- Foreign & Commonwealth Office
- 31 May 2013
How to access the essential information you need when travelling to or living in South Korea as a British National.
Around 100,000 British nationals travel to South Korea each year and approximately 8,000 British nationals live and work here.
This guide sets out essential information for British national residing in South Korea, including advice on health, education, benefits, residence requirements and more. We are unable to provide any guidance on general lifestyle enquiries apart from the information and links listed below. See our information on ‘How else we can help & What our consulates cannot do for you’.
Medical care is generally good in South Korea, although can be expensive. Healthcare is not provided free of charge in South Korea for foreign nationals and medical bills can be high.
There is no reciprocal National Health Service agreement in South Korea and medical costs are to be borne by the individual. Insurance is essential; ensure that comprehensive travel insurance is taken out before you travel. Make sure that your policy provides for the following:
- an air ambulance, in case you need to be flown home
- full medical cover (bills can be very expensive)
- bringing the body home, in the event of a death
- bringing your family home, in the event of your illness or injury
If you need emergency medical assistance, you can attend any medical clinic, Hospital Emergency Room or dial 119 for an emergency. You can find more information about the list of local hospitals here.
PDF, 156KB, 5 pages
There is a 9 year compulsory education system, accessible only to Korean nationals. In addition, there are a number of privately run schools – at all levels – that accept international students. The Education Bureau provides information regarding education policies and services in South Korea.
Employment / Residence / Recognised qualifications
As a general rule, any person other than those who have the right of abode or right to land in South Korea, must obtain a visa before coming to Korea for the purpose of study, taking up employment, training, investment or residence.
Don’t overstay your visa. The South Korean authorities consider overstaying a serious matter and you may be held in detention, fined and deported, or removed at your own expense.
Please visit the Korean Immigration website.
A university degree is the basic requirement for many employment opportunities for foreigners in Korea. Any educational qualification must be apostilled by the Legalisation Office.
The Social Welfare Department provides information on social security for residents in South Korea who are financially vulnerable. For information on UK benefits, please click here. If you are considering moving or retiring abroad, please click here for information.
Driving licences and vehicles
In order to drive in Korea, you will require a Korean driving licence. Please visit the Korean Driver’s Licence Agency’s website for more information.
Please note that you must take a written exam before you can obtain a Korean driver’s licence except for those who hold UK or other approved international driving licences or UK apostilled driving licences. This written exam can be provided in English. Details on how to have your UK licence apostilled can be found here.
For information about UK driving licences, please click here.
There are mandatory deductions for tax, health insurance and pension insurance if you are working in South Korea. If you’re not working, you pay healthcare costs yourself without any insurance cover. It isn’t normally possible to claim reimbursement of pension insurance payments unless you have been resident in South Korea for at least 10 years.
Guidance on bringing medication into Korea
South Korean Customs authorities allow you to bring small amounts of medication for your personal use if you are on medication, provided that it is kept in carry-on baggage. It is advised to take an English language prescription from your doctor at home for both your prescription drugs and non-prescription medicines. That way, you avoid problems or misunderstandings at customs in South Korea. It is also a good idea to consult their website before you travel to South Korea.
For more information, please visit the Department of Health website.
Sponsoring family members
Foreigners are allowed to enter and live in South Korea with their family members and dependants.
You should ask the Immigration Office directly for further advice and information on sponsoring family members to live in South Korea.
Visit the Korean Immigration Office website for information on applying for residence and work permits and the requirements for visas.
Property and property disputes
Foreigners owning property in South Korea are not discriminated against, and foreign ownership of business is largely permitted in most sectors. Buying property is straightforward, unless you need a mortgage. Each bank has different conditions for mortgages. Please consult banks separately.
Social ethics and traditions
South Korea has very strict drug laws. Drugs of a lower classification in the UK are considered Class 1 drugs in South Korea. Whether for personal use or sale to others, possession of drugs results in a lengthy prison sentence. Please refer to the Ministry of Justice website. Please see Travel Advice on local laws and customs.
Leaving South Korea
If you wish to leave South Korea and need to obtain a criminal record clearance from the South Korean authorities, you will need to apply for a Certificate of No Criminal Record (‘Sin Won Zung Myung Seo’):
- to apply for a certificate while you are resident in South Korea, you should apply to your local Police Station in person
- to obtain a certificate after you have left South Korea you should contact your nearest Korean Embassies
The level of tension and the security situation can change with little notice. In the past, heightened tensions haven’t affected daily life. There remains a threat of further missile or nuclear tests by the DPRK, which could lead to instability in the region.
Get email alerts for future updates to our travel advice and closely monitor local and international media coverage.
The South Korean Government has developed a smartphone application with civil emergency advice, including shelter locations, different types of alarms, medical facilities and emergency services. Search for ‘emergency ready app’ on Android or Apple app stores.
Published: 31 May 2013