Beyond Obscurity: Navigating South Korean Visa Regulations

If you are reading this, you are likely interested in building-up work and study experience abroad – be it to leverage Asian experiences to get a competitive job back home or as a starting point to spending the next decade localising in a new country. However, getting a working visa abroad can be quite tricky. In most cases, you can expect to find certain leeway for short-term employment options such as internships and readily-available information packs on work visa types that you could be aiming to get.

Nevertheless, when you first start looking-up visa regulations for South Korea things can appear very confusing indeed, especially if you haven’t had a chance to study there and are looking for an internship to jump-start your local network. One of the problems is a lack of clear information about visa types and application documents, for although a quick Google search will usually lead you to the HiKorea page for reference, it can be notoriously hard to navigate. Gone2Korea and ImmigrationWorld offer a clearer guide on the main types of visas, but it’s always good to double-check the online info as regulations change quickly. If you’re already in Korea, it’s worth calling the immigration ‘helpline’ by dialling 1345 (there is no area code needed and you can press 3 and then * for English), which enables you to have a free, personalised consultation and ask questions about visa applications that match your citizenship/ education background and job title.

Note: If you are lucky enough to be studying in South Korea, make sure to take full advantage of your university job portals! The Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei University (or ‘SKY’) job-portals are particularly well regarded in terms of job and internship opportunities, so it’s something to keep in mind if you are planning your exchange or enrolling in a language program!

Main work visa types

E-1, E-2, E-5

Similar to China, getting a job as an English teacher in South Korea is popularly seen as the easiest way to break into their competitive job market. However, while there are plenty of teaching opportunities (both at public and private institutions), you should make sure to prepare for the visa application in advance. Most teaching visas will require copies of your Bachelor Degree (and sometimes postgraduate degrees), and a recent background check – both of which need to be apostilled by DFAT (which is a costly and lengthy procedure) in the case of Australians. Flying Cows, one of the smaller and friendlier teacher-recruitment firms, has a good overview of the application procedures and you can complete a profile online to receive a free consultation and job-alerts from their local team.

E-7 and F-2

After you have spent some time in Korea, you are likely to come across expats discussing their dream of attaining the elusive working specialist E-7 visa. This visa typically requires you to have a Master’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree plus relevant work experience that precisely matches the job-description of your new role, hence justifying your employment as a ‘specialist’. The downside of this visa is that it needs to be sponsored by the company and, like most other visa-types, needs to change if you change employers. You can find a good overview of the specialisations covered by this visa type and the application process here.

It’s also worth noting here, that if you have resided in Korea for over 1 year on the same visa type (work or study), you may be eligible to apply for an F-2 type visa that enables you to legally work in Korea without being tied-down to a single employer. The application is based on a point system that takes your age, education, Korean language abilities, volunteering and income into account.

C-4 and H-1

If you aren’t too keen on teaching and getting a full-time job is proving difficult (as is likely to be the case, particularly if you lack fluent Korean language skills), it’s good to consider doing an internship to gain local experience and build-up your network. Although you are unlikely to find the term ‘internship visa’ on the immigration website, a visit to the consulate revealed that three main options were available. Firstly, there is a short-term employment C-4 visa that lets you legally work in Korea for a period of fewer than 90 days. To apply for this, you need to hand in an application form, an invitation letter/contract with the company in Korea where you plan to intern, a copy of the company business license and a visa fee ($96 AUD for under 90-days). You need to apply for this visa in advance at your consulate and the processing time is typically around 7 working days.

If you are accepted to do an unpaid internship, such as the program with the United Nations (UN) in Incheon, you don’t need to process the visa in advance and can simply show the contract and copy of the company business licence at Korean immigration upon arrival to the airport – where you will be granted a free, C-type visa (for visits of non-commercial purposes).

Finally, if you are looking to stay in Korea for more than 90-days without making a trip to Japan or another nearby location to reapply for a visa, you can take advantage of the H-1 Working Holiday Visa available to Australian passport holders. Typically, this visa has a more rigorous application process (including an extensive health check) and a fee of AUD $470.40, but it does enable you to stay in Korea for up to 12-months. With a H-1 working visa, you are limited to working 25 hours per week and cannot stay with one employer for a period longer than 6-months. While the regulation about what type of employment is excluded in this visa is fairly clear, it is hard to find a clear list of what jobs you can do – since, supposedly, they should not have a cross-over with the specialist E-7 visa.

On a parting note, please note that although this article has tried to summarise the key visa points tailored for Australian passport-holders, Asia Options cannot act as an official immigration consultant on these issues and regulations are subject to frequent changes. The overview above is designed to act as an introduction to working in Korea and we recommend that you visit your local consulate or call the immigration office in Korea to get specific answers for your application questions.

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