Effective May 23, 2022, South Korea has loosened its pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements for foreign nationals. Specifically, foreign nationals seeking to enter the country can now present either a negative PCR test or a supervised rapid antigen test (RAT). Previously, only PCR tests were accepted. The RAT must be conducted by a health care provider such as a hospital or clinic; at-home RATs are not accepted. South Korea’s move represents another incremental relaxation of the country’s COVID-19 entry requirements and follows the easing of quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travelers in April.

Updated Pre-Arrival Testing Requirements

Under the updated regulations, all foreign nationals seeking to enter South Korea must complete pre-arrival COVID-19 testing. The test must be an nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). The test can be either a DNA amplification-based PCR test (such as RT-PCR, LAMP, TMA, SDA, or NEAR), or a supervised Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) taken at a hospital or clinic. Self-administered tests are not considered valid, regardless of test type.

For PCR tests, a negative test result certificate must be issued within 48 hours before the departure date. For supervised RATs, the test result must be issued within 24 hours prior to departure.

The test result certificate must include the traveler’s name, test method, test date, test result, date of issuance, and the name of the testing center. The traveler’s passport number or national ID number may be included in lieu of date of birth. Test results must be stated in either English or Korean. Test results in other languages must be accompanied by a certified translation.

New Vaccination-Based Quarantine Exemption

In addition to the expansion of pre-arrival testing options, South Korea has implemented a new quarantine exemption for fully vaccinated travelers. Specifically, as of April 1, 2022, fully vaccinated travelers entering South Korea through designated airports, including Incheon Airport, are exempt from the government’s seven-day quarantine requirement.

To be eligible for the exemption, travelers must upload proof of their vaccination status and negative COVID-19 test results and obtain a “Q-code” through an online application before entry. Since the Q-code requires uploading of the negative COVID-19 test result, the Q-code should be filed right after the negative test results are released, and within 48 hours of the departure time (for those submitting a PCR test) or 24 hours of the departure time (for those submitting a supervised RAT).

The Q-code will be issued in the form of a QR code sent to the traveler’s email address after registration. The Q-code is valid only for one-time entry; travelers must register for a new Q-code before each entry. Travelers are advised to carry a print-out of the Q-code at the time of entry.

Updated Post-Arrival Testing Requirements

Travelers who have obtained a Q-code quarantine exemption will be required to undergo additional testing within three days of arrival in South Korea. For foreign nationals holding a valid Alien Registration Card (ARC), a PCR test may be taken at a public health center near their accommodation. For foreign nationals on short-term visits, a PCR test may be pre-booked at Incheon Airport or at a medical institution near their accommodation.

On-arrival testing is required even for travelers who will stay in South Korea for three days or less. Travelers are allowed to carry on normal activities before and after taking the PCR test.

Travelers should be prepared to provide a Korean cell phone number for themselves, a family member, or a colleague, to which the test results will be released as a text.

New Reentry Permit Exemption

South Korea’s vaccination-based quarantine exemption and its allowance of supervised RATs to meet the country’s pre-arrival testing requirement follow the country’s elimination of the need for certain long-term visa holders to obtain a reentry permit prior to traveling overseas.

Under new guidelines effective April 1, 2022, long-term visa holders who either hold residence cards or are waiting for residence cards to be issued and whose travel period outside South Korea does not exceed one year will no longer need to apply for a reentry permit prior to international travel. For certain foreign nationals, such as those holding F-5 permanent residency visas, the authorized duration of stay outside South Korea is extended to two years. Under the policy, A-1, A-3 SOFA, and F-4 visa holders are exempted from applying for a re-entry permit prior to departure.

In accordance with the government’s new pre-arrival testing requirements, long-term visa holders who exit South Korea and then seek to reenter must present either a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours or a supervised RAT taken within 24 hours in order to be cleared for entry.

Fully Vaccinated Travelers and Qualifying Vaccines

For international travel purposes, South Korea considers individuals over age 18 to be “fully vaccinated” if they meet one of the following requirements, regardless of whether they were vaccinated in or outside of South Korea:

  • Receipt of the second dose (or single dose for Johnson & Johnson) of a WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) vaccine between 14 and 180s of departure for South Korea.
  • Receipt of a booster shot if the second dose was taken more than 180s days before departure for South Korea.
  • Documentation of recovery from COVID-19 after receiving two doses of an EUL vaccine (no booster shot required).

Qualifying vaccinations include those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), Novavax, Covovax, AstraZeneca, Covishield, Covaxin, Sinopharm, Sinovac, and Cansino.