The ultimate guide to surviving 2 weeks of Covid-19 quarantine on entry to Korea, with tips on staying healthy, having fun and making the most out of your freedom day. Remember why you’re doing this: to enjoy Korea to its fullest while helping to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
** Note: this guide is intended for travelers staying at government-designated quarantine facilities (typically repurposed hotels), but there are alternatives you can organise at a cheaper cost with more freedom in ordering food etc. if you have access to a domestic bank card.
Before you arrive
- Inform your bank that you’re travelling abroad
You are expected to pay the fee for the quarantine hotel upfront on arrival. It is a large sum and if you don’t inform your bank ahead of time, their system may automatically flag this payment as suspicious and reject it, or even freeze your account.
- Purchase a temporary SIM card
At the airport, quarantine and immigration officials will request a Korean phone number from you for point-of-contact. You can pre-pay for a temporary SIM card online and collect from the Korea Telecom (KT) booth in the quarantine inspection area of Terminal 1 at Incheon Airport, or you can have your card delivered to your home country ahead of travel. Although your quarantine residence should have Wi-Fi, a temporary SIM provides unlimited mobile data and an easy pay-as-you go service for making calls and sending texts.
- Remember prescription and non-prescription medications
You won’t be able to visit a pharmacy, so make sure you’ve got any medications you may need, including over-the-counter drugs e.g. painkillers, to last 2 weeks. The same logic applies for any games, books or snacks you absolutely cannot do without!
First things first…
YOU. CAN. DO. THIS. Right now, you’re at the foot of the mountain, seeing the huge climb ahead of you but as a veteran of two quarantine periods in Korea, I can tell you, it’s not as daunting as it seems. But don’t think about what’s to come. Let out a sigh of relief in the knowledge that you — and your luggage — have arrived safely. Have a snack and a drink, shower off the long flight and settle in. Additionally, if you’re sleepy, just sleep. You’ve got plenty of time to overcome jet-lag, something which is actually ideal for making the days pass by more quickly. If you’re not sleepy, do something easy and comforting, like watching Netflix or video calling with family.
Food glorious food
When you first arrive at the quarantine hotel, you can inform the staff about dietary requirements e.g. allergies, vegetarian, halal but you won’t have any further choice regarding your meals. However, you will receive 3 full meals a day including hot food, side dishes, snacks, fresh fruit, soft drinks and coffee and tea sachets. If it is your first trip to Korea, you can enjoy a daily dose of Korean food with occasional intervals of western-style dishes. You cannot order takeout/delivery while in quarantine but you can have packages delivered that contain dry food products such as cereal, snacks, instant noodles etc.
For the next 2 weeks, you don’t need to be anywhere or do anything so…Treat yourself!
A bundle of Korean skincare, a multi-pack of instant noodles for when the hotel food isn’t to your liking, a whole new outfit, some brand new make-up or anything for a little serotonin boost. Major online retailers such as SSG and G-Market accept payments from non-domestic cards. I ordered myself some snacks, a new moisturiser and an electric toothbrush, because why not? Moreover, you know you’re in Korea when your order arrives lightning fast!
Once you start to overcome the jet lag, try to engage in some sort of active movement each day. Daily exercise is essential for your physical and mental well-being. Furthermore, encompass a warm up, cool down and a shower and the days will pass by just that little more quickly. Don’t feel pressured to jack up the intensity just because you’re not getting in your usual daily steps, just do what you feel capable of that day.
If you miss the gym, do a scaled down version of your familiar routine. Weightlifter? Get creative with your furniture and luggage — I did dead lifts with a chair in my room. Alternatively, perhaps you’d like to use this time to try out new workouts. Yoga With Adriene and PopSugar Fitness were my go-to Youtube channels for equipment-free workouts that vary in their style, intensity and length. I discovered kickboxing, tabata and latin dance workouts!
Order your favourite snacks (see “Retail Therapy”) if you haven’t stocked your suitcase with them already, binge watch K-dramas, stay up and sleep in late, build an entire neighbourhood on the Sims or Minecraft or whatever it is you love to do! As you get into the swing of it, what you first thought was 2 weeks of prison will become 2 weeks recuperation. You can do anything and everything you didn’t have time for. I read the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, a book I’d been dying to read but never had time for.
Go Au Naturale
Ditch the makeup. Stick to sweats. And don’t you dare touch the razor. Enjoy two weeks of feeling super comfy and allow your tired skin, hair and body to recover.
Craft the Perfect Selfie
But, if makeup is your passion, then disregard that last suggestion. Use these two weeks to master the new look you’d been dying to try or get creative with your eyeshadow palette. The same logic applies if you’re more of a skincare girl like myself. You’ve got that extra time for sheet masks that you don’t normally have, as well as tweaking your morning and night routines.
Be aware of the time difference between Korea and your home country and call your family and friends regularly. If you’re feeling lonely or homesick, just remember you’re not alone. Your family and friends are just a phone call away. Perhaps you have friends in Korea that you’re looking forward to see after quarantine, or perhaps this is your first solo trip and you don’t know anyone. Apps like HelloTalk and Tinder are a great way to get ahead of the game in making new friends, practicing Korean and making plans. In the UK, Tinder is only used as a dating app but in Korea, many people use it to make friends or find a language buddy! (You can specify these details in your profile.)
Make the Most of It
We don’t often get 2 weeks of compulsory free time so make the most of it! Relax, have fun, engage in self-care, get yourself organised for your freedom day and be prepared for your incredible trip ahead!