As one of Asia’s growing economic powerhouses, South Korea has attracted a great deal of attention from Western expatriates seeking an exciting, stable, and culturally interesting destination to retire to. Home to both large cities and rural areas, South Korea is an exciting retirement destination for Western expatriates in East Asia.
Since the Korean economy expanded rapidly in the 1970s, South Korea has grown into one of the world’s most popular countries for Western expatriates. The market for skilled English-speaking employees, many of whom work as teachers in Korean schools and universities, has ‘opened’ Korea’s visa system to its current level.
Today, a variety of visas are available for foreigners looking to work, to study, or to live in South Korea. Unfortunately, however, South Korea does not offer retirement visas to foreign citizens. Foreigners aiming to retire in Korea, however, have a range of other visas to choose from with varying requirements on their availability.
Which South Korean Visas Are Most Suitable For Foreign Retirees?
Citizens of most Western nations are able to qualify for a three-month tourism visa in South Korea, allowing them to stay in the country for up to ninety days at a time. While this visa requires frequent trips out of Korea in order to remain in the country legally, it’s nonetheless a popular option for some expatriates in Korea.
Canadian citizens, however, are granted a six-month stay on a B2 class tourism visa – an exception to the otherwise strict ninety-day limit. As with the standard ninety-day tourism visa, this class of visa does not allow visitors to work while in Korea, or to apply for certain privileges such as a driver’s license or local bank account.
Other visas are available for teachers and employees of Korean companies, although these require a full-time work commitment and as such are not suitable for retirees. Of particular interest, however, is the D8 class investment visa, which is granted to all foreigners that invest upwards of 100 million won (around $95,000 USD) in local business in South Korea.
For foreigners with ample cash assets, this option may be the best solution for long-term residency in Korea. However, this class of visa requires an active commitment to operating a business in Korea, and may not be suitable for those that wish to have an inactive, typical retirement in South Korea.
Since 2008, Korea has also offered permanent residency to foreigners that invest more than $500,000 USD in Korea, as well as hiring Korean employees to fill roles within their company. For expatriates that can afford the initial investment, this is the easiest and quickest way of acquiring residency in South Korea.
In most other cases, South Korea does not offer permanent residency or citizenship to any foreigners that work within its borders, even for an extended period of time. For expatriates seeking a stable long-term life in South Korea, investment appears to be the way to go.
Requirements For Acquiring A South Korean Tourism Or Investment Visa
Applying for a tourism visa to South Korea is simple. Citizens of almost all Western nations will be issued a ninety-day visa on arrival in Korea. Those that do not qualify for the visa on arrival will be issued a tourism visa upon submitting their financial balance, passport, and airline tickets to a Korean embassy in their own country.
Other visas require a passport valid for at least six months from the date of arrival in South Korea, a passport-sized application photo, and proof of your current accounts, employment within your home country, or potential for investment in Korea. Visas for investors and employees of Korean companies require a letter of invitation from a Korean company, or documents proving an interest in Korean investment.
Where Can I Apply For A South Korean Tourism Or Investment Visa?
All classes of Korean visa can be applied for and acquired from Korean consulates and embassies abroad. A complete list of South Korean embassies and consulates can be found here. The Korea Immigration Service provides further information on the types of visas available for South Korea and their eligibility requirements.
Certain types of visa may be extended for up to ninety days above their standard entry requirements from within Korea. This is not the case for all visas, and many classes of visa require a trip in and out of Korea for their holders to stay in Korea legally. Check the Korea Immigration Service website for more information.
Despite the lack of retirement visa options, Korea is a suitable place for retirees and expatriates with enough capital to invest in the country for the duration of their stay in Korea. It is also a fantastic country for those seeking a ‘semi-retirement’ period in which they live in Korea as a part-time professional or English teacher.
Given Korea’s growing status as one of Asia’s economic powers, it remains possible that new classes of visa, aimed at introducing more foreign capital to South Korea, could become available in the coming years. For now, the investment class visas are arguably the best long-term option for a stable, reliable retirement in South Korea.