We haven’t written about travel to South Korea for six months, and there’s a good reason for that – the country basically ended all its COVID-19 restrictions from 1st October 2022, for test-free and quarantine-free travel for all those normally eligible to enter as tourists, including Singapore citizens.
One requirement has remained, however, and that’s the Electronic Travel Authorisation or K-ETA – an automated system first adopted in September 2021 to check entry eligibility for those able to travel to the country visa-free.
An application unfortunately carries a 10,000 KRW (~S$10) fee, but an approved ETA is then valid for multiple entries over two years using the same passport.
In many ways, this is not unlike the concept of the ESTA when you travel to the USA, or Canada’s eTA system for foreign visitors.
Singaporeans and 21 other nationalities no longer need a K-ETA
South Korea has now announced that “in celebration of Visit Korea Year (2023-2024)”, there will be no requirement for nationals of 22 countries to obtain a K-ETA prior to travel.
This temporary exemption takes effect from 1st April 2023, and will be valid for arrivals until 31st December 2024.
Nationals of the following countries are eligible for travel without a K-ETA during this 21-month period:
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
This will save travellers around S$10 each on a South Korea trip, plus the hassle of actually completing the application in advance for each family member.
Things to know
Here are a few things to know about this newly announced K-ETA exemption:
- If you are eligible for K-ETA exemption and opt to travel to South Korea without one, you will be required to complete an arrival card and present it to the immigration officer.
- If you already hold a K-ETA approval, you can continue to use it until its expiration date, and you will not be required to complete an arrival card.
- You can still apply for a K-ETA if you wish, even if you have one of the 22 nationalities listed above, at a cost of KRW 10,000 (~S$10 per person), but the only benefit during this period is that you will be exempt from completing the arrival card.
- If you have already submitted your K-ETA application, no refund will be provided, even if you are exempt and arriving on or after 1st April 2023.
- If you have an APEC Business Travel Card, there is already no requirement to apply for a K-ETA to travel to South Korea (this news doesn’t change anything for you).
Singapore – South Korea trip process
Here’s the latest process for Singapore citizens (and those from 21 other countries listed above) travelling quarantine-free and test-free to South Korea, for arrivals from 1st April 2023.
Eligibility & Process
Singapore South Korea
Many websites, including the SIA travel advisory page, still state that the Q-code is mandatory, but it is not. On the other hand, it should speed up your immigration clearance and so we recommend completing this in advance if you have time.
There is no requirement to be vaccinated to travel to South Korea, with the country removing this requirement on 8th June 2022, and there are no testing requirements since September 2022, so you don’t need to worry about uploading any certificates or even bringing them along with you.
South Korea also recently ended its mask mandates, except in healthcare settings, and both Singapore Airlines and Scoot flights to and from the country are now mask-optional.
This restores trips to pre-COVID norms for most of our readers.
South Korea has come a long way since its initial array of testing, combined with Singapore’s original VTL requirements, which meant adding S$600+ in costs to a round-trip between the two countries.
That’s almost unbelievable to recall 18 months later, but there was an unexpected bonus waiting in the wings too.
From 1st April 2023 the process is entirely free of restrictions in both directions for most visitors, with the K-ETA application prior to departure now axed for Singapore citizens and those with 21 other nationalities.
Effectively all that’s changed from pre-COVID is that you’ll have to complete Singapore’s SGAC form before returning home.
There’s also a cost saving, with the K-ETA costing around S$10 per person – money that can surely be better spent on a Bibimbap!
Do note that if you opt to travel to South Korea without a K-ETA from 1st April 2023 to 31st December 2024 you will need to complete an arrival card and present this to the immigration officer at the airport (K-ETA holders are exempt from this requirement).
If you already have a K-ETA you won’t need to complete an arrival card and you can continue to use this approval to enter the country until its expiry.
(Cover Photo: Korea Tourism)