Korea’s Free Transit Tours: Not for Filipinos?

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!!’

in Myeongdong, Seoul, summer 2012

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.

I was excited to re-visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, included in the 5-hour Seoul City Tour from 8am-1pm

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).

Photo on 4-13-15 at 5.00 PM

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:

  1. I am a foreigner transferring at the Incheon International Airport
  2. 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.

Reporting from Incheon Airport, Seoul, South Korea
Reporting from Incheon Airport, Seoul, South Korea

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.

References:

Do you feel my frustration? Do you think I misinterpreted the law? I’m happy to get clarification/updates on this 🙂

78 responses to “Korea’s Free Transit Tours: Not for Filipinos?”

  1. nice to see you post again! but that sucks to hear about the tour restriction on top of the layover…i would be super frustrated!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. that sucks, i wonder if the law changed coz i was able to get out without a visa during a layover last 2013 (from PH to USA with PH passport)

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    1. I think as long as you have a connecting flight to the US (and the US alone) you can go for it!

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  3. Hi! Just to be clear. One can still stay inside the airport even WITHOUT a Korean visa right? I mean with no intention of going out the airport and will just wait for the connecting flight.

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  4. I applied for a South Korean visa to deal with this potential problem when I so decide to take any of the free transit tours they offer. The Manila Embassy was kind enough to give me a 3-year multiple entry tourist visa. And it’s free. Cheers!

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    1. Awesome! I’ll do that next time! 🙂

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  5. Hi! That’s disappointing…. I will also be having a layover at Incheon airport this Dec. (from Tokyo to Ph) but I wasnt planning on joining the tour but explore Incheon by myself. Do you think that’s less possible?

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    1. You would need a visa 🙂

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    2. HI have you tried the transit tour ? With free visa ? I’m from japan also

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      1. If you don’t need a visa to Korea then you won’t have a problem! Enjoy

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  6. Hi every one..how to avail the transit tour in korea? Currently here in k.s.a.Im planning to make layover in inchoen during my vacation in my home country phils.thanks…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The schedule is only up t0 3PM so late afternoon and evening transit passengers cant avail this service 😦 how sad for us…. i was even excited to know about this service 😦

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  8. Too bad 😦 I blogged about this, they listed the requirement as:
    In possession of a) a valid visa or entry permit to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Japan

    Unfortunately it seems a Schengen visa isn’t included…

    Find more information here, hope this helps! 🙂
    http://thetravelguyshops.blogspot.jp/2015/06/visa-free-to-korea-for-philippine.html
    http://thetravelguyshops.blogspot.jp/2014/09/finally-visa-exemption-to-korea-for.html

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    1. I had a valid 10 year US visa but they still didn’t let me through… Now I also have a 5 year one to Japan don’t think it’s gonna change they don’t know their own rules

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      1. I am on an 11-hour layover from Incheon airport to San Francisco on Asiana Airlines that left Manila ten past midnight today. I have a visa to the US. I had been to Seoul couple of times before since I was visiting my sister who is already a permanent resident of Korea. They let me pass through with a 30-day valid stay here in korea stamped on my passport even if I’m only in-transit and have no current valid visa to enter korea. I don’t know what caused the immigration people to hold you of entering the country.

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        1. Transit passengers to the US have it easier for some reason; my friend said the same to me!

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          1. I was the one who has a flight from Tokyo returning to Ph and has a layover in Incheon. We just presented our eticket and they let us through

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            1. Good for you! I think it also depends on who’s at the desk at the time. Or I was just extremely unlucky!

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      2. Hi did they allow u to get out in incheon using japan visa?

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    2. Same thing happening today with us
      We changed the airline just. For these transit tour and paid extra money and spent sleepless night
      But suddenly they rejected us by telling if you arrive from Mongolia you are not allowed to take transit tour
      Had it been the USA or Canada or Australia then they would allowe
      Where exactly is this mentioned?

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      1. You have to check the Korean embassy’s website in your country, visa section 🙂

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  9. Hi. I just booked a flight with Asiana airlines for LA today and I was given the website where I can book a free transit tour in advance so I guess this tour is really open to everyone with a long layover in Seoul.

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  10. Starting this June you’ll be able to fly to Madrid directly from HK on Cathay Pacific.

    Also, if you stay in HK long enough to get your permanent residency, you can apply for a HK passport (you have to give up your Philippine passport). That’s what my wife did. Makes travel far easier.

    Enjoyed this blog, and HKfiles. Take care.

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    1. Thanks for the info! And fingers crossed on that one !!!

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  11. hello Yeni,

    have u tried again to get the transit tour lately ?
    i will go to seoul to try the transit tour ,
    hopefully can get it

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  12. Hello.
    I’m attending a conference in Jeju. I plan to travel back home in the Philippines via Incheon since there’s no direct flight from Jeju to Manila. It it possible, without the plans in getting out in the Incheon International Airport, that I can have the flight Jeju-Incheon-Manila without a Korean visa?
    Hoping for some advice.

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    1. I think that should be fine but check the terminals because I did a transit in Incheon to Madrid from Manila and it was fine

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    2. You are only allowed visa free access in Jeju if 1) you do not go through mainland Korea and 2) you stay there and do not go to mainland Korea.

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  13. I’m going to sound repetitive with my question because there’s so much conflicting info on the web.

    I hold a Philippine passport.

    Booked and confirmed ticket with Asiana airline

    Itinerary is Philippines to LAX with a 14 hour layover in Incheon

    I want to tour and leave the airport.. without availing the bus tour

    Will I be allowed to do this or do I need a Korean visa?

    Thank you in advance!

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      1. Today I went to the Korean embassy and inquired about this. Clarified everything with the consul. Yup I walked pass the guards, charmed my through the guy in charge of queing the interviewees and approached the consul and asked about this.

        I can enter Korea with my US visa during my layover, given that my ticket is confirmed to and fro. I can stay up to 30 days.

        New ruling is, Japan visa is NO longer allowed to enter Korea during transit. That’s effective May 1 2016

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        1. omg! thanks so much for the update!

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      2. I’m fly from japan to manila but i have 8hrs layover in korea, can i leave? Please answer me. Thanks in advance.

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      3. @erica: check nimcee’s reply. no you cannot enter korea.

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  14. So sad just got home from the airport they did not allow us to board our plane because our itinerary is manila-incheon-gimpo-haneda… were going tokyo today but the asiana airlines personnel dis not allow us to board. They told us to get korean visa.

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    1. Oh no. That’s right they would not have allowed you to board because you needed a visa to exit immigration in order to change airports.

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    2. I will update this once I’ve made it to Korea. I so hope they don’t screw up my itinerary. I’m looking forward to my short tour in Korea.

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  15. Hi Yeni!

    I will be flying to Poland on July 18 with Lufthansa. My first stop over is in Incheon. Ill be coming from Manila. Do I need to get transit visa even if i am not going out of the incheon airport?

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  16. Looks like I am not alone! I was so looking forward with my Seoul transit tour. I booked Asiana from Narita to Cebu with 8 hours layover in Seoul thinking I could get the free transit tour but I wasn’t allowed because I don’t have Korea visa. I even have a US visa. I feel like crying… T^T

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    1. This is because Japan visas are no longer recognized. The only way you could have gotten a free tour at that time is if you were traveling from/to the US to Seoul to another country.

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      1. I wish I had read your post before I planned the transit tour. 😦
        Okay maybe when I visit the US again then I’ll transit in Seoul. I usually transit in Hong Kong. Thanks for the info!!

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  17. I was able to join the free transit tour in 2013 with some other Filipinos. We did not go to immigration, but just proceeded to the tour desk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh so theres a special entrance and exit for transit passengers availing of the tour so that they dont need to pass thru immigration?

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  18. I joined the transit tour with other Filipinos in 2013/2014. We did not go to immigration, but just proceeded to the tour desk.

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  19. I was able to avail the free bus tour! Ang saya! I can’t believe it’s free! You need to be early though when listing up for the bus tour because lots of people take advantage of it. There a fees when entering some of the temple tours but not all.

    May I just clarify this, you do need a US VISA and a boarding pass to prove that you are just in transit in Korea. I did two long layovers in Korea, coming and going, and both times the immigration officer asked for my boarding pass.

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  20. Hi, I have a Canada working visa and planning to have a 5 days vacation in south korea. My plan is I will book flights from manila-south korea then south korea to canada separately. Would that be okay? Since they mention that a person can stay in south korea without a visa if: 1. having a valid visa or entry permit to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Japan, and 2. having a confirmed ticket leaving Korea for any of those countries within 30 days. So I think I good because I met all those condition. But what will happen if they don’t allow me to enter south korea? Since Its not a layover anymore? Are they going to deport me? Hope someone can answer my questions. Thanks in advance.

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    1. I think you should be fine as long as you have your ticket to Canada within 30 days

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    2. They won’t deport you.. You just won’t be able to leave the airport. You’ll have to stay put inside the airport.

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  21. Hi I am planning to go to Jeju Island this weekend but I need to switch planes in Incheon airport and I don’t have a Korean visa. My flight is from Manila — Incheon — Jeju Island. I don’t know their transit policies but I am a Philippine passport holder. I wonder if that wouldn’t cause a problem for me.

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    1. Yes, it will be a problem. Taking a domestic flight means leaving Incheon airport and entering Seoul. Get a Korean visa asap

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    2. Transiting not a problem as long as you don’t leave the airpor t

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  22. Hello Yeni!
    I am flying from Cebu with a US passport, meeting my wife in Incheon on her way home to Cebu. I have a ticket to Incheon in the morning and have a ticket to go back to Cebu with my wife in the evening…with the 13 hours layover, I was planning on doing the tours…what are the chances?
    Looking forward to the reply. thanks…
    Vincent

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  23. Schengen visa is not included in the transit privilege offered. The immigration officers weren’t wrong nor did they change the law. It is very clear, you were flying to Europe and there is no mention of Europe in the immigration rules of Korea when transiting. They were absolutely right not to let you in to Korea.

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  24. Hi, I’m somehow confused about this entire no-visa for transit passengers, I’m a US Permanent Resident and I have a round trip Asiana flight this October (JFK-INC-MNL with an 18-hour layover at INC). My question is, do you think I can go outside INC? I would love to go around Seoul during that 18-hour INC layover.

    (Note: I also have an 19-hour layover on my return flight MNL-INC-JFK and this one I’m sure I can go out during that 19-hour layover coz I tried & did it last year. I’m just confused about doing it on that JFK-INC-MNL layover because they’re probably confident about letting you outside the airport if you’re US-bound, but will they let you outside the airport IF you’re Manila-bound?)

    I would greatly appreciate any info or thoughts about this, thanks 🙂 !

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  25. I was able to enter S. Korea without a visa just fine last August 2015 and July 2016. I have a confirmed ticket to Canada both time. I was even able to stay for 3 days in Seoul visa-free last July.

    The link you provided clearly stated the conditions. The part you quoted was already Section 2 which is “in addition” to Section 1. You should have read the whole document.

    Section 1A clearly stated “(1) Who holds an entry visa for, and is bound for one of the following countries via Korea: United States, Canada, Australia(A visa label has to be attached to a passport for e-visa holders) or New Zealand (including reentry permit, excluding Japanese group visa)”

    You were onward ticket was for Madrid, Spain is not one of the countries specified. Ergo, you were denied.

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    1. True, that was clarified by another commenter. I guess what added to the confusion was that the girl at the desk said it was okay (in Seoul) and then the immigration said it was not later on.

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    2. Hello. Please guide me. I’m travelling on May 2017 YYZ-ICN-MNL and MNL-ICN-YYZ with a 19 hours layover going back to Canada. I hold a Philippine passport with a permanent resident card only. Do I still need to get visa? Or I can just show them my boarding pass and PR card? I will be arriving 5pm then flight the next morning to Canada. Thanks in advance 🙂

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  26. Hello, Can someone confirm/tell/infrom that Japan Visa is no longer included on the list? I’ve plan to book a plane ticket from Singapore to Korea and stay there for 3 days then Korea to Japan (different Airline). I have approved Visa to Japan. Is it possible or do I need a Korean Visa? I read above comment that Japan Visa is no longer applicable to this scenario. How true is this? I read a lot of blogs also that Phil can travel 3 countries for single Japan Visa only. That is Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

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  27. Hello, Can someone confirm/tell/inform that Japan Visa is no longer included on the list? I’ve plan to book a plane ticket from Singapore to Korea and stay there for 3 days then Korea to Japan (different Airline). I have approved Visa to Japan. Is it possible or do I need a Korean Visa? I read above comment that Japan Visa is no longer applicable to this scenario. How true is this? I read a lot of blogs also that Phil can travel 3 countries for single Japan Visa only. That is Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

    Like

    1. You can no longer enter Korea with a Japan visa. Their ruling changed April 2016. What will determine your entry to Korea is the type of passport you have.

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  28. hi, im booking a flight to Cuba and the stops include Incheon and Canada. I know we’d need transit Visa for Canada but for Korea, since it’s only 6 hours layover and have no plan on leaving the airport, do I still need a transit Visa there

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    1. No need ! 🙂 have fun !

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  29. Hey! I’m getting confused. So i am a permanent resident of the US but a Phil passport holder. I will be going for a 3-week vacay to the phils. My layover is during my JFK-incheon-CEB flight. Planning to do the transit tour. Do i need a visa for this?
    Any reply would be appreciated. Thanks!

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    1. Hi there, when is ur flight? we might see each other 🙂 I am bound for Cebu from jfk-incheon as well. I will be doing the tour as well, I have done it in 2015 but I am holding a us passport though.

      Like

  30. Hi, I have a Philippine passport and resident visa for New Zealand. I’m travelling by end of month from Cebu – Korea – New Zealand with 11 hours layover in Korea. I would like to try the transit tour when i get there. Since New Zealand is one of the list so they should let me pass through, is that right?

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    1. Cebu – Incheon – New Zealand.

      Like

  31. For this flight HND-GMP-ICN_MNL, the connecting flight requires me to tranfer from GMP to ICN to catch my plane. To do so, will I need a visa to leave GMP and enter ICN? I have a Philippine passport and a Japan re-entry under intra-office transfer visa. Will they allow me to pass?

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  32. nah never them.. if they won’t accept that screw them. we won’t force our selve. do not let anyone look down on us filipinos. their so much more beautiful places to see that that small country. goodluck morena travels. hope to see more post in the future. be safe!

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  33. Hi. I’m a US permanent resident and I am going to Japan through Korean Airline. I have a layover in Incheon airport and have to transfer to Gimpo airport for my flight to Haneda (Japan). Since I am going out of Incheon Airport, do I need to have a Korean Visa for that? Thanks!

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  34. Your experience really sucks though it as written black and white regarding the qualifications (a transit passenger bound to ***). BUT … as we all know, being allowed entry to a foreign land is a privilege given and not an automatic right. IO’s have the last say should we be allowed entry or not on their country … and it sucks bigtime.

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    1. It’s only an automatic right if you have the right passport you mean lol.. fuck that

      Like

  35. hi! I have Philippine passport and will have a 10 hrs layover in incheon going to israel. do you think they can grant me transit visa? thanks.

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    1. Hi Kat, you’ll have to check the updated policies but no, I don’t think Israel is counted for the transit visa. Safe trip!

      Like

  36. Hello. I have a flight back to manila from osaka. I booked two flight. Osaka to incheon. Then incheon to manila coz its cheaper. Separate booking. So meaning we need to self transfer our baggage. Is it possible to do that? We are not going outside the airport. We just have 15 hrs layover in korea. Thanks

    Like

    1. If you have a Philippine passport and need to pass immigration I don’t think that’s gonna fly

      Like

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