Republic of Korea

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 30 July 2014.   This advice has been reviewed and reissued with editorial amendments. We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in the Republic of Korea.

Republic of Korea overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in the Republic of Korea (ROK).
  • Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • Relations between the ROK and the DPRK remain tense. The DPRK attempted to launch a satellite using a long-range missile in December 2012 and carried out an underground nuclear test in February 2013. DPRK has also undertaken a series of short and medium range missile launches through 2014 as part of regular military drills. Further provocations by the DPRK or reactions by neighbouring countries, including the ROK, cannot be ruled out. Australians in the ROK should monitor developments closely because of the risk that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could escalate with little warning.
  • We continue to advise against all travel to the Northern Limit Line Islands, near a disputed sea border, in the ROK.
  • You should avoid all protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent.
  • Australians in the ROK should see the advice on preparing for emergencies produced by the Australian Embassy in Seoul.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:

Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the ROK for the most up to date information.

Foreign nationals are finger-printed on arrival in the ROK.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Civil unrest/political tension

Relations between the ROK and the DPRK remain tense. The DPRK attempted to launch a satellite using a long-range missile in December 2012 and carried out an underground nuclear test in February 2013. DPRK has also undertaken a series of short and medium range missile launches through 2014 as part of regular military drills. Further provocations by the DPRK or reactions by neighbouring countries, including the Republic of Korea (ROK), cannot be ruled out. Australians in the ROK should monitor developments closely and follow the instructions of local authorities because of the risk that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could escalate with little warning. You should also see the advice on preparing for emergencies produced by the Australian Embassy in Seoul.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been divided by a demilitarised zone separating the DPRK in the north and the ROK in the south. While peace is maintained under an armistice agreement, the two Koreas are still technically at war. Relations between the two countries continue to be tense and low-level military clashes have sometimes occurred.

We continue to advise against all travel to Yeonpyeong Island and other islands near the Northern Limit Line. In November 2010, the ROK and the DPRK exchanged artillery fire with some shells landing on the ROK island of Yeonpyeong, near a disputed sea border. Two civilians and two soldiers were killed and several others injured.

In May 2010, a multinational ROK-led investigation concluded that the sinking of the ROK Navy corvette, Cheonan, in March 2010, was a result of a North Korean (DPRK) attack.

Prior to the most recent underground nuclear test in February 2013, the DPRK conducted tests in October 2006 and May 2009. Negotiations between the DPRK, ROK, United States, China, Japan and Russia (the Six-Party Talks) in an effort to resolve international concerns about its nuclear program have stalled.

You should avoid all protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent. Monitor the local media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Crime

While the crime rate in the ROK is low, petty crime exists, particularly in major cities such as Seoul and Busan. There have also been instances of sexual assault and other violent crimes against foreign tourists and expatriates. You should exercise care when walking alone at night, particularly in bar and nightclub areas. We recommend that you avoid using unofficial taxis.

Money and valuables

Australians should review the general advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe abroad.

Local travel

The ROK has one of the highest rates of traffic deaths for a developed country, particularly for pedestrians. Speeding, running red lights and other risky behaviour is common, particularly by buses, taxis and motorcyclists. Taxis often do not have seat belts, particularly in the back seats. Pedestrians should not expect traffic to stop at pedestrian crossings: check carefully before stepping onto the road. Pedestrians should also look out for motorcyclists who often travel on footpaths and pedestrian crossings. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Korean authorities are focused on reducing the road toll. There is a strong presumption that car drivers are at fault in accidents involving injury to pedestrians. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common in accidents involving injury.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information about Aviation Safety and Security.

Laws

When you are in the ROK, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Serious crimes, such as murder, may attract the death penalty.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs can result in long jail sentences, heavy fines and deportation.

Disputes over alleged misrepresentation of working and living conditions for Australians teaching English in the ROK occur frequently. If you are considering employment to teach English in the ROK, you may wish to seek professional legal advice before signing a contract.

The ROK Government sometimes prevents the departure of foreigners involved in commercial or legal disputes.

Australians have been fined, detained and deported for breaches of their visa conditions. These include working on a visa obtained by the applicant or an employment agent by submitting false documentation to Korean immigration authorities. This also includes working in any capacity (either paid or voluntary) other than as specified in the visa. If you are employed, including teaching English, without a valid or correct visa, there is little or no entitlement to legal recourse under Korean law. Advice on working visas should be obtained from an Embassy or Consulate of the ROK before arrival in-country. You should be aware that it is difficult to change visa conditions after arriving in the ROK.

Photography of and around military zones, military assets and military personnel and official buildings is illegal.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

The ROK does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of Australian officials to provide consular assistance to Australian/ROK dual nationals who have been arrested or detained.

If you were born in the ROK or otherwise have held Korean citizenship, you will retain Korean citizenship unless and until you formally renounce it and remove your name from the Korean family register.

Males who are ROK citizens, including dual nationals, are subject to compulsory military service. A male whose name appears on the Korean family register may be liable for military service even when travelling on an Australian passport. Males may not be allowed to renounce their Korean nationality or leave the country until they have fulfilled military service obligations or received a special exemption from military service. Australian/ROK dual nationals should seek advice from the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the ROK well in advance of travel.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical facilities in the ROK is generally good. However, treatment can be expensive and few staff speak English. Hospitals usually require an up-front deposit and/or confirmation of insurance prior to commencing treatment.

Malaria is a risk in the demilitarised zone and in rural areas in the northern parts of Gyonggi and Gangwon provinces near the border with North Korea. The mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis also occurs. You should consult your doctor or travel clinic about prophylaxis against malaria and take measures to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, and hepatitis) occur sporadically. We recommend that you avoid raw and undercooked food. In rural areas, it is recommended that all drinking water be boiled or that you drink bottled water, and that you avoid ice cubes. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is common in the Republic of Korea (ROK) with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. In Asia, outbreaks of HFMD usually start in March/April and peak in May but can continue until August to October each year. It mostly affects children under the age of 10 years but adult cases (particularly young adults) are not unusual. The illness is characterised by fever as well as blisters and rashes on the hands, feet and buttocks. HFMD is spread by direct contact with nose and throat discharges and faeces of infected people. Normal hygiene precautions should be taken including careful and frequent hand washing.

From March to May, yellow dust pollution, which is carried by strong winds from Mongolia and China, can cause eye, nose, mouth and throat irritations and exacerbate respiratory and cardio-vascular problems.

Where to get help

In the Republic of Korea (ROK), you can obtain consular assistance from the:

Australian Embassy, Seoul

19th Floor, Kyobo Building
1, Jongro 1-ga
Jongro-gu
Seoul 110-714, Republic of Korea
Telephone: 82-2 2003 0100
Facsimile: 82-2 2003 0196
Website: www.southkorea.embassy.gov.au

Australian Consulate, Busan

Room 802 Samwhan Officetel
830-295, Bumil 2-dong
Dong-gu
Busan 601-709, Republic of Korea
Telephone: 82-51 647 1762
Facsimile: 82-51 647 1764

If you are travelling to the ROK, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The monsoon season on the Korean Peninsula is from late June to late August. Typhoons may occur between August and September. Flooding and mudslides may interrupt transportation and other essential services.

The direction and strength of typhoons can change with little warning. You can check the latest typhoon information from the Korean Meteorological Administration, and World Meteorological Organisation Severe Weather Information Centre.

In the event of an approaching typhoon, you should identify your local shelter. Travellers should also follow the instructions of local authorities, monitor media and weather reports, and check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.

Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The typhoon could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe typhoon may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo ID, etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our severe weather page.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

Doing business in the Republic of Korea*

Australians doing business in the Republic of Korea should see our business travel advice for general information on the potential for legal and other risks. The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) provides specific advice on doing business in the Republic of Korea. In addition, our Living and Working Overseas page provides further information for Australians considering working or living overseas.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.