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Korea to ease visa rules to woo Chinese tour groups

April 28, 2023 - 17:02 By Son Ji-hyoung
This photo shows travelers in the Myeong-dong shopping district in central Seoul on March 29. (Yonhap)

South Korea's Justice Ministry announced Friday plans to ease visa requirements in an apparent move to attract more Chinese tour groups.

Starting Sunday, a group of three or more composed of Chinese primary or secondary students and at least one adult leading the group will be permitted to travel to Korea without visas for up to 30 days, as long as they get approval from Korea's consular offices in China.

Also, stopover passengers from China will be able to go on a short trip outside the airport without an additional visa under certain specific conditions.

Beginning on May 15, Chinese group travelers may do a stopover in any of the seven airports on the Korean Peninsula, including Incheon Airport, for up to five days, on their way to their trip to Jeju Island, where Chinese travelers have visa-free entry.

The same visa exemption will be applied to Chinese travelers on stopovers for up to 15 days on their way to or from Japan.

Such eased visa policies for travelers are meant to stimulate tourism in Korea as well as the national economy, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

These measures come as the number of Chinese travelers to Korea has shrunk by more than 96 percent over the past three years, from 6.02 million in 2019 to 227,400 in 2022, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.

The plan also comes at a time when the diplomatic tension between Seoul and Beijing has risen. China on Friday expressed dissatisfaction to South Korea over its joint statement with the United States released during President Yoon Suk Yeol's state visit to Washington. It urged Seoul to stick to the "One China principle," in response to the joint statement, in which the two leaders reiterated the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.


On a separate note, the Justice Ministry announced additional plans to resume visa-free travel outside the airport for travelers on stopovers from countries that do not have visa waiver agreements with Korea -- including China -- after over three years of suspending the policy due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning on Sunday, those flying from such countries -- including China -- to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and 32 European countries will no longer be required to have a short-term visa to stay temporarily in Korea for up to 30 days in between travel, if they have a stopover in a fourth country for no more than 3 days. The same rule will be applicable if they travel the other way around, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

Also, starting on May 15, those who intend to do a stopover here only but are not from a country that has a visa waiver agreement with Korea, may stay up to three days to take part in a transit tour exclusively provided by Incheon Airport.

Korea unveiled plans earlier in March to achieve the milestone of 10 million inbound travelers this year as part of Seoul's 60 billion won ($44.8 million) investment pledge for the tourism sector. Korea has visa waiver agreements with 45 countries. Of these, travelers from 22 countries do not need to apply for Korea Electronic Travel Authorization for visa-free entry, while travelers from the other 23 need to apply for K-ETA.

The eased measures for those transiting through Korea will apply to the nationals of countries that require a short-term visa to visit Korea but do not need one for a trip to Jeju Island.

According to the Justice Ministry, travelers from 23 countries including Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Iran are not exempt from the short-term visa requirement when traveling to Jeju Island.