Arrival Procedures in South Korea – My Experience

Due to a lot of high infection rates in other countries, Korea has put new measures in place for travellers coming through their ports

Now my initial situation was a little different to others. I wasn’t coming back into the country, I was there on a layover to catch my ongoing flight after 3 days time. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but because of the situation, tourist visas aren’t generally being allowed and because I had to fly out from a different port than my arrival (arrived Incheon, fly out Busan) I had to be cleared by immigration first to be able to take the flight, being a Kiwi did help a lot here. When I went through the timmigration counter at the airport, the question did come up as to why I was coming to Korea, I said I was just transferring though as was let in without problems. That aside, here is what happened when I arrived from London.

After departing the plane

Upon arrival you fill out your arrival card and customs forms as usual except now there are 2 extra forms to fill out and they make sure we downloaded the health app. There is a health check form and a isolation form. Both are straight forward to complete.

Arriving off of the plane, you make your way to the quarantine desk where they check your health details. This will have a long line but it moves steadily. Depending on your status (Korean or foreigner, symptomatic or not) they will direct you to different people. Here you are told that you will be tested once you exit the airport and to follow the directions given to you by staff. You are also given a lanyard to wear that identifies you, make sure to keep that one.

From here, you go to the immigration counter to get your visa stamped and then go through to collect your bags and then hand in your custom form as normal.

Outside Customs and being tested

Once outside, you are directed to an outside testing station. Not much information was given to us except that we would be tested. After filling out a form, you proceed to a tent and get tested. A swab in the mouth and one through your nose to get the back of your throat (very uncomfortable) Testing take a few minutes.

Take your bags with you when you get tested otherwise you have to go back and get it (it is these little things they don’t think of)

Once testing was finished you are taken onto a bus. We were told nothing until we were about to depart. The lack of information flow can be very frustrating. I went out of the bus to ask just what was happening. To summarise what I learned. Each flight that arrives, the identify the foreigners on each flight and they are grouped together, those with symptoms and those without. Once each person is tested and they are all on the bus from that flight, they are taken by bus to a holding facility outside of the city. Ask about water and the bathroom before the bus departs, they should either have some water on the bus (we had none but I have heard other buses did) or you can quickly go in an buy some, same with the bathroom. Then you depart for the holding facility.

At the holding facility, waiting for your results

These facilities seem to be the government training type facilities, usually in isolated places with nothing else around. People who have lived in Korea for awhile will recognise these kinds of places. Once you arrive, your basic information is taken down again and you are directed to your room where you will stay. Again, very little information is given to you. Once you arrive in the room, there are some information sheets that detail what is meant to happen but again, the leave out a lot of specifics. In general, you wait at the facility until your results are sent through, you will end up staying overnight, we go tested in the afternoon and our results arrived around 10am in the morning. If you arrive earlier in the day, you results will likely arrive at night but I would guess you would still stay there overnight. Your not allowed to leave your room, once you arrive it is the start of your quarantine (they don’t actually mention that) You have food left outside your door so you can eat. The food is your typical food packs from the supermarket chains (like Lotte etc) Its ok, its free but its nothing to write home about. The place we stayed at is most likely typical of other facilities, the rooms are comfortable and there is a phone if you have any emergency needs to talk to the staff there plus a bathroom and shower.

A negative result

They will call you on the phone to let you know your results, then you have around 10mins to get your shit sorted and get out (that was basically how it sounded when they told us our results) So once you pack up and meet outside, the buses will take you to a travel hub and your free to move on from there. Even though you test negative, you are still meant to isolate for 14 days and avoid going out in crowds, so being dropped off at a major travel hub is rather counter productive in that regards but at least it makes it easier to reach your destination. Each day you have to till out the health app and the call you and ask health questions once a day as well. However it doesn’t seem as though there is any interaction between the app and calls. I had already filled out the app for the day yet I was still told to fill out, When I told them I had done it already, the person was a little surprised. And then the next phone call was a different person and it seemed they had no access to my information at all, they even asked about my test results, so I do wonder just how well thought out the process is.

Final thoughts

So while the system is great, there is a lack of information given to people who arrive and little to no explanation of this procedure and just what it entails. While I applaud the move to test people, a little more information shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

Marcus Powell has been living and working in South Korea since 2010. He is now on the road before returning back to NZ. Aside from writing his own blog, he is also a popular Club DJ, Gamer, Community manager, esports fan and anime enthusiast.

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