South Korea Travel Cheat Sheet: How to Get a Korean Visa, Where to Stay in Korea, and the MERS Scare

Korea wasn’t initially included in our plan for we were saving for a Gold Coast surfing trip. Things changed when I got hold of a My Love from the Star DVD. I’m not into Korean dramas but the series charmed me. “WE HAVE TO GO THERE,” I said upon finding out that there’s an exhibit solely put up for the series.

What are the chances of being approved for entry?

Obtaining a visa isn’t difficult despite the new requirements. The visa’s validity is two months, and it’s best to apply a month before your trip. You have great chances of being approved as long as your requirements are accurate and updated. Contrary to what others believe, the amount in your bank account doesn’t determine if you’ll be granted a visa. My cousin only has P30,000 in her account, but got approved. Mine has a bigger amount, but the Korean Embassy still called me for a follow-up interview probably because I applied solo.

Update: When we went back to Korea in December 2016, my friend's account only contained P19,000 but he was issued a visa. He has been working as a teacher for more than two years in a renowned school.

I believe it’s best too if you will apply as a group (one representative is fine). The Embassy had to call me for an “interview” although they simply asked me about my work, purpose of entry, and university degree. I told them that I’d be travelling with my boyfriend and cousins. Several countries tend to be cautious if you’re a solo female traveler because of the rampancy of human trafficking.

Applying for a Korean visa is free if your stay is less than 59 days.

Where’s the best place to stay in Korea?

Never underestimate the wonders of AirBnB. Since the itinerary I have drafted would require us to be out from 7 a.m. to 12 m.n., hotels would be impractical. I am not finicky with districts although Myeongdong and Gangnam are famous locations. What’s important for me is that the place should be near a subway station. 

I’m lucky to see this charming loft in Dongdaemun. The subway station is less than a 2-minute walk. The place has its own kitchen too which is helpful if you don’t want to splurge on breakfast. Our host, Olivia, is amazing! Even if we didn’t get the chance to meet her, she greatly helped us with our inquiries.

If you’re planning to use AirBnB for your vacation, you may use my link and get P1,125 off your bill.

DIY or Travel Agencies?

I’m not a fan of timed tours so it’s always do-it-yourself trips for me. I only purchase attraction tickets from travel agencies because of the discounts and to avoid lengthy queues. For this trip, I purchased our Nami Island, Everland, and My Love from the Star exhibit tickets from Funtastic Korea. FunKo’s tickets are affordable because they also came with shuttle services. 

There’s nothing to worry if you’ll opt for a DIY trip because Korea’s subway system is efficient. You may use this subway map to plan your commute. Be prepared though because you’ll walk a lot in Korea. I have tried Hong Kong and Singapore’s subway systems but transfers in Korea involved more walks.

What should we bring for our trip?

To determine what should go into your luggage, check which season your travel date will fall under. Even if it’s summer in Korea, nights are still chilly. I use Accuweather too to plan my travel essentials. For international travels, I always go to Czarina’s because of their competitive money exchange rates. If you ran out of won in Korea, they say you’ll get your money’s worth in Myeongdong. 

Is it safe to travel with all the news about MERS?

News about MERS broke out a week before our trip. While there’s no way I would jeopardize our health, I also didn’t think of cancelling our trip. Apart from monitoring headlines, I trusted our Korean friends whom I have been contacting for updates.

When we got there, the situation was surprisingly normal. As opposed to what’s being portrayed in the news, only few people wear masks. There were instances when we received uncanny stares for we’re the only masked ones in the subway. Flyers about MERS and sanitizers are abundant in public places but the country’s NOT in a state of panic. Nonetheless, you won’t lose anything if you take extra precautions.

Here are my other entries about our trip: