Studying in South Korea as an international student

Between 1970 and 2000, South Korea transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to an economic success, with the 11th largest economy in the world. This Asian powerhouse is currently ranked as one of the top ten best places for international students.

Here are our top reasons for studying in South Korea and what is involved when choosing it as a destination for higher education.

A high level of education

South Korea has some of the best universities in Asia. It has invested heavily in education over the years which is the main reason experts give for its booming economy.

According to the OECD, South Korea’s education system is now ranked as one of the world’s highest-performing, with top marks for scholastic achievement and educational competitiveness.

The top 5 universities in the country are:

  • Seoul National University (SNU)
  • Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)
  • Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST)
  • Korea University
  • Yonsei University

Vibrant culture 

Korean music, movies, technology and traditional foods are gaining popularity around the world.

The modern metropolis of Seoul offers students a vibrant nightlife with technological wonders to enjoy. Despite being at the cutting-edge of modern technology and culture, locals still very much value their traditions and respect for elders. So a visit to South Korea is very much an opportunity to discover both the latest in innovation and the oldest of rituals and traditional.

Korean cuisine is unique due to its homogenous society (most residents are ethnically Korean), so there are not many outside influences when it comes to food. Traditional Korean dishes are based on rice, vegetables and meat as the main ingredients. Students can check out staples like banchan and kimchi and enjoy the rich street food culture Seoul has to offer.

Affordable and welcoming 

Spurred by its 2015 plan to attract 200,000 international students by 2023, South Korea clocked over 160,000 students in 2019 on its way to reaching the goal. 

Although lecturers at universities have the same level of training as those trained in the West, tuition is more affordable in South Korea. It costs roughly $4,000 USD a semester for an undergraduate degree, which is considerably cheaper than in the US and the UK. International students are permitted to work to help offset costs, although be aware you need to gain approval first. There are also many scholarships available for international students through the Global Korea Scholarship program, which has positions each year for almost 2000 students.

Qualifying for a Global Korea Scholarship

To qualify for a Global Korea Scholarship:

  • Both an applicant and his/her parents must be citizens of their country of origin.
  • Applicants should not hold Korean citizenship.
  • Applicants should have adequate health, both mentally and physically, to stay in a foreign country for a long time.
  • Should be under 25 years of age at the date of entrance. (Undergraduate)
  • Should be under 40 years of age at the date of entrance. (Graduate)
  • Have finished or be scheduled to finish formal education of all elementary, middle, high school courses by the date of arrival.  (Undergraduate)
  • Possess a grade point average (G.P.A.) above 80% from the last educational institution attended.
  • Hold a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree by the date of arrival.  (Graduate)
  • Applicants who have previously achieved in any undergraduate program, master’s program, or doctoral program in Korea cannot apply for this program.
  • Those who are awarded the scholarship are required to take Korean language training courses for 1 year at a language institution unless they are already fluent in Korean.

In addition to tuition fees, the scholarship covers airfares, resettlement costs, a living allowance, medical insurance and language course fees. 

You can apply for a Global Korea Scholarship though your local Korean Embassy or Consulate. 

Some universities offer scholarships too, like Seoul University, which annually awards around 300 scholarships to international students to pursue their Masters or Ph.D. 

Natural and architectural beauties to explore 

When you think of South Korea, modern cities might come to mind, but the majority of the Korean peninsula is mountainous, dotted with beaches, island parks and hiking trails.  

You can take in modern architecture like Seoul’s city hall or get in touch with history dating back thousands of years in the many temples and museums. Be sure to visit a national park like Seoraksan National Park to enjoy miles of hiking trails through pine forests and mountain peaks. 

You can travel at ease knowing that South Korea ranks as one of the safest countries in the world with its low crime rate. Travel is inexpensive and easy, due to the country’s compact size and excellent transport system.  

A destination of innovation

Sitting only behind China, India and Japan, South Korea is Asia’s fourth largest economy and ranks 2nd place on Bloomberg’s 2020 Innovation Index.

Its can-do attitude, well-educated labor force and high capacity for innovation has led to an openness for global trade and investment. The government, business and academic community all collaborate to invest in its people and get behind new start-ups, so there are lots of opportunities for an exciting career for students after their studies. 

A wide variety of career options after graduating 

On that note, if you’re thinking you might stay on in South Korea after graduation, you’ll be glad to hear that it ranks highly in terms of quality of life, in particular in education, health and civic engagement. 

International students in South Korea report high life satisfaction, giving reasons such as easy transport, cultural activities, good environments for studying, educational quality, nature, the weather, and yes, great Korean food! 

Many Korean universities help students find work in academic positions and local companies after they graduate, so a career in South Korea could be an option for you.

What student visa does South Korea offer?

If you’re planning to study in South Korea, you will need to apply for the South Korean Student Visa which is available for short term courses (less than 90 days) or full degrees (longer than 90 days).

To apply for a visa, you can: 

  • Make an appointment with your local South Korean embassy or consulate
  • Submit the visa application
  • Wait for the application to be processed
  • Go back to the consulate once you hear back

If your visa is approved, a copy of your visa will be attached to your passport. 

Each visa requires different documents, but there are the generic documents that everyone has to submit.

Your passport must be:

  • Valid for at least another six months
  • Have at least two blank pages
  • Passport-size picture(s). The South Korea visa photo size has to be 3.5 cm x 4.5 cm 
  • A return or onward flight ticket
  • Proof of sufficient funds to cover the duration of your stay (such as through bank statements and income tax returns)
  • Proof of accommodation in South Korea, such as hotel reservation
  • Payment of the South Korea visa fee, as per the requirements of the Embassy/Consulate

For a South Korea Student Visa you will require:

  • Reference letter(s)
  • A letter of acceptance into the school/university.

You may also have to submit:

  • A cover Letter, introducing yourself and stating the reason for which you are traveling
  • A trip Itinerary, which details the activities you’ll be doing in South Korea

Make the most of your time in South Korea

It won’t take you long to find that family life and harmony are highly valued in Korea. Kabin refers to a person’s pride, face or self-esteem and is an important part of social life. Kabin is maintained by respecting others and is damaged by insulting or embarrassing them. 

To fit in and enjoy social life, there are a few cultural practises you will need to be aware of in order show respect, such as:

  • It’s considered impolite to use a person’s first name unless they have given you permission, so use a title like Mr or Miss when you first meet. 
  • To greet or say goodbye, bowing is common. 
  • Saying no is considered impolite so clear communication can be difficult. Just because someone isn’t saying no, doesn’t mean they don’t want to! 
  • Gift giving is common as Koreans are generous people, so try to be generous in return. 
  • Along with Buddhism and Christianity, you’ll come across the philosophy of Confucianism in everyday political and social life.

It’s easy to see why international students are flocking to South Korea for university. Whether it’s the high level of education, low cost of living, the unique blend of cutting-edge and traditional culture, or even just the food that tempts you, we hope you’ll give this destination a second look. 

We do our best to provide the most accurate and helpful information, but rules and procedures can change at short notice. Your experience could be different depending on your country of origin and the locality and office you attend. For the most current information check official government sources and speak to a local attorney or immigration professional. 

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