15-hour layover in Seoul? To the ‘glass half empty’ people, sounds like a nightmare. But to ‘glass half full’ people like myself and my family, we thought ‘oooh yay! We have a WHOLE DAY to explore Seoul from 6am-11pm!!’
I had first heard about the FREE transit tours from my friend flying back to the US from Singapore. Organised by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Korean Tourism Organization, Incheon Airport, etc., passengers passing through the Incheon Airport can avail of cultural/shopping/medical tours for free (not including entrance fees/lunch) ranging from 1-hour trips to 5-hour excursions. Sounded like the perfect way to spend our layover.
Unfortunately, despite pre-booking and extensive preparatory research, we were rejected at the immigration even AFTER the transit tour guest gave us the green light. I was gutted. Especially because my sister was already stamped and ready to go through, but my unpleasant immigration officer said that I couldn’t enter Korea even if I was flying out that night because I didn’t have a European residency (my ongoing flight is to Madrid – 5+ hours from now, as I write this).
Even more frustrating, when you go to the official website of Korea’s Ministry of Justice, it says this:
2. No-Visa Entry for Foreigners in Transit
A. Eligible Person
i. In addition to the existing eligible persons for no-visa entry for transit tourists bound for a third country, a foreigner who transfers at the Incheon International Airport to the home country or third country, and participates in the Transit Tourism Program (hereinafter referred to as “ordinary transit passenger”), except for a national of one of 11 countries prohibited from no-visa entry for Jeju Island (Ghana, Nigeria, Macedonia, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, Cuba, Palestine).
Seems clear as day to me that I should be an eligible person being that:
- I am a foreigner transferring at the Incheon International Airport
- I am a transit tourists bound for a home country or third country
But even if I showed this to around 3 immigration officers, they just said no. Seems I’m interpreting their law wrong, or they don’t know their own law. I would greatly appreciate someone shedding some light on this.
So instead of exploring the temples of Incheon (I had booked THREE tours for us today, one from 8am-9am; 10am-3pm; and 3pm-6pm!!! 😦 ) – here I am writing this post.
However, if you are a typically No-Visa Entry Transit Tourist Bound for Third Country (an onward flight to the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia or New Zealand – apparently you can enter and stay for 30 days. But then again maybe they won’t follow their own Ministry of Justice and just reject you because they’re having a bad day that day… seems to be the case.
- No-Visa Entry Policy for Foreigners in Transit, Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea
- Visit Korea
- Transit Tour Website (complete information + make your reservation here)
Do you feel my frustration? Do you think I misinterpreted the law? I’m happy to get clarification/updates on this 🙂