In Transit: How I Toured South Korea with a US Visa

Free Korea Transit Tour Pamphlet
Photo by Author

Visa applications are time-consuming and mostly costly when you have a weak passport. I am a Philippine passport holder so if I want to enter South Korea directly, I will need to apply for the visa. South Korean Embassy processes them for free (depending on where you live) or through authorized agencies with a cost. Sadly, there are a lot of requirements.

I had already undergone the strenuous US Visa application just to visit my relatives and I wasn’t ready to go through fulfilling requirements again for another embassy. Luckily, I got a 10-year multiple entry visa so I was keen on taking advantage of it.

It was only after thorough research that I found out that I could get a visa-on-arrival for South Korea with my US Visa.

I had also been checking direct flights to the USA from numerous sites and airlines. They were quite expensive and I figured I needed the stretch for my first long-haul flight. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone in 2018, I booked a Korean Air flight to the USA with a 19-hour layover in South Korea.

Near midnight, I arrived at Incheon International Airport. I showed my board passes and passport to the immigration officer. In return, he gave me a small piece of paper that said I was able to stay up until 30 days.

I wasn’t aware that I was entitled to a month's stay. To be honest, I was tempted not to leave as I could do so much in those days.

However, I was also aware of the conditions of the stay:

1. A valid US Visa.

2. A US-bound flight in or out of South Korea.

(It also applies to other OECD countries. You can read more about it here.)

There could always be a next time so I told myself to settle for now of a glimpse of South Korea with a transit tour.

At daybreak, I talked to the agent at the transit tour desk and she confirmed my tour arrangements.

Traditional Tour

Our first stop was the grandest palace of the Joseon dynasty, the Gyeongbokgung.

Gyeongbokgung
Photo by Author
Photo by Author

Cherry blossoms were in full bloom at the palace grounds because it was spring in South Korea. It was also my first time seeing them.

Sakura Flowers
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For lunch, we went to Insadong. I had to pay for the meal when I booked the tour. Worth it though as it was an authentic Korean meal for USD 10.

Photo by Author
Photo by Author
Photo by Author

We continued to roam around Insadong, checking out various stalls and shops.

Running Man Statue
Photo by Author
Photo by Author
Photo by Author

Overall, this Traditonal tour required 5 hours and for me, it was enough.

Paradise City Tour

I had more hours to spare so I went nearby. From paintings, sculptures, and the interior of the place…it was worth a visit even if you didn’t gamble.

Sculpture
Photos by Author
Pegasus Sculpture
Photo by Author
Kim Soo-hyun Life-size Figure at Paradise City
Photo by Author

This was also where Kim Soo-Hyun shot his film, Real.

Quite a lovely experience for my first layover and transit tour. It was worth the money and I can’t wait to be back again.

So, if I were you: the next time you’re visiting The States, take advantage of that US visa and see South Korea either for transit or a short trip.

Incheon Airport
Photo by Author

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