Tuesday, October 3, 2023

EXPERIENCE REPORT: South Korea has reopened for tourism, but are they serious about it?

South Korea officially opened for tourist arrivals on April 1, 2022 Which is now about two weeks ago and as soon as this news broke I decided to plan a trip which includes a long stop in Seoul.

Experience Report: South Korea Has Reopened For Tourism, But Are They Serious About It?

There were a few things to prepare for before being able to fly to Korea and finally settling into a hotel after arrival included some surprising drawbacks, especially when it comes to airport transportation.

I have covered the news about Korea’s reopening time and time again as the news starts to drizzle and have gathered some information in terms of what is currently needed in terms of documentation.

The visa waiver program has been re-established for most eligible countries but you now need to apply for an electronic travel authorization prior to your visit:

Reminder to apply for your new South Korea Electronic Travel Authorization before you travel

This ETA costs ~US$8 and is valid for two years of multiple-use after approval, the same as the ESTA for the US and the ETA for Canada. ETA approval can take up to 24 hours but I got mine within 20 minutes.

The next requirement is the Q-code (issued immediately) which involves uploading data related to your health history such as symptoms, vaccinations, PCR test results, and travel history as well as your address in Korea.

You can finalize the Q code only after receiving the PCR test result 48 hours prior to travel but the code is issued automatically. The proof of vaccination uploaded was my CDC paper card issued in the US and instant approval means it was not manually verified in any way. I was never asked to provide a card upon arrival anywhere in Korea or Seoul.

It is imperative that you have every single document/confirmation available in print form!

I was asked to show these documents several times and a friend who flew in a few days ago and didn’t print it took a long time to find a printing service at the airport because Asiana couldn’t check-in it without used to give. documents.

Experience Report: South Korea Has Reopened For Tourism, But Are They Serious About It?

Another step is the required PCR test on arrival which you are obliged to take within 24 hours of arrival in Korea. You don’t need to do it right away, but I decided to do it at Incheon Airport for several reasons.

  1. I want to get rid of these annoying chores as soon as possible;
  2. I previously tested negative in less than 48 hours, so my chances of testing negative are much better now than 24 hours later unless you want to take your chance;
  3. The cost of testing at the airport is 80,000 WON (US$60), while the hotel did some research and referred me to designated clinics in the vicinity for between 120-130,000 WON.

Experience Report: South Korea Has Reopened For Tourism, But Are They Serious About It?

International travelers are apparently eligible for the test National Tuberculosis Center Won for 70,000 when presenting your passport with a sticker on it, but the location in Seoul is far away and you will have to pay a lot in taxi fees to get there. My suggestion: Get it done at Incheon airport right away!

Experience Report: South Korea Has Reopened For Tourism, But Are They Serious About It?

I made the reservation through Safe2Go Pass application/website at 10:15 am and my flight arrival time was 9:00 am. I was at the exam center 20 minutes ago but they also accept walk in. If you’re looking to make advance reservations like me, I suggest being a little more generous with the timing and allowing at least 2 hours between scheduled arrival and appointment. Making a reservation also means that your data is already in the system and you don’t have to do it there manually.

I got off the plane earlier, and waited at the immigration counter (3 steps) about 70 minutes before going downstairs through baggage claim and exiting into the terminal. Then I did the test sometime before 10:00am and my result arrived on my email after about 3:30am:

Experience Report: South Korea Has Reopened For Tourism, But Are They Serious About It?

My guess is that it is automatically reported in the database via your passport number as a reference. The self-monitoring application that requires you to submit a daily health questionnaire has no option to attach a screenshot.

Experience Report: South Korea Has Reopened For Tourism, But Are They Serious About It?On day 7 of my stay, a self-administered COVID test is believed to be necessary. I still have zero idea how to report the result of this other than just writing “Test Negative” in the daily comment field. I am sure they will contact me somehow if something is not right.

My impression of the whole process?

After visiting many countries after covid, I think the process is very difficult for Korea. Processing took a long time at the airport (much longer than I experienced in both Bangkok and Phuket) but having all documents properly sorted means that most of this time is actually being processed by the others until it’s your turn. waiting for. There weren’t many people ahead of me, just a few left over from a Singapore Airlines flight and it still took me about two hours until I was able to get everything done.

The two PCR tests (one before departure and one after arrival) are expensive and the test so far performed in Incheon was the most aggressively administered test in the past two years. I had friends who reported this before and it was done in such a rough fashion that I even got upset at one point.

I probably don’t do this all the time. I’m glad that Korea opened and I had the opportunity to see cherry blossoms again this year, so beautiful this hot spring weather so the one-time visit was worth the hassle.

Experience Report: South Korea Has Reopened For Tourism, But Are They Serious About It?

Talking about trouble: There is no public transportation available from Incheon Airport except for the very slow AREX train that stops at several stations on the way to Seoul Station. Express train is not running at all. KAL limousine buses are also not operating with the exception of two buses per day (line 6705 13:20h/18:10h to Jamsil/Lotte World).

This lack of adequate transportation options is completely unacceptable. Are they serious about opening up for tourism or not?

The train ticket for the slow train was much cheaper but I would have preferred the limousine bus. Luckily I stayed near Seoul station anyway so it was only a short taxi ride away, but if you are staying further away you will either have to change to the subway line or take a cab to Seoul.


South Korea has reopened and the experience of my arrival, although exhausting and lengthy, was not terrifying. If you have some experience in organizing yourself and getting the required papers then you will not face any problem.

I think the process could be a bit more streamlined at the airport. They are wasting a lot of time there and the airport (immigration) is a bottleneck. My real pet peeve is the lack of proper transportation between Incheon Airport and Seoul. Metro was cheap and not very busy on Sundays but I miss the good limousine bus service. I think some improvements need to be made if they are serious about reopening for tourists.

Nation World News Desk
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