In this post, I’ll explain everything you need to know about obtaining a working holiday visa in Korea.
From mouth-watering BBQ dishes to jaw-dropping scenery and landscapes, South Korea is an ideal destination for travelers of all ages. Whether you’re soaking in the neon city lights of Seoul or hiking the snow-capped peaks of the Taebaek Mountains, adventure awaits you in the Land of the Morning Calm.
It also happens to be one of the most desirable destinations for a working holiday. Korea attracts young travelers eager to spend more than just a short trip getting to know its rich 5,000-year-old history and culture.
In this guide, I’ll cover who can apply for a working holiday in Korea, what to expect, and how to land the perfect job. If you’re interested in this once-in-a-lifetime experience, then look no further!
What is a Working Holiday in Korea?
On a working holiday visa, you’ll be able to travel, live, and work in South Korea. Although you’ll have the opportunity to make money, the primary purpose of your visit should be to travel. This is an excellent opportunity for young travelers who want to experience firsthand what a different country and culture is like.
Working holiday participants are also allowed to work in order to supplement their travel funds. And if you want to go to school or study during your time abroad, you can do that as well. Many participants are allowed to study Korean for a certain number of months on their visa.
If accepted into the program, you will be issued an H-1 visa. This working holiday visa is valid for 12 months, which means you have one full year to travel and work in South Korea. However, US citizens are able to receive an 18-month visa.
Best of all, you don’t need a formal job offer in order to come to Korea on a working holiday visa. You can look for employment once you arrive, in any city that sparks your interest.
If you’re ready to travel the world and experience a new culture, then a working holiday in Korea might be the perfect option for you!
☞ SEE ALSO: How To Get a Working Holiday Visa Worldwide
Who is Eligible for a Working Holiday in Korea?
To participate in the working holiday program, you must be a citizen from a country with a bilateral working holiday agreement with South Korea.
Korea has this agreement with 25 countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. A complete list of participating countries can be found on the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
You also need to be between the ages of 18 and 30. However, this age restriction is inclusive, which means you can apply anytime before you turn 31 years old.
To apply for the working holiday program, you must prove you have sufficient funds in your bank account. You need to have funds equivalent to KRW 3,000,000 ($2,500), as well as a return airfare or money to purchase a return flight.
Some countries might require background checks, which means you cannot have any criminal history or significant health issues. Finally, you must have health insurance during your entire working holiday stay.
☞ SEE ALSO: How To Get a Working Holiday Visa in Germany
How Do I get a Working Holiday in Korea?
The application is relatively straightforward. Each country has its own application process and requirements, following the same guidelines below.
It’s important to note that applicants must apply from within their home country. However, Australians are also allowed to apply for the program from Japan (Tokyo), China (Beijing, Shanghai), Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Keep in mind that there is no online application system. Therefore, applications must be sent in the mail or directly to the embassy.
Here are the steps to take for obtaining a working holiday visa in Korea:
See if Your Country has a Visa Quota
Some countries only have a set number of working holiday visas to distribute each year. Once the quota has been filled, you will no longer be able to apply for the visa. You must wait until the following year to re-apply.
Canada has 4,000 visas, New Zealand has 3,000, the UK has 1,000, and the US has 2,000. Australia, on the other hand, has an unlimited number of working holiday visas.
Complete the Visa Application Form
Your next step is to complete the visa application form. Fill out your personal information, education, work experience, and details of your intended visit. You will also need to provide financial information for your stay in Korea, including your expected travel and accommodation costs.
The application form can be found here. Remember to print and fill out the information using Korean, or English block letters.
Write a Travel Plan
All working holiday applicants are required to submit a travel plan along with their application. In this travel plan, you’ll outline your motivation for coming to Korea and your objective with a working holiday.
In the travel plan, include where you plan to stay, what type of work you’re looking for, and any other activities you want to participate in during your time in Korea. The more information you provide, the more convincing your application will be to the local authorities.
Gather All Necessary Documents
To apply for the H-1 visa, you need to make sure you have the following documents and information:
- A completed and signed visa application form
- Travel plan
- Passport with six months validity left
- Proof of health insurance (with KRW 40,000,000 minimum coverage)
- Proof of sufficient funds (like a printed bank statement)
- Health check **only required for some countries**
- Criminal background check **only required for some countries**
- Self-addressed pre-paid postage for return (if applying by mail)
- Visa application fee (between $45-80 depending on nationality)
Please consult with your local embassy to confirm the exact requirements needed to apply for the working holiday visa.
There are two options for submitting your working holiday application. You can either send it through the mail or deliver it in person to the embassy in your home country. Some embassies require that you make an appointment ahead of time, while others accept walk-ins.
Once the docs are submitted, the immigration officer will determine if you meet the eligibility criteria for an H-1 working holiday visa. If you’ve been accepted into the program, you will receive your passport with your one-year (or 18-month) visa for Korea.
Generally speaking, the visa processing time is around one to two weeks. Since processing times vary between embassies, you can check the exact wait time on their websites. Keep in mind that this timeframe may be longer if you send your application in the mail since you need to take delivery time into account.
Once you get your visa, it’s time to celebrate and start making plans for your trip to Korea!
How Do I Start Working on My Working Holiday Visa in Korea?
After you book your flight, pack your bags, and say goodbye to your friends, you’ll be on your way to Korea in no time. Starting a new adventure in Korea is exciting, but don’t forget to complete the following steps before you start working on your working holiday visa.
Register with the Authorities
Once you land in Korea, you have precisely 90 days to register with the nearest immigration office. You will then receive a foreigner’s card, which is necessary to legally work and open a bank account. The foreigner’s card is the single most important document you should have during your working holiday.
Appointments must be booked online and in advance. Bring the following documents on the day of your scheduled appointment:
- Valid passport
- Completed application form (Available at Korea Immigration Center)
- A fee of 30,000 KRW ($25)
- Travel plans
- Housing Contract Document
- 1 Photo, size 3.5×4.5cm with a white background
During your appointment, the immigration officer will take your fingerprints and review your documents. After three or four weeks, you can return to the office to pick up your registration card. Keep this card on you at all times!
Open a Bank Account
A Korean bank account is needed if you want to get paid for your work during your working holiday. The good news is that opening a bank account is very easy in Korea.
First, choose the branch you’d like to bank with. To open an account, you only need your passport and foreign residence card. Best of all, opening a bank account is entirely free.
What Type of Work Can You Do On a Working Holiday in Korea?
On a working holiday visa, you can work in almost any type of job. However, you cannot work in a skilled profession, like a doctor, pilot, athlete, or entertainer. It’s also important to note that you cannot teach English on a working holiday visa. If you would like to teach English, you must apply for an E2 visa.
You are also not allowed to work full-time, as the H-1 states you can only work a maximum of 1,300 hours for the year.
Depending on your nationality, there may be limitations on your length of employment. For example, Australians are only allowed to work six months with the same employer. On the other hand, New Zealand, Canadian, UK, and US citizens can work for the same employer for the duration of their visa.
When it comes to finding work in Korea, the following industries have the biggest opportunities for working holiday participants.
Attracting millions of tourists each year, Korea is one of the most visited countries in Asia. With tourism steadily growing, hostels, hotels, and resorts are always looking for English speaking staff. Being bilingual is helpful as well, since you’ll be able to interact with a variety of guests and tourists.
In the hospitality industry, you can work in front desk or reception, as a concierge helper, a tour guide, or even as a bellhop. If you have interpersonal skills and love working with people, then a job in the hospitality industry could be for you.
As an Au Pair, you’re responsible for childcare and other domestic responsibilities for your host family. That means watching children, preparing meals, and taking care of other duties and chores around the house. Not only is this an excellent option for people who love children, but it’s also an excellent way to live like a local during your stay.
One of the biggest benefits of working as an Au Pair is that your host family provides your accommodation. In many situations, your family will provide room, utilities, and food during your stay. On top of that, you’ll also get a monthly salary and flexible days off during your working holiday.
Retail and Service Industry
If you have a working knowledge of Korean, you might be able to work in the retail or service industry during your time abroad. Whether you’re a barista in the city center of Seoul, a waiter in an international restaurant in Busan, or a bartender in the middle of Incheon, you’ll have no problem finding available opportunities in Korea.
Like any other customer-facing positions, being able to speak Korean will significantly improve your chances of being hired.
With the right skill set, you can easily land an office job in Korea. Large corporations like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai are located in Korea, and are usually hiring English speakers or foreign nationals.
If you choose to work for a global company, you might also get away without speaking any Korean. Many international companies do business with other countries, making English the default language. But remember, you can’t work fulltime, as your visa only allows a maximum of 1,300 working hours during your stay.
Where Can I find Working Holiday Jobs?
One of the biggest benefits of a working holiday in South Korea is that you don’t need an official job offer to apply to the program. You can secure a job once you arrive. Here are a few ways to help jumpstart your job search in Korea.
Korean Job Sites for Expats
The easiest way to find a job in Korea is by looking online. There are a variety of job sites that cater to foreign or English speakers. A few popular sites in Korea are Seoul Global Center and Contact Korea. You can even check out the Seoul Metropolitan Government for available English speaking jobs.
Other Online Sites
If you can’t find what you’re looking for on a Korean website, then I recommend other popular job sites, like Linkedin, Glassdoor, and Indeed. On these sites, you can filter postings by location, skills, and even full time or part-time work.
Working with a recruitment agency is another excellent option for finding a job in Korea. Companies like HRNetOne Manpower Korea specialize in helping foreign and English speaking nationals find work.
Based on your experience and resume, the recruiter will match you with a suitable job. One of the biggest benefits of working with a recruitment agency is that they are aware of job postings that aren’t available online. Not to mention, they can connect you directly with the specific company!
Disadvantages of the Working Holiday Program in Korea
Between the big cities and the sprawling countryside, Korea is brimming with exciting adventures around every corner. However, the country is not for everyone. Before you make your way to the far east, there are a few downsides of a working holiday in Korea that you should be aware of.
Speaking Korean Might be Necessary
Being able to speak and understand Korean increases your chances of landing a job during your working holiday. Not only will speaking Korean make you more appealing to future employers, but it will also make your daily life a lot easier. Most businesses, restaurants and retail shops operate in Korean, and having a grasp of the language will only make your working holiday more enjoyable.
Housing Market is Competitive
Finding accommodation in Korea, especially in Seoul, can be difficult. Not only is the demand for an apartment high, but it can also be hard to find something within your desired price range. Apartments are even harder to find in February and August when many students return from their summer breaks to start school.
Teaching English is Not an Option
Unlike other working holiday programs, you are not allowed to teach English on an H-1 visa in Korea. This eliminates many job opportunities for non-Korean speakers, as teaching English is one of the most common positions for backpackers and travelers. If your goal is to teach English, you will need to apply for the E2 visa.
Pressure to Work Can be High
Korea ranks third when it comes to long working hours. The line between work and daily life is often blurred, with many people working overtime or late into the night. Although you cannot work full-time on a working holiday visa, it’s a good idea to understand the culture of the workplace. It will likely be more demanding than a job that you hold back in your home country.
What Can I Expect from the Working Holiday Program in Korea?
To many travelers, spending a year on a working holiday in Korea is a fantastic experience. But just like any other country, there are a few unique situations you should be aware of. These are just a few things to expect while traveling and working in Korea.
Foreigners Can Apply for the National Health Insurance
You are required to have health insurance before you apply for the working holiday program. However, you can also apply for Korea’s National Health Insurance or NHIS. Applicants living in Korea for longer than three months can take advantage of this health insurance. As a member of NHIS, you’ll enjoy the same health benefits as every other Korean local.
You Must Pay Income Tax
All employees in Korea, including working holiday participants, must pay income tax. The amount of money you owe will depend on your salary during your time in Korea. You should also file an annual tax return, which can be done before or after you leave Korea.
However, the tax is often low, especially if you’re earning an entry-level salary. Just remember to keep these costs in mind when finding a job and working in Korea.
Be Prepared for Culture Shock
If you come from a western country, you’ll likely encounter several cultural differences between your home country and Korea. For instance, it’s important to recognize that Korea is a hierarchical society, which means you are expected to respect your elders as well as your work superiors. Before you go to Korea, it’s a good idea to review social etiquette rules and customs to help ease your transition to this new country.
Make Friends and Build Relationships
As a foreigner, you might find it difficult to break into already existing social circles with locals. As a result, you might feel lonely or homesick during your time in Korea. Don’t worry; this feeling is a perfectly normal reaction to moving to a new country and should wear off once you get more settled.
One of the best ways to feel more at home in Korea is to make friends. There are thousands of expats, students, and other like-minded travelers that are in your exact situation. Don’t be afraid to join meetups, Facebook groups, or even to strike up a friendly conversation with someone you are sitting next to on the bus or in the cafe!
A working holiday in Korea is a fantastic opportunity for young travelers. Not only will you be able to immerse yourself in Korean culture, but you’ll also gain invaluable experience working internationally. And on top of that, you’ll meet new people and form long-lasting relationships for years to come.
Home to dramatic landscapes, ancient culture, and high-tech city life, Korea is one of the most diverse places on the planet. With a working holiday visa, you can experience it all first-hand, while making some extra money on the side.
If you’re looking to step outside your comfort zone and see a new side of the world, then Korea is the ideal destination for your working holiday. But don’t just take our word for it. Apply for a working holiday and see for yourself!
Images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.com.