After Coronavirus In Korea: Is It Safe To Travel To Korea?

During and after the first wave of the coronavirus in Korea, I received lots of questions asking is it safe to travel to Korea or Seoul now. We all know that it’s not possible to travel right now, but when will it be safe to travel and what will travel look like post-coronavirus? Will it be safe in Korea when travel does resume? Will people be able to travel to Korea soon?

Whilst I don’t claim to have the answers to those questions (no one can know for sure), I want to offer some insights into the developing situation. I’ve been updating this guide to the current situation in Korea ever since the first outbreak in February and I’ve done a lot of research into the government’s response, the travel industry within Korea, and the science behind the pandemic.

I want to provide you with relevant, accurate, and essential information about the coronavirus situation in Korea, whether it’s safe to travel to Korea now, and offer insight into future options regarding travel to and inside Korea.

So, if you’re thinking of travelling to Korea in 2020, or even 2021 and beyond, then I hope this article will help you find some answers to the questions many of us are asking about travel in a post-coronavirus world. I’ve tried to use reliable sources as much as possible, but some of the content will be from my own experiences and opinions. I’ll let you know which is which throughout.

I’m not a registered expert in the field of pandemics or infectious diseases. I’m a travel blogger who has lived in Korea for the last 5 years and lived and travelled extensively around the world for more than a decade. I’ve experienced first hand the impact of MERS and SARS in Korea and other countries that I’ve lived in, including Hong Kong.

If you want to know more about Korea, or have any more questions about travelling to Korea now or in the future, then I’d recommend joining the Korea Travel Advice & Planning Group on Facebook. It’s a great resource with lots of excellent information about Korea, with friendly discussions about life and travel in the country.

In case you’re looking for more general travel and safety tips for visiting South Korea, then be sure to check out my article filled with essential pre-travel advice.

What To Know Before Travelling To Korea

In this article I’ll briefly cover Korea’s response to the coronavirus before moving on to look at whether it’s safe to travel to Korea yet and when travel will likely be possible in the future. I’ll also provide lots of tips about how to travel safely in Korea during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disclaimer: I am not a registered doctor and any medical advice offered here is only my opinion from personal experiences or research. If you have health concerns and are worried about the effects of the coronavirus, you should see your doctor before travelling.

Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn commission if you book after clicking. This won’t cost you anything extra, but helps me to keep on writing content for you. Thanks for your support.

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Coronavirus Cases In Korea 2020
Image Credit: Statista

A Brief History Of The Coronavirus In Korea

I’ve been tracking and reporting about the coronavirus here in Korea since the start of the outbreak. Here’s a brief history of the major developments of the coronavirus situation in Korea. This details the first wave of the coronavirus in Korea. Whether or not there is a second or multiple waves remains to be seen. I’ll keep updating this as the situation unfolds.

January 20, 2020
First Case In Korea

The first case of the coronavirus was reported in Korea. The patient was a 35 year old Chinese woman returning from China and was detained at Incheon Airport and sent into isolation at a designated hospital.

February 23, 2020
Start Of Mass Infection

Known as ‘patient 31’, a lady who was in hospital left several times to visit religious gatherings at the Shincheonji Church in Daegu. These were attended by thousands of other people and the disease spread rapidly in the local area.

February 29, 2020
Peak Of The First Wave

Following on from strict social distancing measures (but no actual lockdown), Korea records its highest one day number of new cases – 909 in total.

April 29, 2020
No New Local Cases

After weeks of slowly decreasing cases, Korea records the first day with no new local cases. The only new cases (4) were all from arrivals at international airports.

May 2, 2020
Itaewon Incident & More Cases

Just a few days after declaring there were no new cases in Korea, an unknowingly infected person visited several bars and clubs in Itaewon and infected dozens more.

May 20, 2020
High Schools Students Return

3rd Grade high school students are the first to return to school, followed up by further grades in elementary and middle schools, as well as kindergarten students on May 27th.

June 8, 2020
All Students Return To School

As of June 8th, 2020, all students have returned to school in Korea. This comes despite a recent increase in the number of cases in Seoul and the surrounding provinces. There have been an average of 50 cases per day for the last two weeks.

June 8, 2020
Free COVID-19 Tests In Seoul

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced plans that it will give free COVID-19 tests to residents in Seoul, regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms. This is in response to a number of unexplained cases that have appeared across the city. Read more.

June 22nd, 2020
Korean Government Suggests Second Wave Has Arrived

A second wave of the COVID-19 cases has already started in Korea, following on from the increased cases that have persisted since the long weekend at the end of April / early may. Seoul and the surrounding areas continue to struggle with small clusters of infections.

Despite the last increase in cases, the situation is still more or less under control in Korea. However, only time will tell how many more cases and outbreaks will come in the future. I’ll discuss this later on in the section about future events and possible changes.

Coronavirus Statistics For Korea

These are the latest figures for infections and deaths of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Korea. Figures come from the Korea Centre for Disease Prevention & Control.

Confirmed cases: 12,715

Confirmed deaths: 282

I’ll keep these numbers updated as often as possible.

How Has Korea Dealt With The COVID-19 Coronavirus?

Unlike many other countries around the world, especially in the West, this is not Korea’s first time dealing with a serious infectious disease. When I arrived in Korea in 2015, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), another coronavirus, was affecting the country and a lot of restrictions and precautions were in place. Not as severe as now, but strict all the same.

Before MERS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), also a coronavirus, plagued Korea and the rest of the world in 2003. There was also the 2009 Swine Flu (H1N1) pandemic that swept across the world and killed 170 people in Korea alone.

Korea had the unfortunate position of being one of the first countries to tackle the COVID-19 coronavirus. However, thanks to their previous experience with coronaviruses, as well as a well-run government led by Moon Jae In, the country responded quickly and took decisive action. Many countries are now looking to Korea for inspiration in how to deal with the current situation, as well as for signs that it might be safe to travel to Korea and internationally again now.

These are some of the steps the Korean government has taken to control the spread of the coronavirus in Korea thus far:

Seoul Coronavirus Task Force

The Seoul local government created the Seoul Coronavirus Task Force to deal with the spread of infections across the city. They operate a hotline you can call if you think you’re infected and will help you find emergency medical care. Call 1330 in Seoul, or 1339 outside of Seoul. Read more.

Public Health & Safety Campaigns

Numerous public health and safety campaigns appeared across Korea in both Korean and English (and other languages). These detailed ways to avoid spreading the virus, as well as what to do if you think you might be infected. Read more.

Increased Testing & Free Healthcare For Infected Patients

The Korean government said it would cover all costs relating to treatment of the coronavirus. If you were near an infected person, your test costs were also covered. Korea rapidly increased the number of tests it conducted each day after the main outbreak in Daegu started. Read more.

Travel Restrictions Into Korea

Various travel restrictions were put in place, starting with a ban for travellers from Wuhan, China. These later developed into travel bans for various countries that had high levels of the cases. Read more.

Airport Screening & Tests

Korea started screening arrivals into major airports by checking their temperature with thermal scanners. They later moved to providing full tests for travellers from Europe and other heavily infected areas.

Mandatory 14 Day Quarantine For Arrivals To Korea

From April 1st, all arrivals to Korea were forced into a mandatory 14 day quarantine. For foreign visitors, they would be placed in government facilities and be charged 100,000 won per day. This effectively stopped most travel to Korea. Read more.

Controlled The Price & Availability Of Masks

After the rapid rise of cases in Korea during February and March, the Korean government took control of mask supply and banned the export of face masks. It also controlled the price of masks, to avoid people taking advantage of the system for profits. Face masks were rationed and people could only buy up to 2 masks on certain days of the week, based on their birth year. Read more.

Masks Mandatory For Public Transport

From May 26th, everyone must wear a mask while they use public transport, taxis, or take flights. Those who refuse to wear a mask will be denied entry. Read more.

You can learn more about Korea’s response to the coroanvirus, and how they’re working to make it safe to travel to Korea again, in the link below:

Korean Government’s COVID-19 Response System by the KCDC

Later in this article you can find out more about the public health and safety campaigns by the government and how to stay healthy while travelling in Korea.

Is It Safe To Travel To Korea Now?

This is a very difficult question to answer as it depends on so many factors. Technically, it is safe to travel to Korea now, however, you probably won’t be able to. Any travellers to Korea will have to do a mandatory 14 day quarantine (at a cost of nearly $1,000) when they arrive.

Many people around the world are currently in lockdown of some form and not even considering travel (although most are probably dreaming about it as I am). So it would be pointless to say that of course it’s safe to travel to Seoul or Korea now and enjoy all the wonderful sights, visit festivals, or enjoy various summer activities.

Therefore, in this section I want to outline the current situation in Korea. I will keep updating this as the situation changes. Most of the details in this section will be based on my personal observations, but I’ll try to back them up with other news articles where relevant.

Travel Advice As Of June 28th, 2020:

There have been an average of 50 cases per day in Korea for the last two weeks, after reaching almost 0 cases in late April. These cases have been mostly tied to a few isolated hot-spots, including churches, clubs, private schools, and offices. These places were locked down quickly and thousands of tests have been conducted to measure and control the spread of the virus.

Schools have reopened and all students are now attending school. So far, there have only been a few cases of infected students, and schools have continued with lots of protection in place, such as screens between desks and in cafeterias.

In Korea, many people are wearing masks and using hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers are available on all public transport (buses, trains, subway), and are widely distributed in public places, private businesses, and even in lifts for apartment buildings.

Why Hand Sanitizers Are So Important For Hand Hygiene

People are attending work but are following the latest government guidelines. Korea’s stance changed at the start of May and moved from ‘social distancing‘ to ‘distancing in daily life‘.

This new ‘distancing in daily life’ policy recommends allows people to return to more activities, such as visiting parks and museums, as well as holding social gatherings. The 5 basic rules of this campaign are:

  • Stay home when you feel ill
  • Keep a distance of two meters between other people
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Wear a face mask
  • Ventilate indoor spaces regularly.

Bars and clubs were also opened again, after previously being shut in Seoul. However, after the sudden explosion in cases due to people clubbing in Itaewon in early May, these measures may be reviewed.

My personal thoughts about life after the first wave of coronavirus in Korea

My Personal Thoughts About The Current Situation In Korea

I’ve lived through the coronavirus outbreak in Korea and have had to adapt, but never to the extent that others have in other countries, including my home country, England. There was never a lockdown in Korea, and that has helped people stay healthy and sane.

Korean people mostly follow the advice of the government and have access to information and technology that has helped to keep them informed about the situation. The daily text messages about local infections or national problems have helped me take precautions, and community-first attitude in Korea has led to people working together to keep everyone safe. Of course, there are still some selfish and stupid people, but the majority are doing their best to keep Korea healthy.

People here have been living a (mostly) normal life, despite the threat of the coronavirus. Cafes, restaurants, shops, and bars have been open and busy. Most people are wearing masks whenever they’re out in public to reduce the risk of infection, which has really helped control the spread of the virus.

These measures have allowed Korea to continue to be a relatively safe place and one that has handled the coronavirus outbreak really well. After the initial outbreak in the Daegu area, the response by the Korean government and citizens has helped make Korea a safe place to live.

I hope that in the future, it will also make it a safe place to travel again, too.

Coronavirus testing station in Korea

Getting A Coronavirus Test In Korea

On June 26th I had to go for a coronavirus test in Daejeon as I was in close proximity to someone who was infected with the coronavirus. Here’s a brief overview of the process and how Korea handles coronavirus testing.

If you’ve been in contact with someone who has been infected, the local government will send you a text message and inform you that you need to get a test. Those who receive this message will be eligible for a free coronavirus test. For those who don’t receive this message, they can still take the test. However, they will have to pay for the test. The cost of the test is between 100,000 – 200,000 KRW, depending on where you go.

I was in the latter group. I was in the area of an infected patient, but I didn’t receive a message from the government. Therefore, I had to pay for my own treatment. Fortunately I was able to find a hospital that offered the test for only 100,000 KRW.

I called the hospital in the morning and was told that there would be long queues to get the test and that I could wait for an hour or more. There weren’t long queues at the hospital, and I think this was mostly to put people off from getting the test and overwhelming the hospital. There’s an outbreak in Daejeon at the moment, so I can understand a lot of people want to get the test and it’s putting a lot of pressure on hospitals who are also dealing with more serious cases.

I visited the hospital after calling and there were about 10 other people waiting for the test and the whole procedure took about 20 minutes from registering to taking the test. There was an outdoor area setup for conducting the tests and everyone had to have their temperature checked, fill out their details, and then wait for their test. It was pretty simple, but if you don’t speak Korean, it can be difficult to get the test.

Coronavirus testing station in Korea with yellow safety gloves

The Coronavirus Test

When it was my turn for the test, I entered the glass booth and stood in front of two yellow gloves (pictured above). The nurse entered from the other side, to prevent contamination from the person being tested, and slipped her hands into the gloves. She took one of the swabs and told me I might feel some pain and discomfort, and then shoved it up my nose.

To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t pleasant. The swab was several inches long and went quite far inside my head (it felt like it went into the back of my brain!). The nurse wiggled it around for about 10 seconds and then took it out. Even after the swab was out, it still felt like it was stuck in my head and I had an unpleasant feeling in my sinuses for the rest of the day.

I was only given a few seconds to recover before the next swab went down my throat. Fortunately, the throat swab was not deep inside my throat and didn’t really feel uncomfortable at all. Maybe I was in too much shock after the first swab?

Once the throat swab was out and tucked safely away in a plastic bag with the first swab, I was free to go. I went back out, paid for the test, and told that I would get the results the next day. The whole process was quick and less painful than a trip to see the dentist.

The test results were sent by text, so I didn’t have to come back to the hospital. I did go back to the hospital anyway, because I wanted to collect the physical report that showed the results.

Good news, I wasn’t infected. And I hope I never will be as I don’t really want to take that test again.

The Future Of Post-Coronavirus Travel Globally

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is a global issue, and so safe travel to Korea is probably going to be tied to the safety of world travel in general. How and when the world gets back to travelling safely again is impossible to predict right now. Without a vaccine or effective treatment for the virus, we must assume that the number of cases can increase again at any time.

I’ve been following the various reports and, well, guesses about what will happen in the next year or two. Before talking more about the future of post-coronavirus travel in Korea, it is necessary to discuss possible scenarios for the whole world first.

There are many potential scenarios for future waves of the virus and the level of infections going forward. Here are three of the most likely scenarios, according to the World Economic Forum.

Scenario 1: Peaks And Valleys

Scenario 1 for the spread of the coronavirus in Korea and the world

In the first scenario, there are multiple peaks and troughs that gradually reduce in size as people become aware of the problem and take more precautions. Once they let their guard down (as seems to have happened in China and Korea recently), the cases peak again.

As countries begin their lockdown, we’ll see whether or not this is the likely course of the coronavirus. This is perhaps the most likely scenario if people don’t continue to follow social distancing and health precautions.

Scenario 2: Fall Peak

Scenario 2 for the spread of the coronavirus in Korea and the world

In the second scenario, the coronavirus will spread in a similar pattern as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed millions of people around the world. Basically, the colder, wetter weather that arrives in autumn will spark a second wave of infections that lasts for a longer period than the first wave.

If this happens, then it is highly unlikely that it will be safe to travel to Korea or anywhere else before a vaccine is developed. This is the most negative outlook for the future, but we mustn’t ignore the lessons from our history and rule it out.

Scenario 3: Slow Burn

Scenario 3 for the spread of the coronavirus in Korea and the world

The final scenario is the slow burn, which has an original peak when people weren’t aware of the situation, which isn’t as bad later once people learn to adapt to living with the outbreak.

This is probably the most likely future scenario (my personal opinion), as the world has gone through a dramatic shift in awareness of pandemics and personal hygiene.

However, this scenario also lasts the longest, with cases appearing for the next two years or so until at least 60-70% of the population can be vaccinated or natural immunity develops.

What this could mean for future travel remains to be seen, but most likely years of reduced travel, stricter checks, increased hygiene controls and measures, and a generally higher cost of travel.

The Future Of Post-Coronavirus Travel In Korea

Based on the 3 scenarios above, it is unlikely that travel to Korea is going to return to levels pre-coronavirus any time soon. At least not until a vaccine has been developed and distributed widely.

Korea has passed the first wave and done tremendously in keeping the death rates low (around 250 as of mid-May). However, with the risk of new waves comes the chance for more, and higher, death rates in the future.

If the first scenario plays out, then expect travel bans to remain in place for the next year or maybe more. Should we face the second scenario, I don’t think anyone will be thinking about travelling to Korea or anywhere at all for a long time. I really hope that doesn’t occur.

In the third scenario, the slow burn, there is hope that travel to Korea will begin to be possible again in the near future. A reduced number of infections and strict controls could allow a limited number of travellers into the country.

In my personal opinion, I believe the numbers of travellers to Korea will be lower at first as there will have to be increased checks at the airports, which could add hours to the time spent entering the country. Furthermore, if airlines are required to keep some seats empty on planes, and demand for air travel is reduced, then fewer flights will be available.

What Does This Mean For Travelling Inside Korea?

Well, it’s likely that there will be distancing requirements at attractions, there will probably be more temperature screening at public places and attractions (there already is at most subway stations), masks will be mandatory on public transport (they already are for Seoul’s subway during rush-hour), and many other rules to keep everyone healthy.

Right now people are under similar restrictions, and if Koreans can travel safely within their own country, then perhaps it’s safe to allow a limited number of tourists in as well. However, this will have to be done in waves depending on how successfully Korea controls the number of new cases and tourists who visit Korea.

When Will It Be Safe To Travel To Korea Again?

Again, I can’t promise anyone an exact date for when travel to Korea will resume again. However, there has been encouraging signs from airlines around the world, including Korean Air, that flights will resume again by this summer. Indeed, Korean Air announced that it will resume some international routes from June 1st.

I predict that travel will start to become possible by autumn (just in time to see Korea’s beautiful autumn leaves). This is all based on the assumption that the number of cases remain low, people follow the recommend guidelines, and other countries also control the spread of the coronavirus.

For a list of all the current travel restrictions by country (according to Korean Air), check out the link below:

Entry Restrictions By Country (as of June 10th, 2020)

Insight From Someone Living In Korea During COVID-19

The media are very good at reporting statistics and scary stories about the COVID-19 situation in Korea and beyond, often highlighting the most negative things. However, sometimes it’s best to hear from people living in the country (like myself) or those travelling to Korea now.

You can find lots of personal experiences about living through the COVID-19 coronavirus in Korea from places like YouTube these days. One channel that offers a lot of good insights into the situation here in Korea, as well as the impact on small businesses and life in general, is the Living Korea channel. Check out the channel below:

Living Korea YouTube Channel

Seoul Novel Coronavirus Help Poster

What Should You Do If You’re In Korea And Worried About Infection?

If you’re already in Seoul as a tourist or a resident, and you’re worried that you might be infected with the coronavirus, then you should contact the Seoul Novel Coronavirus Infection helpline. The number to contact them is below:

Contact number for coronavirus cases in Korea

For people outside of Seoul, please dial 1339.

If you can’t get in touch, then immediately go to a hospital or clinic and advise them that you think you might be infected.

Designated clinics for the coronavirus in Korea

List of designated clinics for dealing with the 2019 nCoV coronavirus in Seoul.

The word ‘coronavirus‘ is well known in Korea now and if you use this word, people will know what you’re talking about. If you’re worried about whether it is safe to travel to Korea, contact a doctor for advice before you leave.

Palace guard in Seoul wearing a face mask

What Is The COVID-19 Coronavirus?

I’m sure we’ve all read about the coronavirus online, it’s hard to miss the stories in the media, but what is it all about? I’m no scientist, so I’ll use the words of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to help explain.

“The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people.”

It is unknown what actually causes the coronavirus. I’ll update this section as more details about what caused the coronavirus, and how it spreads, becomes available.

Symptoms Of The COVID-19 Coronavirus

The 2019 nCoV coronavirus (COVID-19), as with SARS and MERS, is a respiratory infection that has a wide range of symptoms. The most extreme of which can result in death. Most people, however, have little to no symptoms.

Common symptoms of the (COVID-19) coronavirus can include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing difficulties

More severe symptoms can include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome
  • Kidney failure
  • Death

Symptoms can appear between 2-14 days after exposure.

Source:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html

It’s worth noting that a lot of the common symptoms are what you’ll also find when you’re suffering from regular winter influenza. If you have these symptoms, you should go and see a doctor to be safe.

Transmission Of The COVID-19 Coronavirus

The transmission of the 2019 nCoV coronavirus (COVID-19) still remains unclear. Scientists believe that transmission began from animals to humans, and then later developed to spread from humans to humans.

There are several suggested methods of transferring the coronavirus from human to human. The most common method for these types of virus to spread is through respiratory droplets from someone sneezing or coughing. That’s why a good respiratory mask can prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Another method of transmission is transfer through feces. That means people with dirty hands from visiting the toilet passing the disease when they touch someone else or prepare food for others. That’s why you should wash your hands after visiting the bathroom EVERY TIME, regardless of why you went in there.

More from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention about the transmission of the 2019 nCoV coronavirus below:

Much is unknown about how 2019-nCoV (COVID-19), a new coronavirus, spreads. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERSSARS, and now with 2019-nCoV.

How To Travel Safely In Korea

If you are currently travelling in Korea, or plan to visit Korea soon, then there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting a coronavirus infections.

Here are some of the best ways to prevent coronavirus infection:

1: Wash Your Hands Regularly

This might seem like common sense, but it’s shocking how many people don’t wash their hands enough. Always wash your hands when you go to the bathroom. Even if you don’t think your hands are dirty, you’re still touching door handles, taps, etc., that can be contaminated.

You can also use hand sanitizers when it’s not possible to wash your hands. Korea has installed these in most public places now, and you can even find them in shops and cafes. Use them and keep your hands clean.

Also try to avoid touching your mouth or eyes with your hands when you’re out travelling.

2: Cover Your Mouth When You Sneeze Or Cough

When you need to cough or sneeze, make sure to cover your mouth with a tissue. If you don’t have a tissue, however, try to use your elbow or hand (but wash it ASAP). Dispose of the tissues in a closed bin and don’t leave them lying around.

The coronavirus is a respiratory disease and spreads most commonly when people sneeze and cough. Protect others and prevent transmitting any diseases by covering up.

3: Wear A Face mask Even If You Aren’t Sick

You’ve probably noticed a lot of people in Korea and around the world wearing face masks to prevent infection from the coronavirus. This is actually quite a common sight in Korea at this time of year as people are also dealing with fine dust in Korea.

There are several different types of masks that you can use to prevent infection from the coronavirus in Korea. I’d recommend using a mask with a safety rating of N95 or KF94.

Find Out More About Which Masks To Use To Prevent Infection.

4: Stay Away From People Who Look Sick

This should go without saying. Try to avoid close contact with anyone who looks sick, especially if you’re out in public. Staying away from large groups of people will also reduce your risk of catching the COVID-19 coronavirus in Korea.

Avoiding busy areas, such as subway stations and airports might be difficult. Very much so for tourists, so try to follow the other tips if you have to be in a busy area.

5: Avoid Places With Raw Food

This includes traditional markets in Korea, where you can often find fish and other seafood for sale, as well as uncooked meat. Don’t touch any raw food and try to wear a mask if you want to visit these areas.

When eating out, be careful with your food choices, too. Well cooked food is the best option. Also be careful with dairy products and items that should be refrigerated. Also try to avoid food where everyone is sharing the same dish, such as shabu shabu and hot pot.

Health Advice From The World Health Organisation:

Here are some useful posters about staying healthy while travelling from the World Health Organisation. These are useful tips for travelling to any country, not just Korea.

Travel Safety Advice For Korea

The tips I mentioned before are important when you travel to any country in the next few months. They are also good if you’re in an area that might be affected by the coronavirus in your own country.

Here are some other travel safety tips for travelling to Korea:

1: Fine dust can be an issue in Korea. This is usually worst in spring. Find out more about fine dust in Korea.

2: Try to buy bottled water or drink filtered water when you’re in restaurants.

3: Be careful when eating street food. Although hygiene is usually fine, watch out during the summer time. This is mostly for raw food. Also, watch out as it might be spicier than you think!

4: Cars drive on the right hand side of the road in Korea.

5: You may need to get some vaccinations before travelling to Korea, such as hep A and B.

Read More About Safety And Travel Advice For Korea

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47 thoughts on “After Coronavirus In Korea: Is It Safe To Travel To Korea?”

  1. Hi,
    I was just curious after reading your blog about travelling to Korea. I planned to originally travel around the 18th of April for three weeks.. I was wondering if you think it will be okay? I mean I’m keeping updated with the news etc but it’s not slowing down so I was wondering if you think it’s okay or not I plan to stay in hongdae mainly.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi. Thanks for your comment.

      It’s hard to tell right now what the situation will be like in a couple of months. Hopefully it’ll be the start of the end for the nCov coronavirus by then. The MERS outbreak in 2015 (the year I moved to Korea) ran from May until July, but it’s impossible to say for sure if this disease will last the same amount of time as this is a new virus.

      As of now, I’m still travelling around Korea and I don’t see anyone here mentioning leaving Korea or being seriously affected by the disease. It’s something to be aware of, but the situation is not like it is in China. Eventually the tide will turn and fewer cases will be reported, or a cure will be found. I hope that’s soon, but no one knows for sure.

      I’m checking the updates on the situation each day and I’ll keep editing this post as I go. If you join the Korea Travel Advice & Planning group on Facebook, there are also lots of reports about the situation there, too.

      Personally, I would travel to Korea, but the decision is all yours. The situation here is being dealt with as well as it possibly could be, in my opinion. Follow the precautions mentioned in the article and you should be ok.

      Reply
    • Hi, me and my family are going to Korea at 20 March to 27 for a trip ,I just wanna know is it dangerous to go by that time and are hotels safe and clean now?and what is your best advise for us from keeping safe from the corona virus ?thank you

      Reply
      • Hi, I’ve generally found hotels to be clean in Korea, but I have had some issues with budget hotels in the past. Most were fine, but some were not so great. Try to avoid ‘motels’ as these can be a bit seedy.

        My advice is to read the reviews of each place thoroughly to see if anyone else has commented on the cleanliness. Any problems are usually reported by others.

        Regarding whether or not it’s dangerous at that point, it’s impossible to know for sure. Right now I would say that it’s safe to travel and those who are in Seoul now haven’t reported many problems.

        The latest news from China is that the number of cases is stabilising, so perhaps the virus won’t spread so much in the future and will decrease instead. Again, I can’t promise anything, that’s just what I’ve seen from following the news on the issue.

        I’ll be travelling around Korea lots in that period and following the precautions I stated above – wearing a mask, washing hands regularly, avoiding sick people and raw foods.

        The decision is up to you, but I don’t think people should cancel their travel to Korea right now as the country is handling the problem really well and, aside from Seoul, most places aren’t affected at all.

        Hope that helps.

        Reply
  2. Hi. I have already plane ticket going to Seoul this March 10 – 13 and I’m having a second though of traveling because of ncov in Korea.
    Should I cancel it? Is it safe to travel to nami island and wear hanbok costumes?
    Is it safe to stay in hotels/ hostels in Seoul?
    But after reading your blog , I think it’s still safe.
    So confused.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi. The situation in Korea is not as serious as it is in China and many other countries and the government have handled the situation really well so far. There are still plenty of tourists travelling to Korea and the main sites are all still open. If you take the right precautions (the correct mask, wash hands, etc) then you should be fine.

      When you come to Korea, you’ll see just how organised things are here. Everyone gets their temp checked, things are cleaned and sanitised obsessively, there is a lot of support for people who want to check if they have the coronavirus and treatment is free here for those with it. The first 2 patients have made a full recovery and been released from hospital.

      The coronavirus will probably still spread, I won’t pretend that it won’t, but I don’t think it’ll affect you any more than it would if you were in another country. There are many countries that have cases, but Korea is handling it really well. I’ll keep updating this post and add pictures from major tourist spots in Seoul later in the week so you can see what the situation is like here.

      Reply
  3. My trip was suppose to be on the 23rd february. In just 2 weeks time. I am still considering should i change the date or should i just go. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Hi, I would advise against cancelling. You can probably still do most of the things you wanted to do, just be careful and follow the precautions given (wear the correct mask, wash your hands, avoid raw foods and sick people, etc.). I will be travelling to Seoul’s tourist spots next week and will update with pictures from those areas so you can get a better idea of how it looks.

      I understand why you would be concerned, but the situation is being handled really well by the Korean government and they have a lot of experience of dealing with things like this. I think you’ll be fine. In the end, however, it’s your choice. I hope the information here can reassure you a bit.

      Reply
  4. Hi Joel.

    Thank you for sharing. I am still confused if Ill go this Feb 15 in Korea, considering cold season might trigger the virus become more stronger? Is this true?

    Reply
    • Hi. You’re right, winter weather is better for spreading flu-like viruses. Flu viruses are more stable in cold air, and low humidity also helps the virus particles remain in the air. Korean winters are very cold and the air is dry. But, that doesn’t mean that the virus will become stronger, as far as I know. There have been no reported cases of the virus mutating or becoming stronger and scientists are still trying to discover what has caused the coronavirus in the first place.

      I’d recommend following all the precautions mentioned in the article, as well as any other recommendations given in your own country, and travel safely. Korea has done a lot to contain anyone with the coronavirus, or those suspected of having been infected. The numbers are growing more slowly than in other countries right now, which is a good sign.

      Reply
  5. Hi we will be travelling to korea on feb 11 to 16…. actually we dont have any other choice because we already booked the group tour last year and we cannot cancel it because there is no travel ban….. hope to have a good trip inspite of the corono virus scare….

    Reply
    • Hi, welcome to Korea.

      I hope that the situation won’t ruin your trip and you can travel safely and comfortably. If you remember to follow the precautions, then you should be fine. It’s really not as bad as some of the media is making it out to be. I think you can still enjoy a lot of the normal attractions and experiences in Korea.

      Safe travels 🙂

      Reply
  6. Hi Joel! Thank you very much for your blog, it is indeed very informative. However, I would like to confirm still if it’s safe to travel with a 7months old baby? 🙁 Supposedly our date of arrival in South Korea will be on Mar 8 until Mar 15. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi. Thanks for the feedback. The best advice I can give regarding travelling with a baby is to keep them covered up if possible, and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before touching the baby.

      This article might help, it talks about why children haven’t been affected as much by the coronavirus, as well as SARS in the past. There are no definite conclusions, but it seems that children might be less likely to take actions that spread the virus, like touching their face.

      It looks like most of the new cases in Korea have come from people travelling to Korea or family members of those people infected. I believe Korea is safe to travel, but I don’t have a 7 month old baby. I’d recommend acting the same way you would if you were around someone who was sick with flu – keep the baby away, wrapped up, and follow the precautions for the virus (mask, wash hands, etc).

      In the end, only you can decide whether to travel or not. I hope you have a good trip if you do decide to come.

      Reply
  7. Hi Joel, thank you for sharing! I will be travelling to korea late march, and after I read this blog I think it’s okay to travel around korea as long I follow the precautions. But how about the accomodation? I already booked a room in a guesthouse in hongdae, and I’m afraid that my room or my bedding is not clean enough, and also I don’t know if the person stayed in that room before me was healthy or not. How do you think?

    Reply
    • Hi, thanks for reading my article 🙂

      What is the name of your accommodation?

      It’s impossible to know for certain how clean each place is, but I always read the reviews for each place before I book and make sure that no one has complained about it being dirty. I’ve only ever had a few bad rooms and they were all very cheap places.

      Reply
  8. Thanks for this very good and accurate article, Joel. I’m from latin America and I’m planning to travel to Korea with a friend on april 20th. I’ll make a stop on Mexico and then we’ll fly to Seoul. Reading your article gave me hope, because the coverage of the media made me feel so insecure about traveling. Again, thanks. I’ll be reading your updates!

    Reply
  9. Hi Joel. While I do see you’ve advised that it is safe to travel to South Korea, just wanted to check again given the current situation, is it safe to be travelling around the first week of March or would you suggest cancelling or rescheduling.

    Reply
  10. Hi Joel,

    While I have read your article and the previous comments, thought of reconfirming, given the present conditions, do you suggest/ think it’s advisable to be travelling to Seoul around the first week of March or is it better to cancel? Please do let me know.

    Reply
    • Hi, I went to Seoul yesterday and the place was quiet but there wasn’t any feeling of danger or worry there really. People are getting on with life as normal and besides everyone wearing a mask, it hasn’t really changed what people do much. I think it’s safe to proceed, but the choice is really all yours.

      I’ve heard only good things from people who have joined the Korea Travel Advice and Planning group on Facebook and are visiting Seoul now, they all say the same thing – there are no problems and things are under control in Korea.

      Reply
  11. Good am. Hi Joel, your articles are very informative plus it really brings peace of mind to the reader, including me. We will have a tour in South Korea on Feb 22-27, so it it “really” safe? Cant cancel or resched it. We will be traveling with an 82yo, but she is still
    Up and about and loves walking and touring. One more question sir, it it ok and safe to take pictures without wearing our masks? 🙂
    Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    • Hi, if you are concerned about the health of any of your party members, then I’d consider consulting a doctor – the same as when you travel anywhere at any time where you might have health concerns. The virus works the same way as influenza, which is also around at this time of year.

      In terms of risk, I believe that the Korean government have done really well to control the spread of the virus. However, there is no ‘guarantee’ that you won’t be at risk. I’d recommend following the safety precautions and wear a mask when you’re around crowds. If you want to take pictures and no others are around, it should be fine.

      Reply
  12. Hi im travelling to korea from 31 march to 11 april . Based on the blog , you discouraged/ avoid raw food places . So am i supposed to avoid going to the fish market for seafood.

    Reply
    • Hi. The advice from the WHO is to avoid eating raw foods or touching it if possible. If you’re going to the fish market and want to eat there, I’d recommend getting food that has been cooked. March 31st is still a long time away and I would recommend checking more about the situation before you travel. The number of infections in Korea has slowed a lot and it looks like the situation is not really getting much worse here. Hopefully things will be resolved before too long.

      Reply
  13. Hi Joel,

    My friends and I have a trip to Seoul in May. At the moment we are not considering to cancel it. Have you heard any incidents of Malaysian tourists getting turned down at restaurants, shops or tourist spots? I read that the SK government has advised its citizens not to travel to Malaysia. We are from East Malaysia (the Borneo part) and our local government has banned all China flights since the 30th of Jan. However West Malaysia still allows flights from China. Many does not know that East and West Malaysia are separated by the South China Sea.

    Reply
    • Hi. Thanks for your comment. Firstly, May is a long way away and many things can change between here and then regarding the spread or end of the virus. Hopefully things will have cleared up by then, but no one knows for sure.

      I haven’t personally heard of any Malaysians being turned away from restaurants. There were reports of some discrimination against Chinese people, but it’s hard to know what is real and fake with regards to that thanks to social media these days! I’ve already seen some misleading posts from people that I know are not true.

      Anyway, in the Korea Travel Advice & Planning group, we have many people from SE Asia who have asked the same thing, and many people stating that they have not had any problems at all. Korea is generally a welcoming place for tourists and there I haven’t witnessed much discrimination myself. Of course, there is always someone who can be rude in any country, but I don’t think you’ll be turned down from restaurants, shops or tourist spots.

      Hope that helps to reassure you. With luck the situation will be over by then and you can enjoy a lovely trip to Korea in May 🙂

      Reply
    • Hi, that choice is really up to you, sorry. I can only provide you with information about how things are being handled here and experience from within the country. Right now, there are many people who are still going to travel to Korea, but there are also those who are cancelling and don’t want to risk it.

      Things are escalating right now because of the situation in Daegu, and it’s impossible to predict what will happen in the next week or month.

      If you do decide to travel, then please follow the safety precautions and be sure to wash your hands a lot and wear a mask when around other people. I live in Korea and do my best to follow these, too. I feel relatively safe here, but if you don’t want to take a risk, that’s understandable.

      Reply
  14. Hi, I’m travelling to Seoul and Busan from 3 March to 11 March 2020 with my 3 other friends which is coming up real soon. May I know if Singaporeans are allowed to visit korea?

    Additionally, how many covid 19 cases are there in Seoul and Busan respectively?

    Reply
    • Hi, there are no travel restrictions for people travelling from Singapore, so you should be fine to enter Korea. You will have to go through airport checks which will include having your temperature checked.

      There were no cases in Busan until today. A patient from another hospital was moved to Busan and died there, but they weren’t originally in Busan when they were infected. In Seoul, I believe there have been about 40 cases in Seoul, most in the original infections. About 15 of those have now made full recoveries.

      The increase in numbers this week are mostly centred around Daegu and Cheongdo in the east of Korea.

      Reply
  15. Hi,
    I’m really on a limbo here whether to go to Korea next month as I’ve booked my flights and hotel in Myeongdong area. Is that area also affected by this virus? I’m traveling 21st-27th of March.. it’s so annoying cos I really don’t know how things will be by then. I’m following the news closely but it’s not been very helpful and there’s no travel ban to and from Malaysia to Korea so it makes decisions difficult and to gauge the severity of the problem there

    Reply
    • Hi, thanks for your comment. Yes, it’s very frustrating and things are changing quickly. There have been a few travel bans for Korea recently, and some airlines have cancelled flights to and from Korea. March 21st is still a long way away and no one knows how the situation will be then. If you can postpone your trip, it might be safest. If not, I’d recommend waiting a week or two and see what the latest travel advisories are. There may be travel bans by then, in which case you may be able to get a refund from your airline.

      Reply
  16. Hi,

    I just want to say thank you for having this blog and keeping it updated often. I’ve been checking it daily along with a couple of other pages. It’s been a huge help. I was due to fly out to SK on 1st March but sadly I have had to postpone for now. Even though I’m no longer going, at least with your blog it’s easy to be updated on what’s happening, as I have friends in SK that I am also worried about.

    Reply
    • Hi. Thanks, happy to know that it’s been helpful to you. Really sorry that you can’t make it to Korea, but it’s probably for the best. Hope you can visit your friends again someday soon, once things have all been sorted here. I’ll keep updating it each day so you can check when it’s safe again.

      Reply
  17. Hi, thanks for your reply and having this page as I derived a lot of insight reading all the comments. Just an update: I’ve cancelled my trip and called my country’s embassy in Korea to which they said please DO NOT travel at this point of time as the situation there is bad cases are rising and so far they have 800+ reported cases. I wanted to hear it from a person staying there directly and I spoke to the embassy over the phone. It’s really not very safe at this point of time and only time will tell when this situation will regress. Frustrating for me as I’ve booked my hotel, bought a lot of clothes for the colder season there and was very close to booking my ground tours. *sigh* oh well, better to be safe than sorry.

    Reply
    • Hi, sorry to hear that you cancelled, but it’s probably for the best. The situation has changed a lot over the last week and, besides the dangers, it really doesn’t seem like much will be open for people to enjoy. I hope you can come back when the situation is better and enjoy Korea in all its beauty!

      Reply
  18. Are you still living in Korea as of now with the terrible outbreak? How is it over there? Are the roads, restaurants and tourist prone areas all that empty?

    Reply
    • Hi, I still live here, yes. Actually, although there are lots of restrictions and concern, things are not so bad. Yes, it’s very serious if you’re infected and you have health problems, but for the majority of people, life goes on. People are more worried about finding masks and the economy as many businesses have had to close. There are still lots of tourist places open, restaurants, and shops. They only really close around areas where someone infected has visited.

      Reply
  19. Hello,

    I am a university student from Canada, and my next semesters are all online. I was thinking about going to Korea since I don’t need to be home to study. I know Canada had a 180 day visa exemption that is now suspended. I am trying to figure out if I just have to apply for this type of visa now or if they only have the 90 day visa available. I cannot find any clear updated information through search engines, do you where I col find this kind of information?

    Reply
    • Hi, thanks for the message.

      Yes, unfortunately, as you know at this time the Korean Government aren’t issuing visas for tourism for many countries, including Canada. Canada was unique in getting 180 day visas, most countries only got 90 day visas. Hopefully Canadians will get to travel again for the usual 180 days, but right now no one is sure when that’s going to happen.

      This is from the official Korean embassy in Canada:
      Short-Term Visa (C3): If the purpose of the trip is not an urgent or important business purpose, the visa will not be issued.
      http://overseas.mofa.go.kr/ca-toronto-en/brd/m_5266/view.do?seq=760551&srchFr=&srchTo=&srchWord=&srchTp=&multi_itm_seq=0&itm_seq_1=0&itm_seq_2=0&company_cd=&company_nm=&page=1

      This is the visa you need to travel to Korea as a tourist. The only way you’re likely to enter Korea for now is through a work or study visa, and even those are hard to get right now with the current situation.

      The Korean Government is introducing tougher measures that will make it harder for foreigners living in Korea (like me) to leave and return again, which doesn’t give me much hope that they’ll make tourism any easier in the immediate future.

      Things can change a lot in the next few months, however, and if cases start to drop off around the world, or at least in Canada and Korea, then perhaps travel will be possible again by autumn or winter.

      The big issue is the mandatory quarantine – you have to spend 14 days in quarantine and pay about $1,000 USD for it. Once that starts to ease up, travel should be available for more people.

      Sadly, all I can say is keep checking back and hopefully there’ll be some announcements soon.

      I post updates about the situation and all relevant travel news in my Facebook group for Korean travel btw. Might help you figure out what’s going on and keeping up to date with the changes – https://www.facebook.com/groups/koreatraveladvice/

      Reply
    • I saw this updated list of entry restrictions by Korean Air, but it doesn’t make things much clearer, sorry. It says that all foreign nationals from Canada are banned (restricted) from entering Korea. Except for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families. It sounds like Canadians are banned, except for Canadian citizens? It might be worth calling them to confirm as it’s very confusing.

      https://www.koreanair.com/global/en/2020_02_TSA_detail.html

      Reply
  20. Hello! I plan to go to Seoul in July…. can I though? (I’m from Seattle btw). I just want to know if they’re even allowing US citizens in.

    Also, if they do allow me in, will I have to be quarantined for 14 days?

    Reply
    • Hi,

      Right now you should be able to fly into Korea, as long as you can find a flight. The airlines are starting to operate more flights from July onwards, but I’d confirm with the airline before booking.

      You will still have to do the mandatory 14 day quarantine and there isn’t an end date to that in the near future. It looks like it’ll be ongoing until it’s safe to travel again or there are agreements for ‘travel bubbles’ with certain countries.

      You can find out details of the quarantine here.

      If you’re in doubt, I would recommend contacting the Korean embassy in the USA before booking any travel. You can find the Seattle office’s details here.

      Reply
  21. Hi,

    I’m a college student in the US and I am considering getting a working-holiday visa so that I can live in South Korea from July or August until early 2021 (perhaps around February or March). I have found multiple flight postings through Google Flights, with Air Canada, Korean Air, and Asiana all being available to book a round trip flight. I’ve also already contacted the Korean Consulate here in LA and the visa process seems very simple and manageable. As for the 14-day mandatory quarantine, my Korean friend contacted the hospitals and airports and they said that staying in an Airbnb, as long as it’s approved by the owner and the city (I believe), is allowed for the mandatory quarantine for long-term visa holders. This reduces costs greatly, as I’ve found Airbnbs for less than $300 for the 2-week period. All this is kind of panning out well in order to enable travel right now, but of course traveling during a pandemic still has its risks.

    My parents’ biggest concern is that somehow flights to the US from South Korea may be altogether stopped during this time and that I won’t be able to get back home. I am wondering if you perhaps know the likelihood of such a thing occurring? Basically, I know everything is up in the air, but what do you think are some of the biggest risks of going to Korea this summer?

    Thank you for the advice!

    Reply
    • Hi, sounds like you’ve done a lot of research. I hope everything will be ok for you to come and live in Korea for a while.

      Regarding flights, there are more flights due to fly in July by Korean and international airlines as they start to increase the number of flights again.

      For Korean airlines, they update their flight lists quite often and you can find the details of those flights here.

      Most flights are still suspended in June, but a lot are starting again from July onwards.

      There’s at least one flight per day between LA and Korea (KE011/012) and one flight 4 times per week (KE017/018), so you should be able to fly based on the present plans.

      Of course, no one can know with 100% certainty what will happen in the future, but with the outbreak being controlled very quickly in Korea, I can’t see it spreading like it was before. Things are cleaned up and locked down ASAP when cases are discovered and it’s not likely they’ll start closing flights, more likely they’ll open more up.

      However, that also depends on the US controlling cases and not having a second outbreak. Hopefully the world is wiser now and things won’t get so out of hand again.

      I personally don’t think flights will be cancelled between the US and Korea (they’re operating now, albeit reduced) and there should be a way to get home, even if you have to transit through other countries.

      Fingers crossed we’ll all be flying again safely by 2021 anyway.

      Reply

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