiting family or attending a funeral.

For additional information on the K-ETA: View an application guide, check your application results and see their FAQ section for common questions.​

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

​Featured photo of passengers at Incheon International Airport in 2020 by Zeng Nai/China News Service via Getty Images.

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