I’ve always wanted to say that.
I never had a chance until now. Let me say this again.
I’ve been soul searching in Seoul.
Excuse my childish enthusiasm and silliness.
South Korea is one of those foreign countries that is so dear to my heart. It’s like falling in love with a stranger. I fell in love with South Korea even though, I haven’t been there before.
Of course, as a Filipina… I would blame watching Koreanovelas. They are just artistically made, story-lines and plots are always clever and funny. If you haven’t watch any. Let me suggest a few of my favorites: Rooftop prince, Jewel in the Palace, Only You, My Love from the Star and so much more.
The best part of watching them is you can binge-watch them. I would stay the whole night then the next day to finish the whole show. There are about 14-18 episodes, it depends.
Anyway, my Seoul sightseeing trip was only 5 hours long. But what is so clever is that I didn’t need to go to a Korean embassy to request for a visa like most Filipinos should do. My flight from the USA to Philippines was sufficient enough to let them know that I only intend to have a transit tour in Seoul.
Transit tours are amazing if you are visiting Incheon International Airport with more than five hours of lay-over. I didn’t know about this until one day, I just encountered it in my research about Incheon International Airport.
As you can see, it was my first trip back to my home country, the Philippines since I moved here in the United States. It was fairly my first time to be alone (literally) in a foreign country. I was so ecstatic when I discovered I don’t have to apply for the visa but I have to make sure as well that it is really 100 percent allowed.
Yes, it is!
With a few conditions of course. PROOF.
You have to show your previous plane ticket showing you came from United States or from the Philippines. Next will be your incoming flight ticket showing either you’re going to Philippines (just like in my case) or going to the United States for those who are living in the Philippines.
If you’re a green card holder just like me BUT you don’t have an incoming flight ticket and only stopping in Seoul or Seoul as your current final destination. Then that means you have to apply for a Korean visa since Filipinos are still now allowed to just get in and out of South Korea without one.
I am allowed to get out of the airport because this is a TRANSIT TOUR. I showed a proof that within twenty-four hours I am flying out of South Korea and that I will be going to my home country, the Philippines.
I have read that you can actually stay for a few more days or a few weeks. BUT, I suggest you should consult directly to the Korean embassy for this and the same rules applies. You should show your previous plane ticket (Point A) then your incoming plane ticket to your next destination (Point B) which should not be South Korea.
South Korea should be merely your passing country – so to speak.
It also helps if you know someone or you have Korean friends. This will suggest you can stay there and afford the necessities in being a tourist for a few weeks in South Korea. If you go this way, it eliminates you from taking part of a transit tour. Since, this is more of you just being a plain tourist.
Transit tours are only for transit passengers who have an incoming flight within 24 hours. This applies for both the naturally visa-exempted foreigners like American citizens and for us who only have a special pass. So if you stay longer, you pay for everything.
Of course, all this you will have to explain to the officer why you’re entering South Korea and it depends on them if they think your claim is good and you’re good to go. WOOHOO – OUT OF THE AIRPORT.
I was asked to show my green card to prove I have no intention of staying longer in S. Korea and have the means or the financial capacity to indulge myself for any tourism purposes once he let me outside of the airport. For others, you can show your US visa for example.
I have to also mention: This special pass or privilege of not applying for Korean visa is only for those who are passing or sightseeing through the Republic of Korea. Then only applies if your Point A or Point B is one of the four countries below.
United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand under the General Musashi B-2-1 which is just below the Visa-Exemption B-1 for diplomats.
Please check the Korean Embassy official website for any updates, changes and for more information that you need.
Philippines (Point A) – South Korea (Transit) – United States (Point B).
United States (Point A) – South Korea (Transit) – Philippines (Point B).
For those who didn’t make the cut. I have good news, your Korean dream doesn’t end here. Jeju island is visa-free, no need to apply in the Korean Embassy for Filipinos.
I also had fun sending my inquiries for any questions I have in mind and for more details about the transit tours through their email. You can find it in the airport website and this is their email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
For the whole list of countries that do not need a visa, you can also see it on their website. For those who need a visa just like us Filipinos, this special exemption or pass is such a good way to visit South Korea. Knowing that applying for a visa requires a lot of effort and time.
Incheon International Airport provides these transit tours where-in you can have options ranging from an hour long to five hours. You have to book in advance to choose which itinerary (with time schedules) works best for you and for your incoming flight.
I really badly want to see one of the major Korean palaces and wasn’t able to book earlier for it on the airport’s website.
ASIANA AIRLINES IS A GOD-SEND! THANK YOU!
Until, thankfully… I discovered that my airline Asiana Airlines going from Los Angeles to Seoul in Incheon International Airport also offers their own transit tours. Actually, you even have an option if you want a free hotel accommodation or a transit tour. Not all passengers are eligible for this feature.
From what I know, it is only eligible for those passengers who have a really long lay-over. It should be at least be more than five hours and also depends on seasonal periods. There are dates that they don’t provide this program.
To make sure, you have to call their local hotline or customer service in your country. Inquire if you are eligible for “free transit hotel or free transit tour” by providing a few of your flight details and especially tell them the specific dates of your flights. If you are eligible, be sure to make a reservation.
The earlier you make your reservation, the better. They will tell you then, to call again on a certain date for you to know if your reservation was approved or have been finalized, accepted and added into their system.
All you need to do is show up in the airport and go to the Asiana Airlines information counter in the arrival area. Or in the first floor after you’re cleared from Customs and Immigration. Proceed outside between Gate 8-9, just walk around a little and it’s easy to see it from there.
It is near the waiting or huge sitting area. It is also facing this nice little convenience store “CU CVS” or “CVS for you” and don’t forget to try one of these.
Tell them you have made a reservation for a transit tour or hotel, provide your identification or passport. Your name will appear on their system and they will call you when it’s time to go.
I had sixteen hours lay-over and I chose their longest transit tour that can span five-six hours. It was all free which made it more amazing. Free private transportation, I literally have the whole bus to myself with my own pretty Korean tour guide and bus driver assisting me the whole time.
I also have to mention, FREE YUMMY LUNCH.
I chose authentic Bulgogi. It was so good, I almost cried.
The transport and tour was very efficient, when they say five hours transit tour. It is really five hours. They make sure, you’ll be stepping in the airport. My tour started exactly at nine in the morning and ended me being in the airport exactly at two in the afternoon.
This is the tour bus provided by Asiana Airlines and I was the only passenger. I had the nicest tour guide and bus driver. They were both amazing. I can’t thank them enough. I just kept saying “Kamsahamnida”.
My 5 hours transit tour was free and I had one of the most amazing time and experience of my life. I told my tour guide, I will be back with my husband someday. At that time, we will be touring South Korea extensively hehehe. You know, like contributing to their economy.
So yes, I am a loyal Asiana Airlines passenger now. I will be using their services more in the future. That and Incheon International Airport is just hands down my current favorite airport in the world.
The whole experience was such a breeze. Koreans are known for their “pali pali system” it’s a cultural behavioral tic that they have. It means, they will be in a hurry just so they can be on time. Pali means “faster” or “hurry up”. To be swift and efficient. Being on time is very important to them.
That’s a very good thing when you’re about to catch your flight. I had a lot of time left to do in the airport. I went to the free shower area in Incheon International Airport. By the way, you can find it in the 4th floor. If you’re someone like me, who have a connecting flight. Take advantage of it.
It is somehow hiding or blending in the background. Be sure to be alert. It is in the rest and relaxation lounge area, near Asiana Airlines Transfer desk. It is easy to find it once you’re in the food and beverage section. Just go up from there.
Incheon International Airport is huge but it never fails to make you feel relaxed. It feels and looks like a really nice shopping mall. At least, at that time, passengers were not in a rushed mood. We all chose to enjoy the environment. Mind you, it is one of those airports you just clearly don’t feel like you’re in one.
You’re also not stressed about catching your flight since the process is fast and efficient. As long as, you do your part as a passenger of course. Which means, be aware of the necessary documents and be prepared even before they asked them or when you’re in line.
This is when I stepped in outside the airport. Awwww, the look of freedom.
In my five hours transit tour, it didn’t honestly feel rushed. I loved and enjoyed every second of it. I get to see a lot like the Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is historically where the royal family stayed. It is the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Also visited the chief Buddhist temple in the middle of the city in Seoul or known as Jogyesa.
JOGYESA BUDDHIST TEMPLE
You can find the cheerful, smiling Buddha waiting for you.
The colorful fish-shaped are used for prayers or mantra and they would hang them. The Buddhist Temple wasn’t usually this busy but my tour guide said, I am extremely lucky for being there at the right time. There was a huge event happening and I get to see it or be there.
I have also insanely (in a good way) learned a lot from the National Palace Museum of Korea. The unique history and culture of the Korean people and their past is just fascinating. I am familiar with it but still there is just much more to learn. Way too many interesting facts and it’s something you have to learn for yourself. So go there!
The quintessential walls that you see a lot in the city are historical gem to Koreans.
The whole kingdom was once protected by them like a fortress surrounding them back in the day. The heart is where the royal family lives which is in Gyeongbokgung Palace. They are protected by everyone even the very ordinary people.
The brutal past however, can be proven by how much of these walls were torn apart or destroyed which you can evidently see today. It is breaking your heart. I feel bad with this sudden knowledge.
A beautiful glimpse of the past.
Hanbok is the traditional Korean dress which should cover the feet of women in the past. Nowadays, it could be shorter and have more stylish designs. The designs in the past were strictly specific depending on your standing or your title in the society. Same thing with the embellishments, jewelries and hair ornaments.
I also did a bit of shopping in Insadong Street and for a tourist like me, I gladly obliged. Too many eye candies.
Oh, I also love these narrow market streets. For me, IT IS VERY KOREA.
South Korea, I will be back with my husband. We will have adventures on your historical streets someday. Secret Garden at Changdeokgung palace and Bukchon Hanok Village. I see you! Wait for me!