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Visitors to South Korea don't need to quarantine anymore

April 04, 2022
5 min read
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This week, travel to South Korea is one step closer to “normal,” as the country has dropped a major portion of its COVID-19 restrictions. As of April 1, South Korea no longer requires vaccinated visitors to quarantine upon arrival. This marks the end of a major COVID-19 requirement and, perhaps, just the change travelers were hoping to see when considering travel to the country.

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South Korean officials announced the move last month, even as health officials there continue to track high levels of COVID-19 spread. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel health notice for South Korea currently is at “Level 4: Very High Level of COVID-19," and the agency urges U.S. citizens to avoid travel to the country. Likewise, South Korean government data shows the country is seeing hundreds of thousands of new cases of the virus each day. With high levels of vaccination there, though, The New York Times recently reported leaders have felt comfortable continuing forward with plans to loosen travel restrictions.

Sunset in Seoul, South Korea, in July 2020. (Photo by Brian Kim/The Points Guy)

What the changes mean

According to the memo posted on Visit Korea, under the new protocol, fully vaccinated travelers can now enter the country without needing to go through quarantine procedures previously in place. Again, these changes are already in effect, as of April 1.

Vaccinated international visitors must register their vaccination status with the country’s Q-code website, where they will be provided with a QR code that will be scanned while going through immigration upon arrival.

The Q-code site requires travelers to enter personal information, their passport number and travel information, as well as vaccination records.

One important note is that there are still testing requirements in place, even for fully vaccinated visitors. South Korea requires a PCR test that must be taken within 48 hours of departure.

Another important procedure to know before traveling to South Korea relates to the Electronic Travel Authorization form required for all U.S. citizens visiting the country. South Korea’s K-ETA program launched in 2021 as a way to provide visa-free entry for international visitors. The electronic form allows visitors 90 days in the country, visa-free. Visitors can complete the application up to 24 hours before boarding a flight to South Korea, and the form is valid for two years once approved.

Getting to South Korea

Visit Korea reports airlines are seeing a “surge” in travelers booking trips to South Korea this year, and certainly the loosening of requirements will only lead to more travel to the country.

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Whether you’re looking to find the cheapest fare to South Korea or you’ve been saving up miles in the hope of redeeming them for a prime seat on a long-haul flight to Asia, there are a number of options over the coming months.

Departing from the New York area for the next few months, one of the cheapest options I found was in early May, on a round trip out of John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Incheon International Airport (ICN) in Seoul aboard Star Alliance carrier Turkish Airlines. The $953 economy round trip is all on Boeing 777s. There’s a sizable layover in Istanbul -- 20-plus hours. However, if you’re able to carefully plan your sleep, this gives you a day in Istanbul without having to pay for a hotel. So, it could be a way to explore an extra city without an extra charge.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

Departing from the West Coast, I found round trips from Los Angeles to Seoul for 73,500 miles (plus $81.77) on United Airlines. According to TPG’s latest valuations, 73,500 MileagePlus miles are worth about $889. Compare that to the cash fare for the same itinerary on United, which is $1,606 for the economy ticket.

(Screenshot from United Airlines)

Meanwhile, you can get a cost-saving redemption if you decide this trip is the one when you want to cash in a larger sum of miles for a great seat. The same itinerary in business class goes for 350,000 miles -- worth about $4,235 according to TPG’s valuations. The cash fare for that business-class round trip goes for $4,915.

(Screenshot from United Airlines)

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

Where to stay

Checking a few different U.S.-based hotel chains, one trend I found is that you might be better off booking in cash while staying in Seoul -- mostly because there are some pretty inexpensive nightly rates.

Among the best options I saw was the Aloft Seoul Myeondong. The Marriott Bonvoy property is available for just $68 per night.

(Screenshot from Marriott Bonvoy)

Related: 9 things to do on your next trip to Seoul

Bottom line

If you want to travel to South Korea, you’re still going to have to go through COVID-19 testing. South Korea requires a negative test to get there, and the U.S. government still requires a negative test for your return trip.

At the same time, if you’ve been waiting the last two years for the right opportunity to travel there, you’ll face fewer COVID-19 restrictions than at any point in the pandemic.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
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  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
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  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees