Seou, South Korea city skyline at twilight.

If you love Japan, much like I do, it’s been a tough couple years. Despite glimmers of hope the country is still pretty much closed to outsiders. There’s no immediate sign of that changing anytime soon.

As friendly of a place as Japan upon arrival, it’s also a place that doesn’t love visitors as much as one would think. In the latest polls, over 65% of locals approved of the border measures in place.

For a while, Japan’s stance toward reopening travel, which was basically a lack thereof, was like the rest of Asia, but in recent months there’s been a seismic shift.

It all started with Thailand, and now, the floodgates are open. From Singapore to Vietnam, Cambodia and even Pacific holdouts like Australia and New Zealand, travel in Asia is reopening. That now includes South Korea.

I’m bummed that Japan hasn’t announced any reopening plans, but its next door neighbor has been long overdue for a big tourism moment. South Korea is a delight and if you love Japan, you’ll almost undoubtedly love visiting.

Seou, South Korea city skyline at twilight.

South Korea Opens Quarantine Free Tourism

South Korea has reopened quarantine free travel for the first time since the global pandemic began. There was hope of a much earlier reopening, but the Omicron wave put the kibosh on that.

South Korea began welcoming fully vaccinated visitors at the beginning of April, with a negative test prior to departure and a couple of tests after arrival. It’s not as seamless as you might hope, but for a chance to visit a unique and wonderful part of the world, it’s better than nothing.

To enter South Korea, fully vaccinated visitors must have received their final Covid-19 vaccination dose at least 14 days prior to arrival, and if the final dose is more than 180 days old, a booster is required to avoid quarantine. With a booster, there’s no clock.

A test is required upon arrival on day 1, and also on day 6 or 7, or before departure, whichever comes first. GSTP has long argued that no meaningful travel recovery will take place while arrival, or exit testing exists.

Visitors need to register their vaccination proof in advance of travel for optimal arrival experience. If you can stomach the Covid-19 testing, that’s pretty much where it ends. All arrivals are now free to take any transportation they wish and there’s no isolation requirement.

65181704 - sunrise at seongsan ilchulbong, jeju island, south korea.

Why South Korea Is Amazing

For many of the same reasons people are utterly attracted to Japan, there’s so much to love in South Korea. The two countries may have their differences, but there’s so much to be amazed by.

Korean food is finally getting its recognition globally. Bibimbap is winning pop culture flavor battles, and the unique Korean approach to barbecue is gaining serious acclaim. Look no further than Cote in New York, which was awarded a Michelin star.

From island retreats to Jeju, once the world’s busiest air route, to city breaks in Seoul, Busan and Daegu there’s so much to explore. And like any great country, wherever you go will bring such a different look from place to place. Shrines and temples are replete with wow factor, as well.

If you’re an electronics nerd, cat cafe fanatic or just love jetting off to fascinating and delicious places this is a great time to go. Of course, it’d be better if the arrival testing was dropped, but for now Japan’s loss is Korea’s gain.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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8 Comments

  1. Japan’s continued closure becomes more absurd and unbelievable by the day. I hope South Korea absolutely kills it this spring and summer, particularly once they inevitably do away with testing requirements. I was the world’s biggest Japan fan pre-Covid, but honestly fuck them.

  2. @Robert – yes Japan’s decision is a personal attack on you and you should be so visibly outraged by this…

  3. This line does away with any notion that visitors will flood back into South Korea any time soon. The whole testing farce is painful, even when it’s one test to enter and no follow ups. This scenario is too stressful and expensive to bother with.

    “A test is required upon arrival on day 1, and also on day 6 or 7, or before departure, whichever comes first.”

  4. China and S Korea are having insane Covid numbers right now. Shanghai has been shut down. What the hell are you talking about.

  5. I’ve been to Japan 25 times. Great country. My wife is Japanese and works for JTB a well known tourist company in London. She has not worked for Two years, because of covid also the Japanese reluctance to open their doors both ways for tourism. I can’t understand a country that has earthquakes, tsunamis, every imaginable disaster you can think of, and still scared of covid. Open up as soon as possible or people will lose interest in your country.

  6. Great news and some positivity finally coming through. I loved traveling through Japan and have always wanted to visit South Korea. Thanks for sharing .

  7. I have rescheduled my trip to Japan 3 times now. I still have tickets to go June 15 but I’m sure I will have to cancel. I already have tickets to travel from Japan to Seoul but obviously if Japan doesn’t open up I can’t use those so I also bought tickets from USA to Seoul to continue our 50+ day trip through Asia this summer.

    This testing requirement is very painful. I don’t mind the pre-departure from the USA testing but the testing upon arrival and testing on departure sucks.

    Gilbert, do you have any information on how much COVID tests are upon arrival and how readily available it is on departure? I’m only in Seoul 5 days and this seems like too many hoops to jump through. I looked online but I don’t see much info. Anyone have any data points on this?

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