Foreigners’ Legal Rights in Korea

If you ever find yourself facing legal difficulties in South Korea, you should know your basic legal rights. As a foreigner, you have a right to receive assistance during investigations and legal proceedings.

Recent Cases

Recently I heard the news, that the translation process in court would become better and easier. The reason for these changes is an increasing amount of complaints from foreign residents who faced the need to defend themselves in court. Many people did not fully understand the charges they were facing. Meanwhile, some foreign residents actually had their court testimonies mistranslated.

Foreign residents in Korea are a diverse crowd. I myself am a student from Ukraine. However, you can find Pakistani spouses, Vietnamese office workers, and Nigerian programmers. Nearly every country in the world is represented in Korea’s foreign resident population, and not everyone speaks Korean in their daily lives.

Many foreigners residing in Korea have limited Korean proficiency, so to properly defend themselves or give court testimonies, they need a help of an interpreter. This is especially important because all over the world, minority populations have a higher rate of becoming victims and of being accused of crimes.

I decided to research this issue deeper. In the end, this is what I found on the legal rights of foreigners in Korea. If you ever find yourself having to face Korea’s legal system, I hope that this can help

Foreigners’ Legal Rights in Korea

The Right to be Accompanied & The Right to Request an Interpreter

If you feel agitated or helpless during an investigation or trial, you have the right to request that someone you trust be present with you. This can be a spouse, family member, professor, or even a close friend. You also have the right to request an interpreter to help ease communication during the investigation, participation in court, and while testifying.

Sexual or Child Abuse Victims’ Rights to a Lawyer

If you are a victim of adult sexual abuse or a minor (under 20 in Korean age) you can hire a lawyer in criminal proceedings to get legal support. If you do not have a lawyer, you can get help from a public lawyer appointed by the prosecutor.

Right of Abuse Victims to a Restraining Order

If you are a victim of domestic violence or abuse by adults in the family (if a minor) then you can request a restraining order from the prosecutor’s office or a local police station. This means that your abuser will not legally be able to approach you. You can also apply for a police escort if you do not feel safe. If the police refuse, you can appeal at the prosecutor’s office.

Right to Claim Damages for Assault

For physical assault you can receive compensation for damages from the abuser. Plus, during the course of the trial, you may be eligible to obtain financial assistance for medical treatment from the prosecutor’s office. However, the victim must have Korean residence (ARC or citizenship). In addition, if the offender is a foreign citizen, then the victim must be a Korean citizen in order to receive compensation.

Right of Victims to Remain in Korea During Trial

If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse, you may apply for an extension of stay until the investigation, legal proceedings, or defense proceedings are completed. However, in the case of domestic violence, your spouse must be a Korean citizen.

Victims of Violent Crimes Cannot be Reported to Immigration

If you are a victim of a violent crime such as murder, attempted murder, bodily injury, theft or fraud, vandalism, or sex crimes, you cannot be reported to immigration as a result of reporting or seeking justice for the crimes committed against you. In simple terms, illegal residents in Korea can report violent crimes committed against them without fear of deportation.

Need Help with Criminal Proceedings in Korea?

  1. For more information, you can contact the Department of Social Support for Victims of the Prosecutor’s Office 1577-2584 or Click Here.
  2. If you want to get advice by visiting the prosecutor’s office, but need an interpreter, you need to contact your local prosecutor’s office ahead of time to make sure they have an interpreter available.
  3. You can also apply for translation assistance at your national Embassy (Consulate) in Korea. They may offer additional assistance beyond what local authorities provide.
  4. The Multicultural Families Support Center at 1577-1366 also offers additional support to foreigners.

I hope this information will never be needed, but it’s better to know your rights, just in case.

Stay safe!

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