Sep 01 2021

New Electronic Travel Authorization Programs Implemented for Visa-free Entrants and Certain Business Visitors

Republic of Korea (South Korea)

At a Glance

  • Beginning September 1, 2021, all visa-free entrants into South Korea must apply online for a South Korea Electronic Travel Authorization (“K-ETA”) at least 24 hours prior to boarding a flight to South Korea.
  • This is required for all travelers with nationalities whose visa-free privileges are in effect, as some visa-free privileges have been temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who fail to timely obtain a K-ETA will be denied entry into South Korea.
  • Additionally, foreign nationals from countries whose visa-free entry rights to South Korea are currently suspended, but who intend to enter South Korea for “important business purposes” may be eligible to enter South Korea on visa-free status under the new K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business) Persons.
  • For travelers whose visa-free privileges are in effect, applying for a K-ETA will create an added step to the entry process. However, the K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business) Persons may allow nationals whose visa-free privileges are currently suspended to enter South Korea more quickly than they would be able to by applying for a consular visa.

The situation

Beginning September 1, 2021, all travelers who are currently authorized for visa-free entrance into South Korea are required to apply online for the South Korea Electronic Travel Authorization (“K-ETA”) at least 24 hours prior to boarding their flight to South Korea. However, foreign nationals should apply for the K-ETA as soon as possible to ensure that it is obtained in time.

Additionally, foreign nationals from countries whose visa-free entry rights to South Korea are currently suspended, but who intend to enter South Korea for “important business purposes” may be eligible to enter South Korea on visa-free status under the new K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business) Persons.

A closer look

Details of the two K-ETA programs are as follows:

  K-ETA K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business Persons)

Eligibility

  • The K-ETA is only available to travelers who can enter South Korea without obtaining a visa. As of September 1, 2021, there are 49 eligible nationalities.
  • Foreign nationals of 63 countries who were previously eligible to enter South Korea without a visa, but whose visa-free entry status is still suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, may be able to enter South Korea visa-free after obtaining a K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business) Persons instead of obtaining a consular visa.
  • They must be entering South Korea for an important business purpose that would be covered by the C-3 short-term business visa (which permits simple business activities that do not generate revenue and do not constitute full-time work, such as business meetings and consultations, site visits, market research, and contract negotiations).

Application Process

  • Travelers eligible to enter South Korea visa-free will be required to apply online at the K-ETA website or through the government app at least 24 hours prior to boarding their flight to South Korea. However, foreign nationals should apply for the K-ETA as soon as possible to ensure that it is obtained in time.
  • Travelers will be required to enter certain personal information, including nationality, name, birth date, criminal history and purpose of visit to South Korea, among others.
  • In order to obtain the K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business Persons), eligible travelers cannot use the online filing method and instead must undergo a priority entry review at a government ministry that oversees the business of the sponsoring company in South Korea (a consultation with the government is required to determine which ministry should be used).
  • Once the review is successfully completed, the Ministry of Justice will conduct a second review to determine if they should grant the Priority Entry (Business) Persons K-ETA to permit visa-free travel.

Issuance

  • Once submitted, the applicant will receive a K-ETA application number via email which can be used to check the status of the application. The K-ETA is expected to be approved and issued within 24 hours via email as an Approval for Electronic Travel Authorization document and will also be available to the applicant on the K-ETA website.
  • The K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business Persons) is expected to be issued within seven to 10 business days from the date of the first review, although it may be longer, in the form of an official letter. 

Documentation required for entry

  • Travelers will need to carry a printout of the Approval for Electronic Travel Authorization document to be presented to the immigration officers at the airport.
  • Travelers will need to carry a printout of the official letter to be presented to the immigration officers at the airport.

Validity

  • The K-ETA is valid for two years from the approval date or the expiry of the passport used to obtain the K-ETA, whichever is earlier and can be used for multiple entries into South Korea.
  • The Priority Entry (Business) Persons K-ETA is granted for a period of approximately 10 days or less. After this entry period expires, the K-ETA will expire and cannot be used to enter South Korea.

Cost

  • The application fee is KRW 10,000 (approximately USD 8.64). Payment can be made by credit card at the time of application and is non-refundable, even if the application is denied. 
  • The application fee information for the Priority Entry (Business) Persons K-ETA is not yet available. 

Restrictions

  • The K-ETA can only be used by eligible travelers if they are entering for purposes allowed under visa-free entry, such as simple business activities that do not generate revenue and/or do not constitute full-time work, such as business meetings and consultations, site visits, market research and contract negotiations. Foreign nationals who will participate in revenue-generating activities or other activities exceeding the scope of simple business activities will need to instead obtain a C-4 short-term employment visa.
  • Nationals of the 63 countries who were eligible for visa-free entry but have had these privileges suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic cannot currently enter South Korea visa-free, and as such, cannot apply for the K-ETA for visa-free entry until South Korea reinstates their visa-free entry privileges.
  • The K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business) Persons may be used only for certain business activities and may not be used to enter South Korea for revenue-generating activities that require the C-4 short-term employment visa.

Impact

  • Previously, visa-free nationals were not required to obtain any form of documentation before entering South Korea. This new requirement will add an extra step to the entry of all visa-free nationals whose visa-free privileges are in effect, but should not delay travel due to the quick issuance.
  • Nationals who obtain a K-ETA may be able to adjust their visa-free status to certain long-term work visas in South Korea after an individualized assessment of the case. This in-country adjustment was previously allowed in certain cases for eligible visa-free nationals.
  • Foreign nationals who were previously able to enter South Korea visa-free but cannot currently due to COVID-19 restrictions, may be able to enter the country more quickly for appropriate simple business activities through this new process rather than by applying for a consular visa. However, since the system is new, it may take some time for the process to be running as an efficient alterative to the consular visa option.  
  • It is not yet clear whether foreign nationals eligible for this K-ETA for Priority Entry (Business) Persons will be able to adjust their visa-free status to a long-term work visa in South Korea. 

Background

  • COVID-19 restrictions. In April 2020, the South Korean government suspended visa-free entry for 91 visa-free nationalities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but continued to allow visa-free entry to 21 visa-free nationalities.  On September 1, 2021, the government reinstated visa-free privileges of 28 nationalities, bringing the total number of visa-free nationals whose visa-free privileges are currently in effect to 49. 
  • Pilot program. South Korea launched a pilot program of the K-ETA system in May of this year and due to its success, implemented the full program beginning on September 1, 2021.
  • Streamlining information collection. The K-ETA is modeled after the Electronic Travel Authorization system of Canada and the United States, to allow the South Korean government to quickly and efficiently collect information and to enhance security measures surrounding visa-free travel.

Looking ahead

It is expected that as the pandemic situation improves globally, the South Korean government will reinstate the visa-free entry privileges of additional countries, whose nationals would then be required to obtain a K-ETA to enter South Korea visa-free.

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the global immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen or send an email to [email protected].