Disclaimer: This information is based on the process I went through in 2011-2012 and 2016. It is not legal advice. It is quite possibly not up to date. Visa regulations change all the time (as you will see later on in this article). Check with the Korean Embassy for the most up to date information.
2016 Updates in this chic purple colour!
It’s a rite of passage for almost all foreign teachers who decide to teach in Korea. Running the gauntlet to live legally inside Korea’s borders, also known as obtaining one’s Alien Registration Card (ARC). Keep in mind that this process is for an E-2 Visa, one for teaching English in a hagwon or public school when one is not ethnically Korean.
Before I begin with the steps to achieve this feat of bureaucratic maneuvering, let me give you a disclaimer. These instructions are subject to change at any time, for no reason, without warning, and are for guidance ONLY. Please don’t get on my case ten years from now when it isn’t the same.
It took me 118 days to get my visa and another 56 to obtain my ARC. It cost countless hours of legwork and over $800. Prepare ye.
First things first. You must obtain a teaching visa in order to live and work in Korea. Before you can apply to the Korean consulate with jurisdiction over your state/area, you must obtain a Visa Issuance Number (VIN).
To get your Visa Issuance Number (before departure), you will need:
- A photocopy of the face page of your passport
- Your signed contract with your school and/or all EPIK paperwork
- A national criminal record check (FBI background check in the United States, website here)
2016 UPDATE: As of this year, the Korean Consulates in the US are accepting FBI checks obtained through channelers. This is a more expensive but totally worth-it option. Instead of taking five months (like my first ones), it took a week. Worth it.
- A copy of your actual university degree
- Apostilles for both (description of an apostille here, service I used to get mine here)
- A signed, clean health statement (do not put any history of anxiety/depression or drug use)
- Anything else requested by your school
You must send all of these documents to Korea, in order for your school to request a VIN from immigration. *Do not* send your original degree, because you may never see it again. Wait about ten days. Once you have the VIN, you need to apply ASAP to your local Korean consulate to get your visa. When I did this, I had less than a month left until departure.
To get your visa, you will need:
- Your passport
- The VIN
- A completed visa application (see here)
- The full address of your school in Korea
- One sealed set of official university transcripts (2016 UPDATE: Maybe. Get them and be ready to send them if your consulate requests them)
- One passport photo
You need to make an appointment to visit your consulate immediately, or send the required documents to them via insured overnight mail. Enclose a self-addressed, paid return overnight envelope for them to return your passport.
Once you have the visa in your passport, you can leave for Korea.
2016 UPDATE: We had less than three weeks until departure when we sent everything off this time. My visa in the US came back from the San Francisco Consulate in about five days. Russell’s took a week in London.
But wait, there’s more! You must register with immigration and obtain an ARC as soon as possible once you arrive. If the impetus of impending deportation isn’t enough to get you in gear, know that you can’t use the Korean National Health service until you get your ARC. If you’re like me and get sick easily, this could pose a problem.
2016 UPDATE: Speaking of health, you must complete a hospital health exam for the ARC once you arrive in Korea. The cost is 90,000-120,000 KRW, and it will be self-paid. You will need:
- Your passport
- The address of a hospital certified in giving foreigners health checks
- Dolla Dolla Bills (I mean copious won), y’all
- Good health
- Clean urine
Your health check includes a chest X-ray for tuberculosis, a drug test, STD/HIV testing via blood draw, an eye test, and possibly a dental examination (in 2012-2013 this was the case in Suwon, but not in 2016 in Busan).
No, there is no way around this. No, you should not fake your pee. Be ready to squat if you are a lady. Work it out! You live in Korea now! Squat toilets are cleaner and better for you, anyway.
On the day of your health check, do not drink. Do not have too much caffeine. Do not take over-the-counter medications (even Advil or Tylenol). Be healthy!
To obtain your ARC, you will need:
- Your passport with the E-2 visa inside
- An official letter from your school
- 10,000-30,000 KRW 2016 UPDATE: Apparently an ARC costs 3x as much these days. Maybe only in Busan.
- ARC Application form (get this from your school)
- Two receipts for a clean health check from a recognized hospital in Korea (the health check costs 120,000 KRW and is often not covered by the school)
- A good book, or maybe just lots of soju to pass the time
You must go to the immigration office in your area with these documents and wait to be seen by an official. You cannot have someone from your school go in your place as in the past, as you must provide a digital scan of all five fingerprints on your right hand in person. I waited eight hours over the course of two separate days.
MAKE SURE YOU ASK FOR A RECEIPT from immigration that you have submitted your documents. You can request that the ARC be sent directly to your school and pay 4,000 KRW. Worth it. Do it. Don’t waste more of your life in the immigration office trying to pick it up. It should arrive about two weeks to one month after you submit all the forms.
Once you have your VIN, your visa, and your ARC, you’re done! Just kidding.
You still have to register with the Education Office. You have to duplicate many documents because they aren’t friends with the Immigration Service.
To register with the Education Office, you will need:
- Your physical, actual university degree (not a copy)
- A **second** national criminal record check
- Apostilles for both (they will copy your degree, but you still have to have the original)
- Your passport with the E-2 visa
- Your ARC
- A letter from your school
- Anything else your school requests
If you manage to make it through all four gauntlets, you should throw a legal residence party!
In all, I spent over $800 in fees and shipping in order to obtain all the necessary records. Your total costs will vary according to how much shipping and fee spending you must do.
These requirements are constantly shifting. I was all set with my VIN and visa when I suddenly had to obtain a second FBI background check and another degree apostille for the Education Office, and without the support of my family in the States I would not have been able to move to Korea. The bureaucratic process is so complicated that one is almost required to break it somewhere in order to move here. Don’t be surprised if things get a little sketchy.
A couple of final tips:
- DO have someone whom you could trust with documents inside your home country in case of sudden changes.
- DO make and keep copies of every single document and carry them with you on your flight.
- DO ask questions of your school and recruiter.
- DO consult others who’ve been through the process before you.
- DON’T try to fake your drug test. It’s just not worth it.
- DON’T get a national apostille from the State Department in the US. It will take over six weeks. A state one is just fine.
- DON’T try to get a degree from another country apostilled in the USA. They will reject it if it is from England, Colombia, etc.
- DON’T wait until the last minute for any of this.
- DON’T freak out when the requirements change.
Happy hunting! Please post comments if you have any recent changes or if you have questions.