Health officials guide international arrivals at Incheon International Airport on June 1. (Yonhap)
Starting next month, people vaccinated abroad will no longer be required to lock themselves up for two full weeks.
The South Korean government opened the doors to greater freedom in international travel on Sunday, when it announced that starting in July it would waive its self-quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated passengers arriving here under certain circumstances, regardless of their citizenship.
There are some exceptions to this rule, but overall, it is a positive sign for the tourism sector and could help people feel less burdened when traveling overseas. Korea has been discussing what benefits to offer vaccinated people, and that discussion is ongoing.
But it is important to verify whether you actually fall under the scope of this regulatory change. Here are some answers to questions you may have.
Q. What exactly is this new mandate, and how does it work?
A. Starting July 1, some people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in countries other than Korea will be exempt from the 14-day self-quarantine requirement, meaning they can move around freely as soon as they enter the country. A similar exemption has been in place since May for those who were vaccinated in Korea.
But this new exemption applies only to people who were fully vaccinated at least two weeks before traveling here.
It also applies only to those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine that is approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization. The list includes those from Pfizer, Janssen, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Covishield.
Also, all international arrivals still have to show a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departing for Korea. Without one, you can still be refused entry.
Any traveler seeking exemption under the new rules has to fill out an application and prove that he or she is fully vaccinated. Applications are available online from Korean embassies and consulates abroad or other government agencies.
Exemptions without vaccination records will be granted for children aged below 6. The applicant’s citizenship does not matter.
You will know before departing for Korea whether you are granted the exemption, as the agencies will process applications and give you an answer before you board your flight.
Q. You mentioned that there were some exceptions to this new rule. What are they?
A. The exemption only applies to those visiting Korea for business or academic purposes, for the public interest or to visit immediate family members. Otherwise, you still have to self-quarantine for two weeks upon entry.
Immediate family members are defined as spouses, lineal ascendants or descendants, and lineal ascendants or descendants of spouses. You will have to fill out forms and prove your intent to visit them.
Those coming from countries experiencing the spread of certain COVID-19 variants are also ineligible for this exemption.
As of June, those countries were South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Equatorial Guinea, Brazil, Suriname, Paraguay and Chile. The list could change depending on how the global situation goes.
Q. Does this mean I don’t have to get tested for COVID-19 once I get here?
A. No. Even if you were granted the exemption, you will still need to take a total of three COVID-19 tests before and after arriving. You will also have to install a self-diagnosis app on your phone and regularly report your health status.
This is because the COVID-19 vaccines marketed today are not 100 percent effective in preventing the virus from spreading. You can still catch it even after being vaccinated.
Q. What about face masks or social distancing rules? Do I still have to follow them after full vaccination?
A. Yes. Face masks will still be required indoors, and you will still be required to follow any virus control measures that are in place. But revamped social distancing rules will take effect July 5, so many of the rules in place now will be somewhat looser by the time the exemption rules come into force.
Starting then, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs will be allowed to stay open until midnight, and the ban on gatherings of five or more people will be relaxed to allow up to eight people to gather.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org)