My departure to South Korea came closer and closer and finally it was time for me to leave for my semester abroad. I guess what freaked me out the most personally about traveling during the pandemic was that I had no clue what I was about to face in terms of entry, immigration, etc. So let me share what awaits you and what is expected of you when wanting to enter South Korea during the pandemic.
Pre-Departure: negative pcr test result
For entering South Korea I had to provide a negative PCR test result which needed to be issued within 72h before departure. You have the option to take the test right at the airport in Munich. There are numerous test centers at the terminals which provide test results within 3 to 6 hours but they are quite pricey. So what I did, I took the PCR test 2 days before my departure at my local test center. I still received the result on time the next day and had to pay zero. The document was sent to me as a pdf file and it came in both German and English. So in terms of the required pcr test, I could tick this box off of the to-do list.
Departure: Airport MUC
I had booked a direct flight from MUC to ICN with Lufthansa. Since it was my first long-distance flight, I arrived way too early at the airport, but at least I had no time pressure whatsoever. At the check-in counter I had to show my passport, booking confirmation, visa and printed PCR test result. I received my boarding pass and dropped off my baggage. Security screening went by smoothly and quickly, as there was a manageable number of passengers at the airport that day. One of the security people even felt like chit chatting with me about my Bavarian dialect, that’s how relaxed they were on that day. While I was as relaxed as one could be who is about to travel over 8.000km away from their safe home.
My next station was passport control and then I was able to move to Gate H where my flight departed. The processes at the gate were a bit chaotic. Suddenly we were told to form a line in order to have our documents checked again by the boarding staff. You can imagine that this was quite difficult because the gate area is not particularly spacious to have 200 people stand in rank and file. So again, I had to present my passport, visa and pcr test result and I also got my temperature taken. After that they put a sticker on my passport to confirm that they had checked everything and then we had to wait until all of the passengers underwent the process. When finally boarding started they checked the mentioned sticker on the passport (one of the staff randomly took my temperature once again) and then I was allowed to enter the plane.
On the plane
Firstly, there is of course the obligation to wear a face mask during the whole flight. Secondly, you have to fill out a few documents which will be handed to you by the cabin crew and you will need those for entry to South Korea. I suggest completing those as soon as you get them, so that you don’t have to bother later when you are exhausted and tired from the flight. The Arrival Card and Customs Declaration Form are general entry documents, whereas the Health Declaration Form and the Travel Record Declaration are corona-related. You are also told to install the self-quarantine app if you don’t already have it on your smartphone. In the end, we were on a 45min delay and I was all nervously fidgeting: “Just take me to Seoul already”
Arrival: Airport ICN
After more than 10 hours of flight, I arrived safely at Incheon International Airport and there I also had some stages to go through. First of all: health check. You will need to show your travel documents as usual, the two corona-related forms you filled out and again your temperature is being taken. Next up was setting up the self-quarantine app. As an exchange student you will need the ‘Self-quarantine Safety Protection App’ and staff will help you put the necessary data. They will verify the contact details of your accommodation via phone call and if everything is confirmed, you may go to passport control. There you will have your fingerprints and photos taken and you submit your Arrival Card. Last but not least, after picking up your baggage you need to hand in your Customs Declaration Form at the customs office near the exit. The immigration procedures took quite a while. So after 1 1/2 hours at ICN airport, I was finally able to greet my taxi driver who would bring me to the accommodation for my 14 days of self-quarantine, yay.
Aaand that’s about it! It seems a bit overwhelming now that I typed out all of the necessary processes, but honestly it sounds worse than it actually was. Just be sure to bring a lot of time and patience with you. And all of the documents. And a cool forehead (because of temperature). Then you should be fine and you will have successfully overcome the hurdle of entry to start your semester abroad in South Korea!
Julia Zitzelsberger is a Business Economics student who joined DIT in October 2020. Having a constant growth-mindset she likes to try out new things, like participating in the DIT blog. Currently, she is spending a semester abroad in Seoul, South Korea.