Wednesday, August 25, 2010

China's new visa policy: 3 lousy options for foreigners living in Korea

In short, if you are a foreigner/teacher with a E2 work visa living in Korea you have three lousy options to visit China. This new rule listed below has messed up many foreigners plans, and is definitely an imminent problem for many living in Korea.

There are new rules for foreigners living in Korea that want to travel to China. According to the information provided by China visa applicants, kindly informs you: China visa rule has changed since July 1, 2010 for non-Korean applicants in South Korea. Foreigners who want to apply for visas to China, he/she must provide the alien registration card in South Korea valid for more than 6 months. Diplomatic and Official/Service passport holders are excluded.

Option 1:
Foreigners can go to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul with and apply for a Chinese visa that lasts for 30 days.

However, your alien registration card needs to have 6 months left. This is where things get completely messed up. First year teachers who get barley any vacation days, would have to try to plan this trip on a very short time frame. Maybe on a 3 day weekend, or you would have to take off work for an entire month. However, most teachers cannot take time off work until their second year contract.

Option 2: What if your alien visa card has less than 6 months left? For example say a teachers contract and alien card, expires on October 1 and you want to go and travel in China for one month after your contract.

First, send your passport and visa application form to USA, ask your friend or relatives to apply for you, then send back to Korea. This is not such a good option because you are sending your passport by mail which is a huge risk factor.

Option 3:
Another risky option for those with alien registration card valid for less than 6 months.

Apply for China visa through the travel agencies designated by the Consulate-General of China in Busan, which has not applied the new rule. I do not know why the consulate in Busan has not applied the new rule, but I have read about it online. I have no idea why they have not applied the rule, or when they will. But this is probably a teacher’s best option. The downside is that you have to travel to Busan and hope that everything goes smoothly.

If you are a foreigner in this boat and have discovered any other ways to get around this new policy share your thoughts!

China's visa policy: denied entrance to China

Flying to China, is not like flying to Mexico.

I purchased a last minute ticket to Beijing to stay with a friend and thought it was no problem. But things didn't go quite as planned, here's how it went...

So after a whirlwind morning all over Korea it is confirmed that I can not go to Beijing during my six day break.

My morning started out great, I arrived at the airport with plenty of time. Then I was standing in line to check in and I was flipping through my new Beijing book and came across one lousy paragraph that stated all persons visiting China need a Visa. Of course I justified this crappy paragraph in my head. I have traveled all over Europe and to Mexico numerous times with only my passport. I have even been to Korea with only my passport. So this visa thing must be like Mexico where when you book a ticket the tourist visa fee is already included in your ticket and paid for right?

Not exactly, as soon as I saw the lady from China Southern airlines searching my passport frantically I knew there was a problem! She stated that I could not travel to China and that I would have to return to Seoul and get a tourist visa from the embassy.

Right after this I called about the plane ticket and got everything figured out with the airline. My hope was to get the tourist visa back in Seoul, and hop on a later flight.

I saw one process online where you can get a rush tourist visa in 1 day. So then I got on the first bus from the airport back to Seoul.

Two hours later in Seoul I took a cab to the Chinese Embassy to see about getting a visa. The cab driver pointed down some narrow alley way and said "China Visa right there!" So I ventured down the hill and was freaking out when a guy at the door of the embassy would not let me on the site. The man at the embassy pointed me to a written statement stating that all persons in Korea need to get their visa through their travel company.

Somehow I wound up with a Korean that new how to speak perfect English. She told me that the Chinese government canceled the express 1 to 2 day tourist visa service. The quickest I could get a visa would be four days later for about $300! I was shocked because according to the China Embassy website it takes about 3-5 business days to get a tourist visa without the express service. The women that helped me was right across the street in some sort of office. I am not sure what kind of service or company they are, but she took my passport and made a bunch of calls in the office.

So next time I will be prepared and will have to plan a trip out there in advance!

I am oddly very ok with the situation, partly because it was so funny navigating Seoul with no Korean language skills in the pooring rain. I was treking around Seoul with a big wet suitcase trying to get a Chinese visa! At least I know exactly how to get to and from the Incheon airport in Seoul, and how to get directly to the Chinese Embassy from my neighborhood. I only had to pay $50 to cancel my entire flight and I received a full refund which was great.

Now that I am back at my hotel, the website states that the visa applicant rules for China changed last month. I will provide the new info for teachers in my situation in my next post!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Korean health check

"Is this a hotel lobby or a hospital room?" This was my first thought when walking into the Korean hospital to receive my mandatory health check.

Lets just say that going to the hospital in Korea is a completely different experience then going back in the states. One would expect a private room for tests, however this is not the case. All patients walk into a big room where there are little stations for each test.The room at the hospital I went to looked more like a Victorian hotel lobby with elaborate blue satin benches. The following website states that many hospitals are becoming more hotel orientated to bring back "natural elements."

Here is what to expect.

1. Check in at the lobby. A lady will ask you for your passport and will fill out some paperwork. Next you will pay $102. Make sure to keep your receipt because most companies will reimburse you for the entire health check.
2. Get naked and robed. Because they do not speak English very well, I was shocked when the nurse told me to take all of my clothes off in the room behind me and come back and sit in the lobby. What she really meant was to change into a robe and return to the lobby. I couldn't help but laugh hysterically, as I sat in a lobby dressed in a bright pink robe. To make the situation even more embarrassing, a Korean guy from work accompanied me the entire time to help the process go more smoothly.
3. Pee in a cup. Next you go to the bathroom and fill one cup and two test tubes up with pee. Then you will place the samples outside of the bathroom in a black box. Long story short, make sure to come with a full bladder the day of your health check.
4. Next, you go through a series of fast examinations.
Test No. 1 consists of getting your height and weight. A crazy high tech machine will do all the work.
Test No. 2 is a blood pressure test. You will place your entire arm in a machine that does the test for the nurse. Test no. 3 is when you will get your blood drawn. Yes, you will be getting your blood drawn in public!
Test No. 4 is a chest x-ray. Be sure to take your bra off in advance or the technician will do two x-rays. I know because this happened to me!
Test No. 5 consists of a hearing and eye check. Be sure to brush up on your Korean skills because the eye check letters are mostly in Hangul! (Please note my sarcasm.)
Test No. 6 You will finally be alone with a doctor as he/she makes you breathe deeply and spread your fingers out to make sure they are not webbed.

Although the entire health check seemed hilarious, patients can be in and out in as quick as 20 minutes. The basic health check-up system is very efficient and well organized. Just be prepared to sit in a robe in front of tons of other patients. For any other information on the health check visit

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The foreigner picture obsession

Alright, I knew that Asians in general love everything Western/American. But sometimes their love goes a little far.

A few days ago I was walking back to my hotel with two of my friends when we were stopped by a man with hearts in his eyes. A Korean man became fascinated with my good friend Andrea and actually followed us to the store where we stopped to get ice cream. He expressed how he felt about Andrea by saying that she was beautiful in Korean over and over again. Then he proceeded to get her number and said "I know you have a boyfriend, so I just want to be your friend! We could go out for drinks sometime." Andrea wound up giving him a fake e-mail address and sent him on his way. The guy and his friend wound up saying thank you and didn't bother us anymore. Korea is a pretty safe place and the guys clearly knew not to overstep their boundaries.

The next day we returned to training, our boss asked us if the man thought Andrea was Russian. Apparently, there is a huge underground chain of Russian prostitutes in Korea.

A step down from the love obsessed Korean lies the pretty normal tourist or Korean that loves taking pictures with Westerners. Most people would think that this category of people is mainly young boys or middle aged men. But no, as I found out on my second day here even older generations have the guts to take pictures with me and my friends! In the picture above a man confronted us in front of The Site of Bosingak (Belfry) and took our picture with his group of much older women! Because the entire process took so long he was nice enough to e-mail me the photo the very same day as a thank you!

In conclusion, most of the picture goers are pretty normal people that are just happy to see some long legs or blonde hair. But every once in a while you will get a love obsessed guy that will invite you out for some drinks.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

First night in Seoul

I landed in Korea at about 5:00pm and met Irene another director at YBM in a city close to Seoul right when I went through baggage. She is a crazy Brit but has great conversation and has lived in Korea for 6 years and traveled all over the world. The 1 hour shuttle ride from the airport to Seoul ended up taking us 2 and a half hours in traffic. By the time we got to the office to meet up with Tim (my director and boss) it was about 7:30-8pm. We hung out there for a few minutes and then Tim took me right down the street where I checked into my hotel for the next 12 days. The Samsung hotel actually is super nice.... but I'm at the Samsung motel! The rooms are pretty decent but there are some funny attributes like the big supply of skin products and condoms (no joke!). The good part is that I am 1 minute walk to the YBM office where I have training starting in 2 days on Monday.

I am completely exhausted right now from the trip! It is 10pm here right now and I am finally settled in. I took a long shower and figured out how to work the air conditioning and close the windows properly (ok the hotel guy showed me but I tried!). It is Friday night here so all the Koreans are partying. My room is on the second floor and is across the street are tons of restaurants that are hustling and bustling!

I have already Skyped my boyfriend Paul and sent out an email. This blog is the end of my first very productive night!

Flight to Korea and a Spanish lesson on board

I finally have arrived to Korea after a 13 hour flight from LAX! I am so excited to be here however the flight was terrible because of so much turbulence. About every 20 minutes the "caution we are experiencing turbulence announcement went off in 3 different languages!" But at least the food and on entertainment were great!

I flew on Korean Air which ended up being pretty nice overall. Two meals were served on board. The first was a choice between a Korean dish Bi-bim-bap or pasta. The second was a choice between more pasta or chicken and mash potatoes. I chose the pasta and the chicken and actually enjoyed eating them.

I also made a friend on the airplane. A Mexican boy sitting next to me ended up keeping me company. When I sat down I heard him speak in Spanish to the flight attendant and then asked if he was from Mexico. He did not speak any English but he told me he was from Puerto Vallarta and that he was 16 years old. I made due with my bad Spanish and found out that he was traveling to Thailand to go to school for a year. I completely forgot his name but he wrote down my email and is going to try to add me on Facebook! What a cutie : )

Anyway, I ended up talking to him throughout the flight in between my movies and dismal naps. We even played a game of solitaire against each other to see who could finish the fastest. Because I was talking in Spanish the entire time and was exhausted I caught myself talking to the flight attendant in Spanish too! I remember the flight attendant bringing me a water bottle as I replied "Gracias!"

So here I am, an American beach bum on a flight to Korea speaking Spanish to the Korean flight attendant! I also managed to sneak on 2 enormous carry on bags and a purse : )

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