Aliens – that’s us! The Korean Immigration process

Oh, the joys of immigration… just when you thought the mountains of paperwork from applying for EPIK was fun, there’s more to come!

A part of teaching in Korea is 1. having the right visa and 2. then checking off the boxes with immigration once you’ve arrived. Your visa only lasts the first 90 days, and there’s a lot you cannot do until after you’ve been to an immigration office.

Once you have had your visa approved (we had E-2 visa’s) and you have arrived, you will need to go to immigration (출입국관리사무소)  to pick up your alien registration card (ARC). Your ARC is super important and the only way you can get a bank account, a sim card and a heap of other daily life activities including point cards at a lot of different shops. You’ll use it as identification to get into bars and clubs in Hongdae and Gangnam (saves bringing your passport with you) and also you’ll need it at the airport when travelling during the year.

Tip #1: book an appointment online through the immigration website as the wait can be a long one!* (we understand this is mandatory now)

I didn’t book one and arrived about 1.5hrs before closing time. I didn’t get seen until about another 45 minutes after that! Only those with a ticket 15mins prior to closing get to stay.

Tip #2: If you didn’t book an appointment, keep an eye out for people leaving and leaving their tickets. We managed to jump up the line by about half an hour as there were a few people who gave up on waiting.

Tip #3: Take your co-teacher with you! If you have all your documents you may get through the process without needing to speak Korean, however, my immigration officer had a couple of questions and luckily another EPIK teacher was having his documents processed next to me and his co-teacher helped.

The list of what to bring:

  • The application form
  • Your passport
  • Your sealed medical results – my co-teacher was sent them after orientation. If you missed orientation or are reapplying for an ARC, you’ll have to go to your local hospital to complete a medical.
  • passport photos (always handy to have a couple) – my immigration centre had a small photo booth which was lucky as I forgot mine! The photos came with some airbrushing too!
  • Letters from your school – the application will say what information is required from your school
  • 30,000KRW cash*

You will then have to wait about 2~3 weeks for the card to be processed then you can go pick it up. We were given the option for the ARC to be posted to our school, which cost about 5,000KRW for the stamp & envelope. This may not be an option at all of the immigration offices.

Forget one of these documents and you’ll be making another trip back. We had a few friends who had to make multiple trips. And for some of us, it was quite a trip to the closest immigration office.

Tip #4: Avoid losing your ARC as much as you can! You’ll use your ARC everywhere for identification purposes and it also has your home address in Korean on the back which is also super handy (especially for getting home in a taxi and ordering food on Yogiyo!).

For a list of the immigration offices in Korea, go here. The closest one to Yeoncheon was Yangju, which took about an hour on the bus to get to. Getting on the bus in the wrong direction adds about another hour to the journey- great for adding some more stress to your day.

When you leave Korea, you’ll need to hand over your card to immigration at the airport – your alien days are over!

Written by: Sarah

* This was our experience in 2016, so the process may have changed! Check with your co-teacher or your recruiter about the process of getting your ARC.

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