Prepare yourself. I’m not going to lie – applying for a visa is a maddening, confusing, difficult process. But it’s a necessary one. That’s why I’m going to explain how I did it, what went wrong, and how I survived the process.
This post’s information on the visa process is valid for US citizens as of August 2014, so if it’s 2024 and you’re having problems…I recommend you look for a newer post.
Firstly, find out what sort of visa you need. I needed a D-2 visa because I am a US citizen going to study abroad for a semester in Seoul. If you’re from the United States, you’re able to stay in South Korea without a visa for up to 90 days if you’re only there for “tourism and visitation.”
Secondly, find out which embassy corresponds to you. I live within the region that corresponds to the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Chicago, so I sent my application to them. I found most of my information for applying on their visa info page, but I also scavenged better directions from the websites other Korean embassies in the US. Do not use this blog post as your only resource for applying for a visa. Check your corresponding embassy’s requirements. Do you have your exit buddy.
Thirdly, gather the paperwork and information that the application needs. This step was my nightmare.
- Passport: Verify not only that your passport is valid but that it will still be valid until after you return from South Korea. This may set you back a week or more if you need to submit your passport for renewal (I had to renew my passport but woo! Now it’s valid until 2024). This is the passport that the embassy is going to stick a pretty, shiny visa in, so you have to send it. Or no pretty, shiny visa for you.
- Copy of Picture Page of that same valid Passport: Clearly a valid passport isn’t enough! They want to keep your passport information on file just so you don’t make any funny business, any at all, or you’ll be locked in your cupboard for a week! *cue Harry Potter theme song* Anyways, make sure the copy is in color. And while you’re at it, make at least four copies. Leave one at home with a trusted family member or friend, take two with you (and keep it secret! Keep it safe! But keep it with you when you leave), and send one with your application to the embassy.
- Visa Application Form: And you thought you were done filling out endless boxes of personal information when you got into college! This was probably my biggest nemesis with this whole process.
- Problems I encountered:
- I typed directly into the PDF app, and the tops and bottoms of my letters were cut off in the boxes. 어떡해! Numbers looked ambiguous and how could the embassy know what foreign script my name was written in?! So I printed a blank app and handwrote my answers, only to decide that I was in danger of being rejected based on my handwriting – so I returned to the original typed and printed version, took a ball point pen, and labored to fill in where the PDF had cut off the numbers and letters. It gave the whole thing a typewriter appearance…
- I wasn’t sure what to do with some of the boxes. If you scroll to the bottom of the app, it will tell you to ignore some boxes (such as 3 and 12. They aren’t applicable unless you can write your name in Chinese characters or for some reason you have a National Identity No. – and no, that’s not your Social Security Number). It’s easy to overthink some of these boxes.
- What’s your occupation? Student. Studies will occupy much of your time in Korea, hence the D-2 student visa. Ignore the rest of that section, and onward to Marital Status!
- If you’re sexy, free, and single, then check that box, 춤 a little, and onwards again!
- Purpose of Entry: Exchange Student.
- Potential Length of Stay…? For me, it’s 4 months – I leave for Seoul on August 23rd and return to the US on December 22nd. No matter how long you’re going to be studying, make sure your length of stay includes how long you’ll be in Korea both before and after your program. If you arrive two months early to become an ahjumma in Busan, then include those two months!
- Address in Korea: I don’t know my exact dorm address yet, but it’s completely acceptable to put down your Korean university’s address – especially the address of the office of international affairs. You should have received a packet from that office – use their address.
- Phone Number: I won’t know my phone number in Korea until I buy a SIM card there. If you already know what number you’ll have, eeeeeeggggcellent. If not, leave it blank.
- Who will pay for the expense of your stay?: This one is tricky. I ended up entering it as Self and School. I’m using a Gilman scholarship, grants from my university, and other scholarships to fund this adventure. Then I have my own savings. This answer is important because you’ll be required to provide proof of these funds, so if you’re going to only put Self, you need to make sure you really have all those funds in your bank account. You could also put down someone else’s information, but you’re going to need them to have the minimum amount in their bank account, along with an official bank account statement that has their name on it. And a letter/statement from them saying that they’ll fund your expenses.
- As of when I applied for my visa (July 2014), you are required to have minimum funds of $5,000 (that’s USD) in your bank account if you want a visa allowing you to stay for one semester. If you’re going for two semesters, you need $10,000 on your bank account statement.
- Is your home university covering part or all of the costs? You need to print out your official financial aid award with enough loans, scholarships, grants, etc. to meet those same minimums for a semester or two semesters. It doesn’t state this on the embassy website, but I highly recommend contacting your financial aid office and requesting a brief letter from them to include in your application that states that the funds are available for you to use. Don’t stress out and just explain the situation; they’ve had tons of students ask the same thing!
- This part was awful because I did not receive my official award notice from my home university until sometime in late July – I had been trying to get my visa since May, and I kept getting delayed by waiting on documents to prove I won’t become a hobo on the streets of Seoul (I promise I won’t become a hobo when I’m there). It was a long process, but luckily I had a fantastic financial aid advisor helping me and replying to my worried emails.
- Guarantor or Reference in Korea: Under Relationship, you can put School Director. Probably. You should check the packet that your Korean university sent you to verify the person’s name. If you know how to type/write in 한글, go ahead and input their name that way. If not, just do the romanized form. Don’t worry about nationality, gender, or date of birth. The embassy understands that you don’t necessarily know this about your school director.
- DO NOT FORGET TO SIGN AND DATE THE APPLICATION AT THE BOTTOM.
- Problems I encountered:
- 2″ by 2″ recent Passport Photo: No hats, glasses, scarves, etc., and it needs to be taken within 6 months of your application. You can’t scan it. It has to be an original photograph printed on photo paper. Go pay a ridiculous $12 for someone at CVS to take the photo for you, or find somewhere else to print it properly.
- Original Certificate of Admission: This made me sad. I wanted to keep my pretty certificate from Yonsei’s packet, but you have to complete #8d and #10 (sign and date it), and send it to the embassy. You won’t get it back (you won’t get anything back except for your passport), so make a copy of it for your records.
- I just put down Self under #8d – Relationship again, left all other options blank or as Yonsei filled them out, and signed and dated it.
- Copy of Business Registration Certificate: You should have received a copy of your university’s Business Registration Certificate, which validates to the embassy that you really are studying at that school – and that the school does exist.
- Certificate of Graduation & Copy: Send them the most recent transcript you have from your home university, and a copy of it. I know people who submitted just two unofficial transcripts that they printed out themselves from their school’s online records. I sent both an official transcript printed by my university and a copy of the official transcript I printed myself. Just make sure you send two transcripts, and make sure they’re the same recent transcript.
- Bank Statement or Letter of Financial Aid: As I explained in that spiel about writing down Self and School, either provide an official bank statement with your name on it proving that you have $5,000 or $10,000 in your account for funds for your trip, or provide a letter from your financial aid office + your official financial aid award notice. If someone else is paying for you, you need their bank account statement and a letter from them.
- They will not accept a previous year’s financial aid award; it must be awarded to you for the term(s) that you will be abroad. I know this; I suffered through asking the embassy this in Korean on the phone.
- Money Order of $45 payable to your embassy (for US citizens): Do NOT forget to buy this when you go to mail your application. I almost did. This is nonrefundable and cannot be paid in any other way. Money order is your only option if you’re mailing this. You can only pay in cash if you go in person.
- Go to your local post office and ask to purchase a money order for $45 – they’ll walk you through the process. There is no fee for buying the money order, just the amount of the money order itself. You will need to exact title and address of the embassy you’re mailing your application to. You can buy this money order at the same time that you mail your entire packet of application materials to the embassy.
Well now. You have your things all in order, hopefully. Did anyone warn you how nightmarish this process is?
Fourthly (forgot we were on thirdly and fourthlies with all those necessary documents, didn’t you?), go to your local USPS store with everything your application requires. Swallow your bitterness at the cost of security, and pay for your money order and a next-day delivery with a tracking code. You will also want to purchase a return service with next-day delivery and tracking code. Tell the USPS person helping you that you are applying for a visa, that you need to send a self-addressed, prepaid envelope. I used USPS Express Certified Mail and am so glad that I did.
All of your documents will go inside an unsealed USPS-provided cardboard envelope which will then go inside another envelope. This outside one will be sealed. MAKE SURE YOUR MONEY ORDER IS INSIDE THE PACKAGE. You’re paying for both envelopes, because you want your passport back with that darn visa on it, don’t you?
My total cost for all of this was roughly $90, because I paid $45 for the money order, around $20 for certified, next-day delivery (no signature required in case the embassy wasn’t personally open to accept and sign for my package) by 10AM, and $15 for next-day delivery (with no signature, not guaranteed to arrive by 10AM) once the embassy sent back my passport.
Fifthly (is fifthly really a word?), stop holding your breath and get other things done. They ask for about 5 business/working days to process your visa, so don’t expect it to be on your doorstep 2 days after you mail it. Mine came about 6 days later, safe and sound, protected by the money I spent to make it zoom between my home and Chicago.
I sincerely hope this is helpful, because I experienced the pain of this process and just about lost my mind trying to figure out how to do everything right. If I can answer any questions, I’m happy to try! Anyone else experienced applying for a visa? How did you survive?
Only a few days until I leave for Seoul…
BTS is back!