If you are someone thinking you just want to travel and see Korea and are American, the easiest way for you to see Korea is just get a passport and on a plane and come. They will stamp your passport as you get off the plane and give you a three month Tourist Visa. As for other countries, I am sure there are other countries they do the same for, but I don’t know all the laws. I am learning more and more laws everyday about how to stay in Korea, though. Yesterday, I took a trip to the immigration office in Seoul to extend my visa. I will talk to you about the different ways I know to get a visa in Korea.
When I came to Korea, I came to teach, so it is different from getting the Tourist Visa. Foriegners have to have permission to work in Korea. I had to have a visa before I came. First, I was offered a job while I was still in America after they emailed me saying they wanted to talk to me about teaching in Korea and interviewed me on the phone. They sent me a contract, and the contract and my degrees are what I needed to get a visa. However, in recent years, things have gotten stricter. To get the same visa I got now a days, you must not only have a contract and your degree, you must have an FBI background check if you are American. If you aren’t American, you have to have a clean background check from your country. You also have to have your degree and your FBI background check checked a second time for validity. This is called an Apostile. If you want to teach English, it is better to have a degree in English, but not completely necessary. If you are from a country that speaks English as their first language, you can have any kind of degree to get a visa teaching English in Korea.
Once I got to Korea, there was a man in charge of me at my school. He had to make sure everything was in order for my house, my visa, my classes, etc. He also had to take me to the closest Immigration Office to register. It wasn’t enough to get the stamp in my passport. I don’t remember them doing this the first year, but now, they give us an alien registration card, and every time we renew our visa, they put another stamp on the card. They don’t have to stamp the passport every time. They just grant the initial visa, and then you update it every time you decide to extend the visa. I was teaching in Paju City, but I had no idea where we went when we went to the visa office. I was lost a lot. The man in charge of me and I made a mistake on my visa the first year I was here. I also had to register my kids at the local Immigration Office, but we didn’t realize that, so when we went back to the United States to visit the first year, I had a big fine to pay at the airport.
The second year I taught here was a little different. I went to work for the Korean government. They gave me an official looking document with a big gold seal on it, then sent me to Fukoka, Japan. All I needed to get the document with the golden seal was a copy of my diplomas, a resume, letters of reference, and an interview. Originating visas must be issued from outside the country, and they considered Japan the closest place to issue a visa, so they sent me to the Korean consulate there. That big gold seal on the official looking document they gave me opened doors. The other foreigners who were there to get their visas had to come second. I came first. The other foreigner’s visas took longer to process than mine did. I had heard a rumor that they were going to begin asking for a criminal background check to get a visa, so I had a letter from the police where I came from saying they had done a check and I had no arrest record. However, they didn’t ask for the letter. They just processed it and gave it back to me right away. It was an overnight trip, and then I was back in Korea.
The Korean government was sending me out of Seoul to another town to teach. I went o Seosan in Chungnam Province. Once there, even though I had the initial visa, my kids and I still had to register with the local immigration office. There was no immigration office in Seosan, but there was in the next town over, so I went there to register.
The next time I received a visa was because I was teaching at the university. One of the American professors there told me not to begin teaching until my visa was in hand because he had let the Koreans talk him into teaching without his visa in hand once and had been deported, so even though I had signed a contract, I didn’t teach until my visa was in my hand. I stayed in the student dorm at the university and waited for all the documents to be in order. When the time was right, I took another airplane flight to Fukoka, Japan and had to stay overnight. This time, I had to stand in line at the consulate. I didn’t have that golden seal. I had to have my contract and copies of my diplomas. I handed them the copy of the letter from the police in the town in America where they had done a background check on me. They kept it, but they gave me the feeling it wasn’t necessary. The first time, when I had the gold seal, I just gave them the document with the gold seal, and they processed everything right away. This time, they told me to come back tomorrow, and the next day, they had my visa processed by the next day for me to go back to Korea.
Once I got back to Korea, I had to go to the Seoul Immigration Office to register. They gave me an alien registration card. Every time I get my visa renewed now, they put a new stamp on my alien registration card. When I was working in the public schools and for the Korean government, I had to get my visa renewed every year. When I began teaching at KCU, I only had to get it renewed every two years, but lately, since I retired from KCU, I have had to have my visa renewed every six months because they consider me looking for work. When you renew your visa, you don’t have to leave the country, but just go to the Alien Registration Office which is also called the Immigration Office and get another stamp on your card.
If something strange happens, you can usually get your current visa extended until the problems are worked out. Once, the board at KCU were having trouble agreeing on anything and refused to meet. The foreign professor’s contracts were due, but they didn’t take care of it, so all the foreign professors were in danger of not having a visa. The main office at KCU wrote a letter explaining what was happening and asked them to extend our visas until the board could meet and get their problems worked out. When we went to Immigration, all the other foreign professors were given a visa for a month. They gave me a visa for six months with the same letter. We have always heard it is up to the mood of the person at Immigration as to whether or not they give you a visa, and this really made us feel like what we had heard was true. I was glad they liked me at Immigration.
If I were to teach at a school here in Korea now, it would be much tougher than when I came. Before applying for a visa, I would have to have my diplomas Apostiled which means I must send them off to have it verified that they are real. Secondly, I would have to be fingerprinted and send the fingerprints off to the American FBI for a background check. After I receive the fingerprints back, I would have to also send them off to be Apostiled.
My daughter has a completely different kind of visa than I have. Initially, she was on my visa. Recently, she has learned that because she came to Korea when she was still a child, she could have gotten a permanent residency visa a long time ago, but she has just recently received her permanent residency visa. After she was on my visa, she got a marriage visa because she got married. However, they would only give her a visa for a year at a time. They told her that if she would have a baby, they could give her a visa for two years at a time. For her to get her marriage visa, we had to travel to Osaka to the Korean embassy in Japan. She also had to prove that she and her husband loved one another and that it wasn’t just a marriage for a visa. She had a picture someone had taken of them studying in a coffee shop while they were dating when he had laid his head on her shoulder, and they accepted that.
For her to get a permanent residency visa, she has had to wait, but she wanted it because she has just as many rights as a Korean now without becoming Korean. She doesn’t want Korean citizenship because she would be forced to give up her American citizenship, and she says she would never do that. You can’t go from just any visa to a permanent residency visa, but you can go from a marriage visa to a permanent residency visa, so she did. You have to meet a certain amount of point to get the permanent residency visa. You have to be in Korea for a certain amount of time, prove through documentation that you can speak Korean, have a clean criminal background check that has been Apostiled, go through several interviews, etc. She passed every test they put her through, and she received it. These visas are not easy to get, but since she is married to a Korean, it is the kind of visa she should have, and he wants to work on getting the same in America because of her. Some people call what she has a green card.
I have talked to friends about their visas also. One friend wants to do business in Korea, but is having a really hard time trying to get it worked out because a Business Visa is just too expensive. You have to have an exorbitant amount of money to be granted a Business Visa. I also have a friend who says they are on a Retirement Visa, but when I looked up a Retirement Visa, you have to retire rich if you want to retire in Korea.
The next time I go to get a visa, I will be trying for one that is harder to get too, but I have been encouraged by two different immigration officers now that I can probably get a visa called a Long Term Residency Visa, so I am going to try. I have known Americans would came to Korea planning on staying, but just came in on the 3 month tourist visa. After three months, they had to leave, and then they turned around and came back. I have seen people do this in other countries too. It works easier in other countries because all you have to do is cross a border and turn around and come back, and it isn’t too expensive, but a round trip plane ticket to Japan and back is $450, and then you have to pay for a hotel in Japan. If you want to stay temporarily in Korea, fine, the three month visa works, but if you want to stay longer, you really need to do something different because those plane tickets and hotel rooms add up. Besides that, with a three month tourist’s visa, you don’t get an alien registration card. That alien registration card opens doors for you. It helps you rent a place to live. It helps you open a bank account, get a cell phone, get credit cards, buy a car, etc. If you just want to see Korea and go home, the three month visa is good, but if you want to stay longer, you really need a better visa.
(I want to say something about the people trying to stay in America illegally. It isn’t always easy to get a visa, but Korea is not my country, and I must abide by their laws if I want to stay. These people who come into America illegally and expect to be able to stay are not being fair. When Americans go to other countries, we jump through their hoops so we can stay, and the people who come into America need to abide by the American laws too to be allowed to stay. It is only right.)