Special Travel Circumstances in Korea, South

Dual Citizenship and Compulsory Military Service: In April 2010, the Republic of Korea passed legislation that allows dual citizenship, with differing rules for men and women. If you believe you may have a claim to ROK citizenship, including as a dual citizen, you should inquire with ROK authorities.

Some but not all U.S. and ROK dual nationals are subject to compulsory military service. The Embassy strongly advises all persons with possible ROK citizenship who are of conscription age to consult the Embassy of the Republic of Korea's website.

Customs Regulations: If you are traveling to or from the Republic of Korea, even if you are just transiting the ROK, you should be aware that the ROK's customs authorities enforce strict regulations about importing and exporting items such as firearms, ammunition, explosives, narcotics and prescription drugs, non-prescription health supplements, radio equipment, and gold, as well as books, other printed material, and videos or audio recordings that might be considered subversive to their national security, obscene, or in any way harmful to the public interest and cultural property.

The same strict regulations apply to items mailed to and from the Republic of Korea. As a result, several U.S. citizens have been prosecuted for participation in drug smuggling via international mail.

Amphetamines are illegal in Korea and even prescription amphetamines and other prescription narcotics will not be permitted into the country without advance permission from the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) in the form of a "bring-in permit letter." More information on how to obtain a “bring-in-permit letter” can be found on the U.S. Embassy Seoul, Health Information website.

The Republic of Korea has customs laws and regulations to prevent the spread of livestock diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, known as "mad cow" disease), hoof-and-mouth disease, avian influenza, H1N1 (Influenza A), and more. The products which must be declared to ROK customs officials upon arrival include, but are not limited to: live animals, including dogs, cats, and pet birds; animal products, including antlers, bone, and blood meal; beef, pork, mutton, chicken meat and processed meat products, such as sausages, ham, meat jerky, boiled meat, canned products, and boiled eggs; processed dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and butter; and processed egg products, such as egg, egg white, and egg powder. Further information is contained on the Korean Customs Regulations website.

You should also be aware of the items that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection prohibits or restricts from entry into the United States.

Passport Seizures, Exit Bans, and Commercial Disputes: If you become involved in a commercial dispute, the Government of the Republic of Korea may seize your passport and block your departure from the Republic of Korea. While we can reissue a passport to you upon your application, we cannot do anything about the ROK exit ban, which would remain in effect, thereby preventing your departure from the Republic of Korea.

Working in the Republic of Korea: If you are traveling to the Republic of Korea to work, including teaching or modeling, you must enter the Republic of Korea with the appropriate work visa. Once you enter Korea, you cannot change your status from any other visa to a work visa unless you first leave the country. If you begin work without the appropriate visa, you may be arrested, fined, and deported. If you are working without a valid work permit and get into a contractual dispute with your employer, you will have little or no legal recourse under Korean law.

Teaching English: The government of the Republic of Korea requires that you submit a criminal records check and a health certificate when applying for a work visa or extension. We cannot provide criminal records checks or fingerprinting; nor can the Embassy authenticate criminal records checks or health certificates. Contact the ROK Immigration Service, Border Control Division, or within Korea call 500-9116, 500-9117, or 500-9118. Detailed information is also available on the U.S. Embassy Seoul consular website.

We commonly receive complaints from English teachers at private language schools called hagwons. The most frequent complaints are that the schools and/or employment agencies have misrepresented salaries, working conditions, living arrangements, and other benefits, including health insurance, even when the employee has a written contract. There have also been some complaints of physical assault, threats of arrest/deportation, and sexual harassment. Some U.S.-based employment agencies have misrepresented contract terms, employment conditions, or the need for an appropriate work visa. In recent years, ROK police have investigated a number of foreign teachers for document fraud. Several U.S. citizens have been arrested and charged with possession of fraudulent university diplomas that were used to obtain employment in the Republic of Korea. English teachers have also been investigated for possession and use of illicit drugs.


You are responsible for ensuring that you meet and comply with foreign entry requirements, health requirements and that you possess the appropriate travel documents. Information provided is subject to change without notice. One should confirm content prior to traveling from other reliable sources. Information published on this website may contain errors. You travel at your own risk and no warranties or guarantees are provided by us.

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2019 edition