As Korea continues to brand itself as a startup nation, increasingly foreigners are becoming interested in joining Korean startups or even starting up their own venture in Korea. But getting visas in Korea for entrepreneurial endeavours can be daunting and is often tied up with red tape, as the government grapples with the best way forward to open Korea to foreign workers in the tech and startup space.
A few of the tried and tested ways of getting into Korea follow:
1. Student-Intern-Full Time: This is a really great way for students / graduates who want to learn about Korea, before making the plunge. There is a wide range of courses for foreigners at some of the top Seoul universities. While completing your semester in Korea you can build the networks to get straight into an internship when you finish. If you excel, your employer may support your visa for a full time job. I know several who have used this route.
2. English teaching - Business: Most foreigners working in business roles in Korea started as English teachers. This is probably the easiest way, if you have a degree and don't mind teaching ABC for a year. use your free time to build your business networks in Korea and make sure you have a full time business job lined up for when your teaching contract comes to an end. You will most likely have to take a pay cut for your first business job, but the long term rewards are well worth it. Transitioning visas in Korea (teaching to business for example) is not particularly difficult or expensive.
1. Get a job posting to Korea from a foreign company. I have come across a number of foreigners who have been posted to position and have transitioned into a Korean company after having completed their contract. Transitioning to an alternative visa is a relatively inexpensive and straightforward process, that can be completed by your new employer.
3. Secure a job in a Korean corporation. Large Korean corporations are hiring foreigners at a much higher rate than in the past, but to get access to these roles Korean is often a requirement. If not, specific skills and an impeccable educational track record is a pre-requisite for getting an interview. Again, once you have secured a job in Korea, transitioning to a new role is fairly straight forward.
4. Marry a Korean national. While this option relies on obvious commitments, beyond business, it is the most sure-fire method of gaining access to work in Korea.
Business Visas: C-2, D-8
If you want to come participate in conferences and connect with the local scene your passport will be okay for a certain number of days, depending on your country of nationality. If you want to stay beyond the basic allocation of your passport a C-2 Visa will give you this flexibility. You can operate as a consult and do marketing research on this visa for no more than 90 days. However, you can't work for a company or start your own company under this visa.
Another option is the D-8 visa (the Investor Visa). This is a really expensive visa which holds a requirement for upwards of $100,000 to invest in Korea. The earlier requirement for this visa waas a mere $10,000, but due to mis-use by visa holders, the amount was increased around the middle of last year. This visa works well if you are an established businessman and have the capital to start a business in Korea, but is practically useless for those just starting up. Another option is to have pre-registered IP in Korea. Though this is also an odd requirement, as very few entrepreneurs would register IP out with their country of origin. Depending on your personal circumstances, it may be better to arrive on the C-2 visa then change your visa while in Korea. This process is feasible, but you would need to have a Korean assisting you with the process.
Other related visas:
D-9: This is a visa for industry specialists wishing to establish and manage a company in Korea or engage in trade or other profitable business ventures. This visa is generally only available for those with a very high level of experience in a given engineering or science discipline.
Student Visas : D-2 , D-4, D-10
The next best visa type are the student visas. Why student visas? Because planning ahead can yield benefits.
The two most common Student visa are the D-2 and the D-4. The D-2 gives you more freedom and it comes with the ability to buy health insurance. You have to be enrolled in school but you can network with other college students and business in your field without violating your visa. It also will establish residency so that you can receive an F-2 after graduation. ( More on that later)
With a D-2 visa, you can explore industry and learn through participation. It's the long route to working and having a visa in Korea, but if your young like me you have time for this. Also, if you graduate from a Korean university you can receive a D-10 visa which will allow you to search for a job without being enrolled in school. (Those who haven't attended school in Korea are still eligible but with more regulations).
On the D-2 and D-10 visas, you can also receive internships in your field in Korea. Student visas are a great way for under 25's to begin making a name for themselves in Korea. So instead of drinking soju all day, take advantage of this visa type and meet people .
Residency Visas: F-2
The most complicated Visa of all: The F-2 Visa. This visa is complicated because you have to obtain points to recieve it. You get points for knowing Korean, have degrees, the amount of money you make, and your age. You don't have to have lived in Korea to earn the points but it really helps if you going for language, education or volunteer points. There are 120 points total and you only need 80 points to qualify.
The Point System as of 2011:
Age – (maximum 25 points)
18-24 years old = 20 points
25-29 years old = 23 points
30-34 years old = 25 points
35-39 years old = 23 points
40-44 years old = 20 points
45-50 years old = 18 points
51 or older = 15 points
Academics (maximum 35 points)
Graduate from Junior College (more than 2 yrs course) = 25 points
Bachelor’s degree = 26 points
2 or more Bachelor’s degrees = 28 points
Master’s degree = 30 points
2 or more Master’s degrees = 32 points
Ph.D degree = 33 points
2 or more Ph.D. degrees = 35 points
Korean proficiency (maximum 20 points)*
General Comprehension/Basic Commu-nication =10 points (TOPIK 1 or 2)
Topic Comprehension/Communicates well in Familiar Subject = 15 points (TOPIK 3 or 4)
Proficient Communication for Everyday Life = 20 points (TOPIK 5 or 6)
(*based on results of S-TOPIK, the Standard Test Of Proficiency in Korean)
Yearly income (maximum 10 points)
Under 35,000,000 won / year = 5 points
35,000,000 – 50,000,000 won / year = 6 points
50,000,000 – 80,000,000 won / year = 7 points
80,000,000 – 100,000,000 won / year = 8 points
100,000,000 won or more / year = 10 points
Completion of Social Integration Program = 10 points.
Academic Studies in Korea*
A Korean language certificate = 3 points
Junior College Degree = 5 points
B.A= 7 points
M.A. = 9 points
Ph.D. = 10 points
(*certificate/degree earned in Korean institution)
Public Service/Volunteer work in Korea *
Under 1 year = 1 point
1-2 years = 3 points
Over 2 years = 5 points
(*refers to volunteer work that can be credibly documented)
Professional Working Experience outside Korea
1 year = 1 point
1-2 years = 3 points
Over 2 years = 5 points
Deduction of Points:
There are also some penalties built into the point system for a maximum loss of 5 points. It appears that infractions by both dependents and the invited person are included.
illegal stay = -1 point
Notice of disposition and etc = -1 point
illiegal stay = -1 point
noticed disposition = -2 points
Entrepreneurship and Start-up Visa : D-10; D-8-4
The newest Visa is the D-10 entrepreneurship visa that will allow you to enter Korea to work toward gaining points for a D-8-4 Start-up Visa.
Firstly to obtain a D-10 visa , you must hold a bacholer's degree and some sort of intellectual patent. You can then register your company and patent in Korea and wait to receive a D-8-4 visa. While on a D-10 , it would be beneficial to participate in business classes in Korea to gain points. Also, the Government also offers grants to new start-ups. On this visa, you can also participate in Accelerators. You can't get a D-8-4 visa to establish a business in Korea, so you need the D-10 first.
Many foreigners simply leave Korea for a few weeks, and re-enter on their passports. However, the immigration offices are cracking down on this. It's still a viable option though, if you need to be in Korea for business but don't qualify for a Visa.
Official immigration webiste: