South Korea is almost entirely surrounded by water and its cherry blossom trees and ancient Buddhist temples make it an attractive destination for many employees who want to travel. But before your employee can gain legal work status, certain steps must be taken to obtain work permits and visas.
In this article, you'll learn about the visa types available for different professions and the process required to secure a visa.
Types of work visas and permits in South Korea
Employer sponsorship is required for any foreign national looking to work in South Korea. It's part of the South Korea work permit process and means you need to be involved with every step to ensure full compliance with South Korean law.
South Korea is well-known for its stringent immigration policies. Foreigners who plan to stay in South Korea for a period longer than 90 days must register with the local South Korea immigration authorities within three months of entering the country.
They must also go through an entry and customs check from an officer when entering the country. This is even the case when an employee does obtain a visa before entering. The entry and customs officer has the authority to refuse admittance, regardless of visa status.
If your employee has not yet entered the country, they will need to wait for full approval of their visa before doing so. Otherwise, the visa application will be revoked and they will be denied.
The different types of visas available will ultimately depend on Your employee’s profession and the duration of their employment contract.
Eight different professional visas give varying levels of permission to work in South Korea. These are divided into two categories, namely an E-Class visa and a D-Class visa. Both types apply to foreign workers trying to enter South Korea and perform job duties.
While some of the visa type names aren't as explanatory, the professor visa lets you know exactly what it's for. Foreign nationals who plan to give lectures or conduct research in facilities considered above college-level education are eligible for this visa.
It is valid for up to a year and can also be renewed for an additional year. There are specific scenarios in which professors can stay as long as they are needed. In these cases, the visa can be renewed every five years.
Foreign language Instructor visa
South Korea emphasizes teaching its citizens English and other popular foreign languages. As a result, the foreign language Instructor visa is available for foreign language teachers.
This visa allows the holder to teach English, Chinese, and other languages without restrictions at a company, broadcast station-owned school, above-elementary-school-level facility, or similar institutions. Even assistants for foreign language teachers in elementary, middle, or high school are eligible for the visa. Employees can use the foreign language instructor visa for up to two years and have it renewed in increments of two years.
There are two areas eligible for the research visa: natural science and advanced technology. Employees need to have been invited either by a public or private institution to conduct the research. It's a multiple-entry visa so employees can enter and leave South Korea to visit family members or take care of emergencies.
The visa is valid for up to a year but employees can renew the visa in one-year intervals. Like the professor visa, the research visa can be extended for as long as it is needed. It can also be renewed in five-year intervals.
Technological guidance visa
The technological guidance visa is rather vague in its description. It allows foreign nationals with expertise in natural science or advanced technology who are invited by a public or private institution to apply. The visa may also be used if the employee has skills that aren't available in South Korea.
Unlike the other visas, the technological guidances single-entry and multiple-entry depend on which version you apply for. The multiple-entry visa is valid for up to a year and the employee is allowed to renew it in one-year intervals. The single-entry visa is only valid for up to three months so the employee needs to remain in the country during the entire length of their stay. They can renew the multiple-entry visa in one-year intervals.
Special profession visa
Professionals who hold an internationally recognized license are eligible to apply for a special profession visa. Examples include physicians, accountants, lawyers, architects, and other similar professions.
The Korean government still needs to approve the specific profession before the visa is granted. Employees with this type of visa are privileged with multiple and single-entry visa options. The duration of the visa is the same for all other multiple and single-entry types.
Culture and art visa
If your employee is engaged in any musical, artistic, or literary activities, they will be eligible for the culture and art visa. Many different types of art are considered, including pop entertainment, hotel and business entertainment, sports, or for-profit modeling. The visa is only for multiple entries and is good for up to one year. Culture and art visa holders may choose to renew the visa in one-year intervals.
Specially designed activities visa
The Republic of Korea Ministry of Justice designates what constitutes a specially designed activity eligible for the Korea E-7 visa. As long as the employee is performing one of these activities for a private or public organization they are allowed to apply.
This visa allows both multiple and single entries for South Korea immigration. The multiple-entry option is valid for anywhere between one and three years and can be renewed in one to three-year intervals. The single entry is like all others, valid for one month and renewable in one-year intervals.
Long-term news coverage visa
If your company is a foreign media and you want your reporter to visit South Korea, you will use the long-term news coverage visa. The maximum length of the visa is up to two years. An employee may, however, renew the visa in one-year intervals. Foreign nationals using this visa will only be allowed a single entry to South Korea.
Individuals who are looking to continue a business overseas in South Korea, or who wish to become a significant investor in Korean companies, should look into the various business visas available. These include:
- intra-company transfer (D-7)
- corporate investment (D-8)
- trade management (D-9)
The intra-company transfer applies to employees that have worked at a headquarters, brand office, or local office of a foreign business for at least a year. These types of employees who want to transfer to a South Korean office must be considered indispensable professionals to get approved. Employees can utilize this visa for up to two years.
The D-8 visa is for individuals that are looking to invest in a Korean business. Four subcategories apply to the different types of investments an individual is looking to make. Usually, the corporate investment visa is reserved for technology business investments or businesses that require specific skills. The visa is valid for anywhere from two to five years.
A trade management visa is for foreign nationals who are involved with importing and exporting various goods and have been given an ID number from the head of the Korea Trading Association.
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South Korea work visa and permits requirements
South Korea has many types of visas and permits available for employees seeking work in the country. The various visas all have their own set of strict restrictions that must be met to gain approval. Which documents and forms you need to submit will depend entirely on the specific type of visa you apply for from above.
There are, however, a set of standard visa and South Korea work permit requirements that are needed regardless of the type of visa you select. These include:
- A completed application form
- A passport including the original and photocopies
- A colored passport-style photograph
- Application fee
Other South Korea visa requirements may include but are not limited to:
- A passport with at least six months of validity and blank pages
- Professional and educational certificates
- Employment contract
- Tax returns and financial payments of the business from the previous financial year
- Sponsor letter from business
- Business registration license
You're able to file for a visa either online or in-person at one of the South Korean embassies or consulates. Employees who have families who want to join them on the move will need to apply for and obtain even more visas. The F-3 visas are for spouses and unmarried minor children and allow them to stay with the employee for the length of the employment contract. There are single-entry visas available for other family members but they are only valid for up to three months. However, they can renew the visa in one-year intervals.
How to apply for a work permit in South Korea
Both you as the employer and your employee can apply for a South Korea work permit. There are online portals that allow applications to make global expansion easier, but you can also apply in person. Below are a few methods available:
- e-Visa application visa via the visa portal
- Visa application via Korean Diplomatic Missions Abroad
- Confirmation of visa issuance application via the visa portal
- Confirmation of visa issuance application via South Korea Immigration
If you are applying you will need to set up an account on the visa portal website. From there, complete the application form and then immediately make a —payment for all applicable fees.
The visa application form will then go through a reception and review process from the Korean government. When the visa is granted, confirmation will be visible from the visa portal and you can print or send the confirmation.
Once your employee is granted the visa they are legally able to start work in South Korea for your company. The exact process of applying may change depending on the type of visa you are securing and whether or not you wish to apply online or in person.
Application processing time
Because South Korea has so many different types of visas that apply to different types of workers, the exact processing time will vary. In general, you can expect to wait anywhere from two weeks to two months for visa application approval. Planning your application is crucial when deciding your global expansion strategy.
You and your employee should gather documents and file any applications as soon as possible to ensure legal work status before your employee arrives in the country. Failure to secure legal work status can result in hefty fines and other penalties from the South Korean government. Your employee may also be forced to return to their home country.
To ensure your employee is fully compliant with South Korean laws, it's best to work with a global payroll provider.
Planning to hire or work in South Korea? Here’s how Skuad can help
The amount of time and effort it takes for businesses to become knowledgeable about South Korean laws, gather all necessary documents, file the correct forms, and monitor the application process can be overwhelming. Any unintentional mistakes or errors will delay the application process and at worst, be cause for denial. The only way for businesses to make the process more efficient is by partnering with a global payroll provider.
Skuad simplifies and streamlines the process of hiring and managing employees working in South Korea. Our team is experienced with global payroll, local taxes, and employment law, so you can rest assured your business is compliant with local South Korea work permit/visa requirements.
Whether you’re moving team members to manage your projects or want to empower your employees to work from wherever they’d like, check out where we’re making mobility possible. Hire talent in South Korea and beyond and build globally-distributed teams easily with Skuad.
1. Do Americans need a visa for South Korea?
Yes, all Americans will need to secure a passport and a South Korean visa before being allowed to enter the country. However, Americans planning on staying less than 90 days can opt for the Korea Electronic Travel Authorization, which allows entry for tourism or business purposes.
2. Can I work in Korea as a U.S. citizen?
Yes, U.S. citizens can work in South Korea as long as they have obtained the correct type of visa. South Korea has many different types of visas that are specific to the type of profession and job being performed.
3. Is it easy to get a work visa in Korea?
South Korea is one of the stricter countries when it comes to obtaining a visa. Since there are no general visas for obtaining legal work status, employees must ensure they meet all requirements and apply for the correct type of visa to be approved.
4. Can a foreigner work in South Korea?
Yes, any foreigner can work in South Korea as long as they obtain the correct type of visa. The visas are broken down by the type of job being performed or by profession. If a foreigner matches the requirements for the visa, then they are legally able to start work in South Korea.
5. Does South Korea give work permits?
South Korea considers work visas and work permits as the same legal document. Foreigners will only need to secure one type of South Korea work permit or visa to gain legal entry into the country and be allowed to work.