It’s been a long time in the making, but this year I finally managed to tick off one of my absolute goals for 2020-2021. I changed my Visa status in Korea. I am no longer on an E2; instead I hold an F2-7. The coveted residence Visa that means you are not tied to a company or a person, but yourself and the amount of points you manage to accrue. It was a journey, filled with a lot of stress and mild panic, but here is how I went about changing my Visa status in Korea, why I wanted to, and what I can do now I have.
If you want to live and work in South Korea legally, you need a Visa.
There are a lot of different Visa types, and each one comes with its own sets of rules, regulations, and quite often, limitations. The most common are E2 and E7, with E2 being language instruction of a native language, and E7 professional employment in a field relating to your degree/area of work.
The others that I know that allow legal work are E6 – the Entertainment Visa) – and H1 – the Working Holiday Visa. You can also work on a Student Visa, but there are restrictions in relation to how long you have to have been in the country, your Korean language level, and how many hours you can work for.
I have held 3 different Visa types in Korea, student D2, E2, and now F2-7, so my working knowledge of other visa types is very patchy. If you have questions about visa types, I think the best course of action would be to contact the Korean Embassy in your country, or do your own research. There is a lot of information out there. [eg: this list of visa types Korea offers]
Visiting South Korea doesn’t always require a Visa, but you are limited to the amount of time you can spend in the country. You cannotwork legally on a ‘Tourist Visa’.
The E2 Visa
The E2 Visa is the ‘Foreign Language’ or ‘English Conversation Teacher’ Visa. You can qualify for this Visa if you are a native speaker of the desired language, or can provide certification that the majority of your education was completed in the desired language. It’s more colloquially referred to as the English Teacher Visa, since most English Teachers in the country are on an E2, but you can teach any language on it as far as I can see, provided you meet the requirements.
It’s an OK Visa to be on; it’s easy to renew and simple to transfer, the benefits include a lowered tax rate and 50/50 split for health insurance and pension. You must be registered with the Education Board of your area as a teacher, though, not an Independent Contractor (IC) as this affects both your health insurance, tax, and pension – and there are a lot of schools who still make this mistake.
I was pretty happy on my E2 Visa, but the one thing I really didn’t like was that my school ‘owned’ me, for lack of a better word. E-series visas tie you to the company that hires you, which – especially in the time of COVID – made me more and more uneasy as the years progressed. It’s fine if you’re only staying for a year or two, but I’m not, and the fact that my school could potentially close, leaving me high and dry with no income and little I could do about it, was a reality I was seeing more often. It’s also very tough to change schools if you want to move mid-contract, there’s a lot of paperwork and not all of it is a right or guaranteed.
Also, wages have been pretty similar for the last 10 years on an E2, regardless of qualifications and experience. Obviously, International Schools pay more, but then you’re on an E7 and not an E2, and the requirements are different. On an E2 Visa, you are not allowed to take extra work in any field unless you get an extension added onto your E2 status and permission from Immigration.
More simply, I wanted to at least have the illusion of more safety for myself. On an F-series Visa, I’m not tied to a company. On the F2-7, I’m not tied to anyone but my own merit and determination. That’s when I really decided on changing my visa status in Korea.
The f2-series Visa
The F2-7 Visa used to be nicknamed the Freelance Visa among the expat community, as this Visa specifically allows you a lot more freedom without the caveat of marriage (F6). In the last two years, things relating to this visa have changed a lot, so I’m not sure how accurate the information I have will even be in the next 6 months. Which is actually terrifying, but I’m here now.
There are many subdivisions of the F2 Visa, but again I’m not well versed since I wasn’t applying for anything other than f2-7. I know that the F2-99 is another popular choice for those transferring from an E2 as the largest requirement is you have to have been on the E2 for 5 consecutive years, but the others… no clue sorry.
The F2-7 is a points-based Visa. You have to accrue the minimum points to be allowed to change, and the length of the Visa is determined by how many points over the minimum you are, and your income (though anecdotal evidence suggests it’s mainly on income). Points are distributed into different categories, such as age, income, education level, and Korean language ability, as well as being available for volunteering and having gone to a University that ranks in the top 500. You can also lose points for previous immigration violations and committing crimes. So… don’t do that.
In the last year, the minimum requirements for changing your Visa status in Korea to the F2-7 have also … changed. You have to have been on your previous Visa for a minimum of 3 years, unless you are making a considerable amount of money (likely only possible on an E7, as E2 salaries have stayed pretty stagnant for a while). You also can’t count E2-D10-E2 transitions as a consecutive E2, even if you haven’t been out of the country or found another job pretty quickly (D10 is the Job-seeking Visa). Your time resets with each change of Visa status.
So even with all the uncertainty, I still decided to change my Visa status. The freedom I wanted far outweighed the stress off all the rule changes – and the possibility of being able to do other things without Immigration having to give me permission was a definite perk. I still need to maintain the points to renew when the time comes, but I now have more avenues open to me, even though I’m pretty sure right now I’d like to stay in Education in some form. I really do enjoy it.
Changing my Visa Status in Korea
The process itself took a little less than 15 minutes at Immigration.
Collecting the actual documents and making sure I even had the minimum number of points was about 6 months in the making. I joined a Facebook group specifically for the f2-7 visa, and they were all so helpful there that I didn’t really need to read up on a lot of other things.
The documents needed for changing to an F2-7 visa were:
Passport & ARC
Application form & Points calculation form
Proof of Employment certificate
Business Registration Number etc of your place of employment
Notarised & Apostilled copy of your degree
Print out of your University if they rank on the Times Top 500 list
Korean proficiency certificate (TOPIK or KIIP)
Criminal Background Check from home country, notarised & apostilled AND within 3 months of issuance
Foreigner Occupation and Income Report Form
Revenue stamps (only available at immigration, pay in cash)
passport photos (bring more than one, must be recent)
I am not an immigration officer or an immigration lawyer, I mostly talk about skincare and fashion, so I can’t really give you much help. If the requirements change I will update as I can with the new information, but at the time of posting this, this information is accurate to my experience.
Tips for easily changing your Visa status in Korea
Make sure that you follow all the rules of your current Visa. The Visa violation fines are steep and they will not hesitate to march you up to the 6th floor (or equivalent) to pay them if you so much as put a toe out of line.
Common things people get caught out for are: updating your place of residence WITHIN 14 days of changing, and updating passport information.
At the immigration office, make sure you have prepared all of your documents, over-prepare if you can by tabbing the different documents to make them easier to flip through. Try and use as much Korean as you can (it’ll show you are at least trying) and ask for clarification if you don’t understand.
Don’t rely on points that can easily get taken away, or are subject to very specific parameters of calculation. With the introduction of points for graduating from a Top 500 university, honestly I wouldn’t rely on getting those points unless your uni is consistently in the top 150. For things like volunteering, be aware that they count a year from the exact date of your first activity. TOPIK certificates expire after 2 years!
Be kind, polite, and courteous. I’d suggest getting the revenue stamps before your turn at the desk, but don’t pay for the new ARC until you’ve been told to. In my opinion, it isn’t a great look to assume that you’ll sail through on your first application.
So that’s it. BIG GOAL ticked off. Now I just need to keep this Visa.