One day, while watching Korean drama - yes, I am addicted to those too - I turned to Bee and shyly suggested, "We should go to Korea!" The seed had been planted. His positive and excited reaction propelled me to think this out-of-the-blues idea could become a reality if I continued to water the seed. I thought that the Chinese New Year holidays was the opportune time to travel since we both would have synchronized days off. Thus the planning and spending began. We learned valuable lessons along the way and here is what worked best for us:
Step 1: Purchase your ticket(s) ahead of time.
Chances of successfully buying flights during the Chinese New Year holidays increase when you purchase them waaaaay ahead of time. Last year, we learned that making last-minute travelling decisions during times like this are a huge mistake. If you are new to the region, do note that peak travel periods such as weekends and holidays see raised prices in taxi, bus, train and even air fares. Either that or tickets have been completely sold out. So, we bought our flight tickets four months ahead of time. If you are planning your trip during another time of the year, it is suggested to go to South Korea during Spring or Summer as the weather is nicer and the grass is definitely greener.
Step 2: Save your money
And I don't mean stash it under your mattress or hide it from yourself in the closet. I mean, put that money in the bank! Why is this important? For one, separating travelling expenses from daily expenses gives you that security that you will have enough cash to at least treat yourself to a Soju in Seoul. The most important reason is because the Korean Embassy requires you to have - and please read slowly and carefully because this is the most important piece of information - at least NT$100,000 - or US$3,300 in your account. They want to see in your "Bank Balance Certificate" your activities for the past three months.
Life Hack: If you are reading my blog during last minute preparations for your Korean trip, I got you, babe! It so turned out that I didn't have the money in the bank or anywhere in my savings for that matter. But, thanks to this modernized country, I did have some friends to lean on. In a matter of minutes and with a few clicks of the keyboard, four of my friends wired money to my account and voila! I had more than the required amount in my account the next day! Whew! Alas, for this to work, you must have credibility that you are going to return the money within the specified period of time and two, you must have friends. See why saving is important?
Step 3: Apply for the Bank Balance Certificate ahead of time
If you are a 8-to-5er or 9-to-6er like me, meaning you have a day job and going to apply for a visa requires you to ask for time off, don't leave everything for last minute, thinking you will do everything necessary within a half-day off. My suggestion is that you go to apply for this certificate during your lunch time at least three or two days before your visit to the embassy. I'm not sure if all banks work the same but
the bank will only provide the previous day's balance. This means that if you were thinking that you would deposit that 2,000 you needed to make up for the 100,000 requirement right before you request the certificate, you are in for a big disappointment. And you will have to wait another day. Learn from my mistake.
Step 4: Letter of Employment/Certificate of Enrolment
Ensure that you request specifically for a Letter of Employment from work. The Korean embassy does not want your Employment Contract or your Pay Slip. They want the original Letter of Employment, not a fax copy and not a copy. So get yourself an updated one of those as soon as you know you are definitely going to South Korea. For those of you who are still students, obtaining a Certificate of Enrolment should be easy peasy. I can't help you with details of that but there's probably a machine somewhere in your campus that can print it for you. You will probably have to take it somewhere for a school stamp. Don't quote me, I'm not a student any more. Scratch the former three lines from your memory if necessary.
Step 5: Travel Itinerary is a Must
If you have no idea where you want to go when in South Korea and you just want to wing it while you are already there, let me tell you my friend, this will not work. No, Siree! You must provide a printed itinerary of what you plan to do every single day during your stay there. It can be a simple plan with one or two things you want do - places you want to visit and such. Don't give them a daily schedule with each minute allotted for either. Now that is a little too much.
Extra Tip: You will have to also present copies of your passport, Resident Card or Identification Card, confirmed hotel address, and flight information. Once you have all of the above, yuh gud to go! - as we say in my country.
Now that you know all these tips and tricks to obtaining a Korean Visa, the rest is all up to you. South Korea is a beautiful country. I'll share tips of where to visit when in Seoul in an upcoming blog.