South Korea’s New Digital Nomad Visa Scheme: Eligibility Criteria and Requirementsby Fintech News Hong Kong January 12, 2024
On January 01, 2024, South Korea officially launched a pilot program for a digital nomad visa scheme, allowing foreigners to stay for up to two years while maintaining a job back home, officials said on December 29, 2023.
The visa program, called the Workcation Visa, offers an immigration pathway for remote workers, which was previously not available. It allows foreigners to work and travel in South Korea and aims to revitalize the local economy, riding on the so-called “workcation” trend where employees work remotely from a different location to attract skilled and high-paid professionals.
The new visa scheme is currently being offered under a test-run status and the government has yet to determine whether or not it will be permanently adopted.
The South Korean Justice Ministry said in statement quoted by the Korea Herald that the visa program will facilitate longer-term stays for professionals working for overseas firms and will encourage foreigners to explore South Korea. It promises an easy and straightforward application process, and offers the potential for a two-year stay, making it an appealing option for remote workers.
“So far, foreigners were required to apply for tourist visas or just stay for less than 90 days without a visa for ‘workcation’ in Korea,” the department said. “The new system will allow employees and employers in overseas firms to tour and work remotely in Korea for a longer period of time.”
“We hope the workcation visa will allow high-earning foreigners to stay in Korea’s various regions and vitalize the local economy […] We hope the visa will be an opportunity for us to showcase our country and our culture,” the Ministry added.
Those looking to apply for South Korea’s Workcation Visa must submit a set of documents to the South Korean embassy or consulate of their country of residence to prove that they meet the eligibility requirements.
These requirements include being 18 or older, earning an annual income of over KRW 84.96 million (US$64,500) – a figure that’s double the amount of South Korea’s gross national income per capita of KRW 42.48 million (US$32,200) in 2022 -, have a stable employment, have at least one year of professional work experience in their current role or industry, have a clean criminal record, and hold private health insurance with coverage of at least KRW 100 million (US$75,900) to ensure the ability to travel back home in an emergency situation.
After receiving the visa, digital nomads will be allowed to bring along their spouse and children under 18.
The visa grants holders the ability to stay in South Korea for one year, with an opportunity to extend for another year, extending the maximum term to up to two years. It does not, however, permit holders to apply for a job within South Korea which requires a working visa.
The government said that foreigners already living in South Korea on a short-term tourist visa such as the B-1, B-2 and C-3, are eligible to reapply for the Workcation Visa if they meet the requirements.
According to Digital Nomads Korea, a community of digital nomads and remote workers in South Korea, the visa should take about 10-15 days after application to be fulfilled.
Reviving the domestic tourism sector
The launch of South Korea’s Workcation Visa comes at a time when the government is aiming to attract 20 million foreign visitors by the end of 2024 and create US$24.5 billion in tourism revenue after the COVID-19 virus brought the industry to a near standstill, the Korea Times reported in December 2023.
In 2019, South Korea welcomed a record of 17.5 million travels and generated US$20.7 billion in tourism revenue. These numbers declined sharply after COVID-19 to reach a low of 970,000 inbound travels, Prime Minister Han said. The sector started recovering in 2023, with an estimated 10 million visitors welcomed last year.
To revive tourism, the government has also said that it will be launching several other initiatives to attract visitors. These initiatives include the introduction of a so-called K-Culture Training Visa program, which will aim to attract young foreign nationals who are interested in South Korean content and who would be willing to learn about the country’s entertainment industry, the organization of K Culture Events throughout 2024 to spotlight South Korean music, food and beauty, and the launch of a K Tourism Road Show in several countries around the world from the US to Sweden.
The government also said that it will expand electronic visa fee waivers for tour groups, and introduce new digital capabilities to accommodate foreigners. This includes the implementation of foreign mobile payment systems in stores to allow inbound travelers to use payment methods from their home countries, the creation of a foreign traveler-exclusive mobility application to make reservations for trains, buses and taxis, and the development of an English version of the country’s existing navigation service.
Asian nations jump on the digital nomad bandwagon
South Korea joins other Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, in welcoming digital nomads to temporarily reside in the country.
In 2022, Malaysia launched a digital nomad visa scheme, allowing remote workers to travel and work in the country for up to 12 months, with the possibility to extend for an additional 12-month. To qualify for the visa program, applicants must be a full-time or part-time remote worker, digital freelancer, or independent contractor earning at least US$24,000 annually, according to Travel Noire, a digital publishing platform specializing in travels.
Primary pass holders can bring their spouse and children, and the fees for the main applicant and their dependents currently stand at MYR 1,000 (US$213.15) and MYR 500 (US$106.58), respectively. The program is expected to inject a total of MYR 4.8 billion (US$1 billion) into the local economy by the 2025.
In December 2023, Indonesia launched a five-year multi-entry visa program, permitting foreigners to stay up to 60 days at a time. The visa costs IDR 15 million (US$1,000) and must be paid online, according to the Bali Sun.
Visa holders are not permitted to conduct income-generating work or business in Indonesia, making it a viable option for digital nomads. Applicants must have a passport that’s valid for at least six months, produce a proof of living expenses of at least US$2,000 or equivalent, and provide a recent color photograph in addition to other documents.
The Philippines, meanwhile, is working on a digital visa scheme which would grant holders the ability to stay in the country for 12 months, with an opportunity to extend for another year. Although the official launch date for the program is still pending confirmation, industry observers believe that the program could be introduced as early as Q1 2024.
Featured image credit: edited from freepik